NBC/Universal Can Suck my Schlong

What a bunch of wankers – if Apple’s press release is correct, these arseholes wanted the price of their single-episode shows to be $4.99. Five dollars. Give me a fucking break. They’re just looking at an out to get people to use their own Hulu service (no link – they don’t deserve it.)

WTF is Hulu? A POS YouTube competitor with their own embedded player. So I guess actually watching shows on the television or on a portable player is right out.

Guess the money they got out of me will end. Back to BitTorrent. At least there I get what I want and can use it how I want.

Fuck ’em.

Update: WTF? NBC says their launching yet another site with “free” content – with commercials you can’t skip. Nice – make it even less useful guys!

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Elgato turbo.264 – partial turd sandwich

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Well, I picked up the Elgato turbo.264 a week ago at the local Apple store. I was hoping to use my now aging G5 iMac to help encode some of the video I’ve been pulling from my old DVDs and use them on my Apple TV. To save you some pain (and another trip to the store to return it) let me tell you where this little device will help – and surprisingly, where it’s actually a detriment.

What’s a waste of time

To start with, running the thing on just about any Intel-based Mac is a complete waste of time. The ONLY situation where it will save you time is if you’re still stuck using Quicktime to encode. Using anything else, such as Visual Hub or Handbrake, encoding times with turbo.264 are almost identical. Of course, it sort of frees up your processor (though still running at 80% of 200% in most tests), so if this is important to you, you can still get somebenefit from it. However, see the What’s Craptastic section for situations where it Just Doesn’t Work.

What’s Craptastic

On both the Intel and G5 platforms, I ran into some video where it just totally bogged down the hardware, getting three frames a second. I thought it was just a data transfer limit, but similar sized videos didn’t have the same problem. This happened pretty consistently with videos already in “higher”-def H.264 (960×540, 2900 kbits/s), and oddly enough, playable on the Apple TV. It was still faster than Quicktime (but slower than Visual Hub on either platform.) So don’t expect everything to be speedy.

Again, on both platforms, using the turbo.264 to select and encode unencrypted VIDEO_TS video resulted in some strange behavior. On both platforms it ran at near real-time (22fps on average, just a little slower on the Intel platform using Handbrake, much, much faster than the G5’s 3fps.) But on every damn video, it doubled the run time shown for encoding. For instance, a 1:24:30 video showed up as being 2:49:00 long. It appears that this is a problem with multiple audio tracks. With a single track, everything showed up correctly. This didn’t seem to affect the actual encoding time, nor the resultant movie.

In addition, on the G5 platform I did discover that on certain DVDs, the turbo.264 would have BAD audio drift. At the 60 minute mark, it was off by seven seconds. When I saw this occur, there was also a point in the movie where the video went to hell, being completely scrambled. What was weird about this was that when I re-ran the encoding on the same video, it worked, no audio synch issues or video problems. Nice. Using the same files run through Handbrake it worked every time.

What Works

The only place where I could find where I would potentially use this thing was as a speed-up for encoding stuff from EyeTV. Since EyeTV uses Quicktime for encoding, it’s unnecessarily slow, even on the Intel platform. This thing brought their encoding up to par with Visual Hub. However, at least for me, $99 isn’t worth it since I can easily just drag the raw .mpg files to VisualHub manually.

Really, very little works well enough to be relied upon. On the G5 platform, most video (see above caveats) encoded pretty freaking fast, at least compared to just using the main processor alone. On average, I’d say it was consistently five times faster. However, don’t expect to get any work done while it’s encoding – the main processor was pegged at 100% usage at all times, unlike the Intel platform.

But the random encoding problems with DVD video, the slow encode times with certain video types, and the general unreliability of the platform just made me wish I didn’t spend the $99 on this. It went back to the Apple store.

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Heroes of Might and Magic V – Buggy, Buggy, Buggy

Heroes Big
Freeverse just released the Mac version of Heroes V for the Mac. This is a cool series of games. I used to play 3 a lot, so I thought I’d give this one a try. It’s also running on Cider, a WINE-based set of code that allows Windows binaries to more-or-less run unmodified. I thought it would be cool to see this work. $50 for a download version – 1.5GB later and I’m ready to play. I should have waited.

My God, this thing is the most buggy piece of crap I’ve ever seen.

Let’s start with with memory leaks. I have 3GB in my MBP. With nothing else running, within an hour, Heroes will have used all of memory, and I’ve now got 2GB of paging files out there. WTF? Literally, you have to quit and reload every 30 minutes or so if you want to keep your machine running. At a minimum. If you keep playing (ignoring the thrashing your HD is taking) the game eventually exhausts all memory, stutters, and dies.

