Internet censorship is here
There’s always been a sense that internet censorship was something that they did in other, less free countries, like Iran or China. Then the Australian government started talking about it. But I’ve never seen evidence of it in the UK until now.
How to convert an S5 presentation to images
I used S5 for my RubyManor presentation. It worked great. I didn’t have to mess around with PowerPoint or anything complex like that: instead, I wrote plain text, ran it through a script, and called up the results in a web browser.
iPlayer downloads temporarily broken
It’s fixed now. See below.
The best executive summary of Ruby Manor I can give is to quote Kerry Buckley:
Why the Jubilee Line is so confusing
The Jubilee Line of the London Underground runs from the north-west, through the centre, south-east, and on into east London. It doesn’t have any branches—well, apart from a secret spur near London Bridge, and a defunct one that used to lead to the old terminus at Charing Cross—so the only decision when getting on is whether to go towards Stanmore or Stratford, two stations whose names share the same first two letters, the same vowel sounds, and almost the same length, yet are at completely opposite ends of the line. Peering at a distant sign or hearing them over a fuzzy public address system, you might easily mistake them. Fortunately, all Underground platforms are also clearly marked with their compass direction, and announcements correspondingly mention the ‘eastbound service’ or whatever, so you can ignore the easily-confused names as long as you know vaguely which direction you’re going.
Google Maps on a small screen
I’ve been starting to appreciate the potential of Greasemonkey lately. It’s a Firefox extension that allows you to write scripts to modify a website to work the way you want. For example, it lets me fix my gripe about Delicious not allowing me to save my password even if they won’t.
The iPlayer’s broken
If you can’t download programmes at the moment, please don’t tell me! It’s also affecting iPhone and iPod Touch users, so it doesn’t seem to be a Beeb counter-attack.
All passwords are not equal
I’m reasonably happy to suffer some inconvenience when identifying myself for online banking, because I have a financial incentive. If my account were compromised, I might lose money. I want complex passwords that are infeasible to crack. I don’t want my browser to store them for automatic completion, in case someone else gains access to my computer. This is all as it should be.
Because they hate our freedom
Imagine that you’re an authoritarian government minister and you’ve just failed to gain support for your scheme to abolish traditional liberties and acquire the power to incarcerate people who haven’t even been charged of a crime for up to six weeks. You’ve been playing the terrorist card for so long that it’s visibly dog-eared. The public is calling your bluff—they’re just not scared enough any more!
Why you can’t download Heroes
I’ve received many comments and emails asking why it’s not possible to download Heroes with my downloader. Several people have hypothesised that it’s due to the age restriction. It’s not: in fact, it’s possible to download other age-restricted programmes without any trouble.
What’s terrorism got to do with it?
The word ‘terrorism’ is bandied around as an excuse for anything and everything these days, but it’s increasingly used without any attempt at a logical narrative:
iPlayer Downloader maintenance update
I’m releasing a quick update today with a bug fix and a couple of enhancements.
How much does a Wispa weigh?
You may recall that a Facebook campaign recently persuaded Cadbury to reintroduce the Wispa chocolate bar. Well, they are now in the shops, a bit before the official 6th October release date, and one of my colleagues bought one last week.
iPlayer downloads: now with radio
Auntie has added radio programmes to the iPhone version of the iPlayer today, so my downloader now supports them too. They are nothing more than plain old MP3 files.
What could possibly go wrong?
I received a spam email in my work inbox this morning. I say spam; maybe the sender claims some tenuous legitimate connection with me, but I couldn’t work out what that might be. It was certainly badly targeted:
How I rescued irreplaceable photos from a dead hard disk
I’ve been fixing a friend’s iBook G4 this week. The computer wouldn’t boot up—it couldn’t find anything to boot from—and emitted an alarmingly loud noise. I suspected a dead hard disk; by booting from a Linux CD, I was able to prove this. The computer worked fine, but the disk didn’t. I ordered a new hard disk, which arrived a few days later.
Barclaycard’s fraud detection sucks
I noticed this morning that someone had tried to call my home phone at midday the day before. I listened to the message: it was Barclaycard’s fraud department asking me to call them. Aha! That would explain why I hadn’t been able to use my credit card to pay a bill yesterday evening.
