Arson!

According to the police, some local punks lit three homes on fire, one of which was across the street from me, and one immediately next to our house. Fortunately, we had no damage, smoke or otherwise, but the two homes in the neighborhood were a total loss. The third didn’t have any real damage (made of brick.) Pics:

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Why Joost Sucks

Man, I really wanted to like Joost. They have a very pretty interface and the idea to watch mainstream TV right off the ‘net is a winner. That is, unless you screw it up like Joost did.

First, let’s get what they did right out of the way:

1. Nice Peer-to-Peer network for content, reducing bandwidth bills for the servers, and potentially increasing reliability.

2. Beautiful interface appearance.

OK, now that that is done, here’s what’s wrong.

1. Damn P2P network sucks huge donkey balls.

I sit on a huge pipe at work (and a relatively large one at home.) I can regularly pull 1.5 MB/s from just about anywhere from home. With all this bandwidth, I can’t get a reliable stream from Joost to save my life. It works just as well as most other P2P networks – sometimes huge downloads, sometimes nothing. This is OK for file transfers, but sucks for real-time content.

And I never get tired of the sudden “This program is unavailable right now,” right in the middle of a program.

2. Video quality at least as good as YouTube!

Seriously, most of the video you get looks like complete crap. Literally, it IS as bad as a YouTube video, but blown up full screen. Oh, and combined with the network issues, it stutters every few minutes. So somehow, it’s even less watch-able than YouTube.

3. Fucking annoying commercials.

You know, I can stand watching commercials to an extent. But who was the poor idiot who thought that replaying the same damn unskippable commercial every 4-5 minutes needs a beat-down. The real kicker is that the commercials invariably play flawlessly and have the best video quality of anything you may be watching.

4. Beautiful but broken user interface.

I like the look of the interface, but overall it’s almost universally bad when you actually go to use it. How do you bring up the playback controls? Clicking does nothing, moving the mouse sometimes does it, sometimes not. How do you get them to go away? Apparently, you just have to wait for them to disappear.

And what’s up with that channel/program selector? It keeps loading content dynamically, and you can never figure out where you are in the list because it wraps endlessly. Lots of time there is no text or images loaded and you scroll around with a pile of blank entries and one that’s filled in. Just suck all around.

5. Content is the lamest of the lame.

The onlything I could stand to watch for more than a minute there was the Top Gear seasons. Everything else was some serious B-roll crap that even the ‘torrenters wouldn’t touch. There hasn’t been any significant content added since I was in the closed beta months ago. Oh, yeah, they added WBTV and ten episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Yeah.

6. Widget platform? WTF?

As if we needed yet another desktop clutterer. How about fixing everything else above before the onslaught of ten thousand weather lookups and stock checkers. Yawn.

I really don’t understand how people can stand using the thing. As it is, I hadn’t fired the thing up in weeks until today. I then realized that nothing had changed.

Bye Bye Joost. Let me know if you ever become useful.

Update: Funny – last night I had a power failure, so no TV. I was using the last of the battery power running the network to get some stuff done, and decided to take one last look at Joost. It launched, did some sort of version check, then told me it was out of date, but couldn’t contact he upgrade server to download the latest version. Then quit. I drug the app into the trash. Buh Bye.

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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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Man, some people are dumb

I ran across this site today, infomercialscams.com. It’s a place where you can rant and rave about the crap products that you got suckered into ordering while you were drunk on Sunday at 3am Sunday. I love to see people rip apart junk that thats Broken As Designed. Most of the stuff there is just the usual “didn’t get my product” and the endless billing scams.

But as I was reading I came to a different conclusion.

Lots of the people buying this crap are complete morons, and it’s more fun to read about their stupidity than about the products themselves.
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Like this gem, from Catherine who purchased a “Velform Sauna Belt” which is basically a heating pad with velcro you wear around your waist:

I bought the Velform Sauna Belt and once it, finally, got to me, I tried it and it didn’t work! It just heats up and makes my skin red but it doesn’t make me sweat at all. No calories are burned, nothing! You’re better off working out than buying this product.

What? You mean that $19.95 piece of crap doesn’t just melt away the pounds like magic? Just imagine the thought process that these people are going through – it makes me sweat, therefore I will lose weight. Yeah, so will dehydration. “You’re better off working out!” No shit. And here I thought that sitting on the couch eating Ruffles with an electrical deathtrap around my waist was the way to health and happiness.

In fact, there are piles of people who seem to think that sweating is the magic weight loss formula and are complaining that it didn’t make them sweat at all. Freaking sad. To top it off, lots of the complaints about the product says that it caused burns with blistering. Yikes.
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Or take this single complaint about the “Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet”:

I purchased a q-ray ionized bracelet off the TV. When I recieved it I used it. It seemed to relieve the pain of my muscles after some time of using it I started getting high blood pressure when I would wear this product. I am trying to find some information on what rights I have, and what I can possibly do in regaurds to my discomfort.

Not only does she think that the Q-Ray is some magical healing device, she now believes it’s a scam because it supposedly caused her blood pressure to rise.

And the Carleton Sheets pages just go on and on. Who woulda’ thunk that getting rich in real estate wasn’t as easy as a 30 minute commercial says it is.

Read these pages to reinforce your already jaded view of humanity. You won’t be disappointed.

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

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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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