OK, so you have to quit every 30 minutes. Annoying, but there you have it. Fortunately, it auto-saves after every turn. Or does it? Apparently, if you have a space in your profile name, the saves and auto-saves just don’t work. You THINK they’re working (there’s no error message) but they’re going into the bit bucket. Just gone. Never to be seen again. So once you quit (because of memory leaks) you have to start completely over.

Online play with other gamers is pretty much out due to the time limit and random crashing issues. Not to mention that you can’t even duel with other Windows players because they are all using 1.4.1 and this is version 1.4. So that whole side of things is pretty much out.

All right, so make sure your profile is short with no spaces in it, quit every 30 minutes, no online play, and you’re golden, right? SUCKER. The save (autosave or manual) files that are being created seem to randomly be corrupt. I managed to eek out 45 minutes of play to complete most of a level last night. I thought I was pressing my luck with crashes, so I saved once more, and quit. Restarting the game, I tried to load my last save. Crash. OK, how about the last autosave? Crash. And the one before that? Crash, Crash, Crash. The only thing that worked was a manual save from the end of the previous level. So I effectively lost all my progress for the entire evening.

FUCK YOU VERY MUCH.

If this was a piece of hardware, it would be heading back to the store for a refund. But because it’s software, I’m stuck with this hunk of junk until someone there sees fit to work on the problems. To their credit, Freeverse seems to be saying they’ll make it work (judging by their posts in the forums.) But there is no time line.

I’m not even certain this is a problem with Cider itself. From reading the support forums for the Windows version, people there seem to be having very similar problems. But how in the world could they let this piece of junk out in the wild?

Bottom line – stay away from this waste of time until they get the bugs worked out.

Update: The 1.5 patch is available. It does seem to make everything more stable, though already corrupted games still won’t load. I recommend starting everything from scratch. We’ll see how this thing does as I go through the campaigns… again.

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iPhone & Apple TV

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That thing completely rocks. If you haven’t checked it out, get your butt over there and check out the demo. Simply incredible. They’re going to get my ridiculous bundle of money once this thing arrives. I can probably even stomach the switch to Cingular (*gag*) to get this hardware.

And I’ve already ordered the Apple TV. Been waiting for this for some time. Finally something decent to hook up to the high-def set that doesn’t involve the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray circle jerk.
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PGP Appears to Suck

Well, it’s official. It looks like newer versions of PGP are just going to suck and there’s nothing you can do about it. Their ridiculous new email (sorry – messaging) system is here to stay. The official word from a posting by Earle Lowe, a Dev Manager at PGP from June 11, 2006:

Obviously there is a philosophical (and fundemental) disagreement about the nature of email encryption. The current technology was felt as clearly the best path forward for PGP as a software product. It solves numerous issues with integrating into the various email applications that people want to use. It supports PGP/MIME. It supports centralized policy management. It enables a much simpler experience for the user (we have not yet achieved this obviously). The list continues.

The way you want PGP to work where you actually see the ciphertext was and continues to be simply not possible in any number of email clients. The old architecture was neither maintainable nor extensable. As an example, Outlook Express, for all its obvious faults is a popular email client. Prior to PGP 9, the PGP rip-in for this email client was a significant amount of tricky code requiring substantial developer expertise (and was prone to break frequently – particularly with MS updates). PGP 9, on the other hand, has zero specialized code to handle Outlook Express.

OK – I can completely understand the problems with keeping up with email clients. It’s a pain in the butt. But removing security so it’s easier for the end user? What a dumb statement. Why not just remove all encryption from the product? That will make it even easier. In fact, this is basically what they have now anyhow.

Their craptastic “easy to use” messaging proxy defaults to settings so you don’t have to change anything in your email client to make it work. Seems like a convenient feature. All emails could be encrypted/signed on their way out. Except if the proxy ever fails, that email you just sent doesn’t get encrypted – it just gets sent because your mail client doesn’t know the difference. It just uses the same old settings it always did. This failure mode is completely unacceptable. I can’t even believe they offer this as an option. Dumber than hell.

The really screwed up part about this is that their proxy does fail for non-obvious reasons, mostly because it’s a pain in the ass to set up and get working properly, even with their auto detection running. In my case, emails from one account went out signed, another didn’t – all because my SMTP port wasn’t something they were expecting and were trapping (and there is no way to change this either, apparently.)

My advice? Don’t even think to use this hunk of junk for email on the Mac (or anywhere else for that matter.) It’s not worth it. Stick to using GPG. It actually does the right thing, despite lacking the nice key management front end. I didn’t even test anything else in their software. What other crap doesn’t work or is broken in non-obvious ways?