My browser works just fine, thank you
I’m not deliberately obscurantist or opposed to innovation, but there are a few trends in web design that I don’t appreciate. For example, I don’t like lightboxes. (Yeah, I know we use it at Reevoo for our reviews service, but Befehl ist Befehl.)
How to lose a customer
Backups: a call to action
You’ve got backups, right? If your hard disk fails, you won’t lose anything important. But I bet you know someone who hasn’t.
Signs of recession
I’ve woken up to apocalyptic financial headlines on the radio every day for months, but I haven’t really noticed anything different. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t own a car. I’ve still got a job. I’m lucky enough not to be living hand to mouth, and I cook most of my food from scratch, so if my food bills have been increasing I haven’t really felt it.
Ever since Ben started pointing them out, I’ve become aware of the frequent superfluous quotation marks in BBC News headlines. (For example: ‘Hundreds’ killed by Haiti storm.) But just how prevalent are they? By way of an answer, I present BBC ‘News’.
The case of the disappearing network interfaces
I rebooted my Eee PC this morning after several weeks of uptime. It came back with networking not working. Since it took me ages to work out what had gone wrong, and Google was no help, I think I should write it up for everyone’s benefit.
The Olympic Closing Ceremony of the Dead
There was a definite George Romero moment in the London handover segment of the Olympic closing ceremony, so I just had to mash it up with an actual zombie movie soundtrack:
Up-to-date ffmpeg on Ubuntu Hardy
The Ubuntu repositories will give you a crippled, antiquated version of ffmpeg. Here’s the latest in my occasional series of explanations of how to get a newer, better, more full-featured version.
Everybody Samurai Sushi Geisha
There’s a great single from (I think) the early 1980s, by a Japanese band called 米米CLUB (Kome Kome Club). The track is ‘Funk Fujiyama’, and the lyrics and accompanying promo video take a humorous look at foreigner’s ideas about Japan (and at their attempts at speaking Japanese). I find it laugh-out-loud funny, and although some of the humour is lost if you don’t speak Japanese, the refrain is mostly comprehensible in English (the third line translates as Hello, Goodbye, How much does it cost?):
I am Spartacus
What I love about computerised systems is that they don’t care about what they process. Garbage in, garbage out. Hence, I give you Mr I Spartacus’s Tesco Clubcard:
We apologise for any inconvenience
If you saw this when trying to download iPlayer programmes today:
Unattended iPlayer downloads
ThatGuy wrote in a comment that he’s using iplayer-dl on a Linux machine that he connects to via ssh, and wondered,
iPlayer metadata fix and other improvements
I’ve released a new version of iplayer-dl and the GUI downloader with a few fixes and enhancements. The principal improvement is the use of a new source for programme information since the BBC discontinued the old metadata URLs. I also took the opportunity of a trip outside the UK to work out how to return a more useful error message in that situation.
Running Ruby tests from Vim
There’s been something of a Vim renaissance among the Reevoo developers of late. It was driven initially by necessity: a couple of developers live far away and spend a couple of days a week working from home, but wanted to be able to continue doing pair programming despite the physical distance.
New iPlayer, new downloader
The new version of the iPlayer site went live late last week, and is significantly different from the old version. As a side effect, downloads were broken. However, with the aid of a session trace sent to me by a kind reader, I’ve made the necessary amendments.
Obfuscation is no protection
It may surprise some readers, but I don’t actually have a bad relationship with anyone at the BBC. I had an interesting and cordial conversation with someone from the iPlayer team (not the implementation part) at Mashed last weekend. I think a lot of people there are aware of the futility of trying to lock down content that’s simultaneously being digitally broadcast in the clear.
Better WiFi reconnection with Wicd
The default WiFi network connection tool on Ubuntu/Xubuntu is NetworkManager, which does a pretty poor job. I’ve been using Wicd as a replacement for about six months, and it’s a lot better, despite a few significant bugs (that have now been fixed in the codebase, if not in the currently released version).
I live near what’s left of the Surrey Docks, part of which is now a marina. There are a number of houseboats there, along with other craft repurposed for habitation—a WW2-era US Navy boat, for example—and I’ve often thought that there’s a certain attraction to that kind of accommodation. It doesn’t hold quite the same appeal any longer. This is what I saw as I came home tonight:
iPlayer update: Resume functionality is back
My sleeplessness is your gain. Thanks to Paul G’s useful research (reported in the comments of a previous post), we now know that it’s not really necessary to leap around in the file.