I feel sorry for all those n00bs out there running this crap and thinking they are secure in any way.

Update: I posted to their forums about these concerns. Despite tons of “views” no one has answered. Based on the posts they actually answer on their forums, it looks like their target market has changed to be those customers who think running something called “PGP” magically makes them secure.

PGP For Intel Macs

PGP just released a beta version of PGP 9.5 that has universal binary support. I used to use PGP back in the day on Windows, but didn’t really keep up with it, eventually moving on to GnuPG for my encryption needs. However, after seeing the note about this new release, I thought I’d give them another shot. I always loved their nice key management (something GnuPG doesn’t have a great front end for at the moment.)

I was browsing through their user’s manual while downloading, and came across a paragraph titled “Memory Static Ion Migration Protection” in the “Special Security Precautions Taken by PGP Desktop ” section. This thing goes on about how an attacker could theoretically retrieve key or passphrase information from your machines memory – after it’s already been turned off – by reading the static charge left over from memory that has had the same information stored for long periods. This is some deep stuff here, and they go on about how they help to protect you against this remotest of possibilities. Cool stuff.

So the download finishes, and I install the thing, import my keys from GnuGP, and go to send an email, and realize that they’ve done away with the plugin model for mail, instead relying on a network proxy that intercepts mail and encrypts and decrypts it automatically, based on rules you set up. This works similarly to their Universal Server product. So now Mail.app (and any other mail client) sends mail to the proxy, where PGP will encrypt it. On the other side of things, incoming encrypted mail is automagically decrypted and then handed to the email client. Works OK (though with some pain trying to get everything set right.)

Then I realized that all the encrypted and signed email that I’d be receiving, would now be stored in PLAINTEXT in my freaking email folders, on a public IMAP server. In addition, there doesn’t even seem to be a way to turn this off or any alternate mechanism aside from not using the email proxy portion of the product. This breaks about 90% of the functionality that I use PGP for.

Without storing the encrypted/signed version of incoming mail, I can no longer guarantee that someone hasn’t messed with it on the server. All that’s left is some text pasted at the top of the mail that says it was signed and verified at some point. No indication of what that may have been, of course. At that point, someone could just as easily change the contents to whatever they like, completely bypassing any security that at one time existed.

This also goes for sent mail – it’s no longer stored in your sent folder encrypted – it’s sitting there in plaintext too. Still worse, there’s no indication of what you did to the email when you sent it. Did I encrypt it? Sign it? Who knows now – that information is gone now that we’re not storing the encrypted/signed copy of the message.

And still worse, someone could easily – MUCH TOO EASILY – forge a message that now looks like it’s been verified by the proxy, when it has, in fact, done no such thing.

They do still have a legacy mail plugin that permits decryption of older emails that you may have received and didn’t pass through the digestive tract of their new product. But get this – on the message boards someone was complaining that the plugin didn’t successfully decrypt messages from certain people. The response? “Oh, that plugin only works with some message types. Use the proxy.”

What a junker.

Yes, they protect you from some arcane attack that requires an electron microscope and a clean room to make work, but they’ll happily decrypt and store your email in the most unsafe way possible. What in the world were they thinking? This isn’t even limited to the new Mac product apparently – this is an across the board product line change that screws everyone.

Free SubEthaEdit Licenses?

Well, maybe – in any case, they’re cheaper than the normal $30. BLOGZOT 2.0 on MacZOT.com has SubEthaEdit from CodingMonkeys up as their subject for today. The price basically keeps dropping by a nickel each time someone blogs about it (like this!) or until 3000 copies are sold. If it gets to be free, so much the better! All the bloggers get theirs at no cost. Boo-ya. This amounts to MacZot and the Coding Monkeys giving away $105,000 in free software.

If you’re not familiar with SubEthaEdit you’re really missing out. It’s got the best collaborative writing system in existence, as well as being just a plain nice editor. If you’ve never taken conference notes with five other people doing the same in the same document, you haven’t lived.

Check it out and get yours for cheap.

New MacBook Pro

I’ve now fully converted to running everything on my new MacBook Pro. A few points:

1. Rosetta RULES: I can’t believe how seamless and fast it is. I can run Quake 3 (ok, not the most recent thing, but still!) full screen with all options turned on, and I can’t tell the difference from my 1.67 G4 PB. I want to run some FPS benchmarks to see what kind of penalty I’m getting.

2. World of Warcraft: 80 FPS with most graphics options turned on. Enough said.

3. You need 2GB of RAM. Period. Don’t even think of running without it.

More in the coming days.