Implementing RTMP in Ruby
I’ve spent my time at Mashed this weekend working on an implementation of Adobe’s proprietary RTMP protocol. This is used by many Flash streaming implementations; being able to replicate it means that we can begin to use streaming content in our own ways. That will open up a huge amount of online media.
We found the flowerpot!
The constantly-changing XOR encryption on the iPlayer downloads turned out to be a red herring. The Beebhack team—it’s definitely a team effort now—has been hard at work finding the real secret that lets the iPhone download working video. And, as of last night, it’s been cracked. Downloads are back!
Terrorists stole my brain
I went to Barcelona for a short four-day break the other weekend, mainly because it was cheaper to visit than almost anywhere within the UK. You’d never guess that fuel is expensive and flying is bad for the environment, would you?
More changes to the iPlayer
As of last night or so, the Beeb are now using a slightly different XOR scheme to encrypt programmes. The offsets and the pattern are different.
iPlayer Downloader project page
In order to make it easier for everyone to keep track of updates, I’ve made a project page for iplayer-dl, the GUI, and my general iPlayer downloading efforts. I’ll continue to blog updates, but it should make finding the current status a bit easier.
Faster decryption for iPlayer downloads
I’ve managed to make a decent improvement to the code that performs the iPlayer XOR decryption. It’s not as fast as it could be in C, but it’s a lot better than it was.
iPlayer downloading fixes and enhancements
There’s new stuff for GUI and command-line users alike.
BBC iPlayer countermeasures prove futile yet again
I left a conundrum behind last week, shortly before I left for a long weekend in Barcelona. (It was very nice, by the way, thank you.) I’m delighted to see that others have been hard at work in my absence, defeating the Beeb’s latest iPlayer countermeasure.
Although my downloader and various other people’s efforts are still working to download programmes from the iPlayer, the files we now get back won’t actually play on anything.
iPlayer downloads for the masses
I’ve updated the GUI with the latest counter-counter-measures as of 11th June.
Last round on the Underground
If nothing else, last night showed that it’s possible to raise an army via Facebook. Boris has banned drinking on the Tube from 1st June, and thousands of people turned up for the last ever Circle Line party—well, the last with alcohol, anyway.
How dedicated are the spammers?
Technology and its consequences
I spent yesterday at the geeKyoto2008 conference in London. It was a small, intelligent affair, based around the question, We broke the world. Now what? I’m not sure that it answered the question, but perhaps that’s reasonable: if a hundred or so people could fix all the world’s woes, we might be further along the road to a solution than we currently are.
Using Windows? There’s now an easy graphical downloader.
Keeping up with iplayer-dl
I’ve had a productive evening hacking
iplayer-dl. Here’s a short list of improvements:
iPlayer cat and mouse
My iPlayer download script had been failing on a number of programmes recently, and I’d assumed that they were just not encoded as MPEG 4 files. Having seen them work on a real iPhone, though, I now know that it’s not the case.
Selenium, Firefox 3, and Mac OS X
The latest Firefox 3 betas are really good, and a big improvement over Firefox 2. The improvement in performance on my Eee PC is enormous, but even on the quad-core Xeon I’ve got at work, the increased snappiness is welcome. There are some good interface tweaks as well; after learning to work with the ‘Awesome Bar’ rather than against it, I’ve come to like it. Unfortunately, there’s a downside: Selenium, which we use for acceptance testing at Reevoo, doesn’t work with Firefox 3.
Princess Diana is still dead
This might not make a lot of sense unless you’re very familiar with the British press, but the Daily Express managed to achieve the perfect front page today:
Xi’an outside the wall
I hadn’t realised just how much of Xi’an lay outside the city walls until my last day there. I walked south from the South Gate of the city in a zig-zag until I reached the Big Wild Goose Pagoda—which turned out to be much further than I’d anticipated from my not-to-any-particular-scale map. On the way, I passed through an electronics district, and paused to listen to some amateur Chinese hip-hop on a Samsung-sponsored stage at the side of the street. I’d definitely have missed that if I’d taken the bus!
There are plenty of familiar chains in China, including a number of supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour. Once you get inside, though, Chinese supermarkets are a little bit different from what you might be used to.
One of the most annoying things in China is being within spitting distance (I use the term advisedly: expectoration is a national pastime) of your destination, but with a six-lane highway between you and it. Getting to the other side often involves a lengthy detour via an underpass or footbridge, adding hundreds of metres, or, if you’re lucky, a pedestrian crossing. In some cities, that’s OK. In Xi’an, there’s an extra dimension of excitement: there are no traffic lights.
Best registration plate ever?
I know it’s puerile, but I couldn’t help laughing when this truck went past me in Beijing: the number plate was such a perfect combination of letters and numbers. I just had time to whip out my camera and grab a slightly blurry shot before it disappeared.
Dodging the crowds at the Great Wall
You can’t go to China and not see the Great Wall, can you? Well, I did: I missed it last time! So this time I took a day trip to Bādálǐng (八达岭) to see the Great Wall of China. Badaling is the easiest part of the wall to get to from Beijing and, for the same reason, rather crowded. The Great Wall is the most-visited attraction in the world, and Badaling probably constitutes the bulk of that. Even on a cold Monday in March, the ambience was, in places, more that of a rush-hour subway station than a historical monument.
The Summer Palace
Yesterday was the hottest day since I arrived in Beijing last week, and the first time that it’s been warm enough to take off my scarf. It was a complete contrast, and the Summer Palace (Yíhéyuán/颐和园) was a great place to spend a sunny day climbing the hills and stairs of the palace itself, and wandering around the gardens—which are, right now, resplendent with blossoming cherry trees.
Panjiayuan flea-market and the Laoshe Teahouse
Panjiayuan flea-market in the south-eastern corner of Beijing’s Third Ring Road is the place to go for Chinese bric-a-brac, wannabe-antique furniture, old books, and shockingly good art forgeries.
Beijing’s very public toilets
Despite having visited China before, I’d somehow managed to avoid the public toilets, more by luck than by intention. I’d been in hotels, in shopping centres, in restaurants—but never in a real no-star public convenience. I went to one today, and found it new, clean—and still completely alien to a westerner. The Olympic tourists are in for a surprise!
Après le déluge: thoughts on the BBC iPlayer
This site has received a lot of traffic over the past couple of days. Google Analytics takes a bit of time to show the numbers, but a quick scan of the logs suggests about four and a half thousand visits to my post about the iPlayer on Friday alone. Boing Boing and Ars Technica contributed a great deal of that. I came back from lunch to find that a journalist was calling to interview me. All very exciting, really. But in all the rush, I haven’t had a chance to explain my thoughts in detail.
BBC iPlayer fix hacked again!
This morning, BBC News proudly announced the BBC’s victory over those of us who had figured out how to download their iPhone iPlayer streams:
Some might say that the rot set in with superstar footballers, quaffing Cristal between their sexual escapades. Others might go back further, and point to city traders swigging from their ostentatious magnums of whatever’s most expensive. In any case, it’s now clear that the downward social movement of champagne has now reached something of a nadir: it’s now the tipple of choice for allegedly violent provincial teenagers.
I’m annoyed when global corporations can’t be bothered to spend a small amount of effort localising their products for the non-US market (Microsoft and Apple are both guilty of this) but, that kind of cynical indolence aside, I don’t see the influx of American pronunciations and usages into the British dialect as a bad thing per se. In fact, I find it fascinating to observe the evolution of language in progress.
Apple’s iPhone: You own it, but Steve owns you
Imagine a world in which you could only run programs on your computer that were specifically permitted by its manufacturer. Imagine that you couldn’t install a P2P application, not because it could potentially be used for copyright infringement, but because the maker of your PC wouldn’t let you. Imagine that you couldn’t install a VoIP program to make cheap calls, not because of any technical limitation, but because it threatened the profits of a phone company with whom the manufacturer has an agreement.
Cracking open the iPlayer
The world’s most intrusive airport?
I already make a point of avoiding Heathrow, one of the worst airports in the world. (My next flight, for example will be from London City via Schiphol in Amsterdam.)
Pay no attention to the database behind the curtain
The introduction of ID cards has been, so to speak, on the cards since the instinctively authoritarian Tony Blair and David Blunkett were in power. Since first proposed, the ID card has gone through many changes of identity, being promoted as a solution to a progression of bogeymen, including immigrants, benefits cheats, and terrorists. It wouldn’t surprise me if paedophiles were in there somewhere, too. Throughout all this, it’s been clear that it’s been the idea of identity cards that’s come first, with the rationalisations being very much ex post facto.
It only takes a minute (plus a few hours waiting in the queue)
Here’s a word of advice: don’t turn up at the Chinese Embassy in London just after the nine o’clock opening time expecting to quickly pop in and submit your visa application before heading in to work.
Linux beats Mac OS X at Chinese
I’m planning to go to Beijing on holiday at the end of the month, and one thing that I need to do is to get a visa. It’s not a complicated process: fill in a form, pay a fee, and come back in a few days, based on my previous experience. If I’ve already filled in the form before I get there, it saves a bit of time.
My bank doesn’t get security
As I wrote previously, I was recently the victim of some debit card fraud. As part of the resolution process, I received a phone call at work yesterday from an anonymous number.
The case of the mysteriously disappearing file
If you want a temporary filename in Ruby, you might be tempted to use
Tempfileto generate it, rather like this:
Changing my shopping allegiances
I now understand how East Germans must have felt when the Wall came down and they were exposed to the cornucopia of products the free market had to offer.
The FrankenThinkPad lives!
I’ve had an old ThinkPad laptop lying around for ages, and for most of that time I’ve been planning to do something useful with it. It’s not very powerful (Pentium 133 with 64 MB), but its bright 11 inch TFT screen has plenty of potential. My vague plan was to build it into a picture frame as a kind of digital photo frame/information point, but it wasn’t until I found exactly the right kind of frame the other week that I really got started.
Getting paid to blog
Purely in the interests of self promotion, I thought I should write about something else I’ve been working on.
A question of privacy
After reading that some ISPs are selling clickstream data and using it to target advertisements, I started feeling paranoid.
Is London Underground turning Japanese?
I was having dinner a few weeks ago with a friend who, like me, had spent some time living in Japan, and our discussion turned to the platform markings at Japanese railway and underground stations. These consist of circles, triangles and lines to show where the doors will open and to indicate where passengers should stand while waiting to board the next train. Our conversation proceeded something like this:
World Factbook: Kosovo
The principal export of the freshly-minted nation state of Kosovo is young men in slightly battered cars festooned with Albanian flags, driving round tooting their horns in celebration.
Hidden patterns in Japanese counting
It’s strange: you can learn something, use it daily for years, and never notice the underlying patterns. Until I read a post on Paleoglot this morning, I hadn’t realised how regular six of the Japanese numerals are.
I woke up this morning to hear that the government was calling for more polyclinics. I’d never heard of such a thing before, and the coverage I’ve heard and read today seems to confirm that it’s not a common term in this country. For example, in the Times, the word is quoted as if it’s not an accepted item of vocabulary:
Attack of the clones
I opened a new current account a couple of weeks ago, in order to get a higher rate of interest on my balance. It seems that my usurious greed has received its karmic backlash already.
SUV drivers hate everybody, even their own mothers
The selfish, venal people who drive around London in hulking great planet-raping, pedestrian-crushing behemoths are always contemptible. But their absurd choices can sometimes be amusing, too. Today, outside the supermarket, I watched as an elderly woman placed a collapsible footstool on the ground and used it to step up into the passenger side of a particularly outsized SUV.
Habits of bourgeois cyclists
Whilst observing people on bicycles around London, I’ve developed a hypothesis that there’s a correlation between socio-economic status and certain behaviours. Some things in particular are obviously exclusive to the bourgeoisie:
Ruby parsing ambiguities
I was reading Perl Cannot Be Parsed: A Formal Proof on PerlMonks over breakfast this morning (this may in itself cause you to worry about me), which introduced me to a clever, ambiguous snippet of Perl constructed by Randall Schwartz:
I am Legend
I realise that everyone else who’s going to has probably already seen it by this point, but I just watched I am Legend at the cinema. Coincidentally, I listened to an abridged reading of the book last week—I’d recorded it off the radio last year—which made it very easy to compare the two.
Bring out your dead (Rails templates)
Is your Rails application cluttered up by extraneous templates that you aren’t using any more? Do you find it hard to work out which ones they are? Worry no more! Help is at hand.
Two leg minimum
It’s a damned shame that Oscar Pistorius and his carbon-fibre legs have been barred from competing in the next Olympics. I’d have watched him. Every four years it’s the same old: regular humans running around with nothing more than the legs they were born with. Boring!
I joined what looked like a short queue at Tesco. There was one person having her goods scanned and one other set of items on the belt.