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Saturday 20 December 2003

Raven Shield multiplayer [lurks]

Since a few of us have got our shiny legit copies of Raven Shield today, I slapped up a server on Wench and we jumped in for a bash. So far we've been playing through the multiplayer maps with a good deal (20) terrorists on the terrorist hunt mode. It's rock hard, I'll tell you that. It's also quite simply the best multiplayer game ever! Every engagement with the enemy is risky and on the more complex maps we've had to retry the map 20 times until we managed to complete it.
All the stuff that makes Raven Shield a good game come right into their own in multiplayer. Cracking doors open for a peak, breaching charges, flashbangs and even small pleasures like sliding down a ladder rapidly. It's all ace fun, we can't wait to get straight back into the action after another mission failed. All we need now is to get Roger Wilco set up so we've got some voice communications. I must also somehow manage to impart to Muz the concept of 'backup' as well :)
Come on you fuckers, get your Raven Shield and join up! Server details and password in #EED.

1942 Punked [spiro]

From the 1942 Website
In response to the #1 request from the community, DICE & EA are proud to announce the inclusion of anti-cheat measures in the next patch for Battlefield 1942. The Battlefield team is committed to providing an exploit-free gaming environment for members of our community. Our goal is to have measures in place which address both current and future cheats. As such, after researching existing anti-cheat programs, we've determined that Punkbuster™ suits our purposes perfectly. We'll keep everyone updated as to our progress. For now, we have successfully integrated Punkbuster into the upcoming 1.6 patch and we're in the process of testing it.
About time if you ask me.

Thursday 18 December 2003

The best browser ever? [lurks]

I been around the houses with alternative web browsers in my time, the Amiga years ensured that. Yet for the longest time, I shoved my snout in the mass market trough of microsoft-spill that is Internet Explorer. Mostly because it just worked, it's what everyone was testing web sites with and I just didn't see any of the lame linux sandal-wearing arguments about bloat and disk space. We'd moved on from the 486 after all.
I tried Opera. I found the interface shit and it was broken on standard stuff like forms. Then, at some point, I tried Mozilla and began to like it. I liked it for three main reasons; tabbed browsing, respectable mail/news client and pop up blocking by default. I've used Moz for ages now and never saw a reason to move to Firebird because Moz never struck me as slow and I was using the extra bits anyway.
The thing is, a fair bit of stuff is still broken on Moz and one source of constant annoyance is the irritating behavior of the google plug-in which just isn't as good as the IE plug-in.
So I tried out this Avant Browser which is basically someone building a new application which sits on all the nuts and bolts bits of IE. It has pop-up blocking and most importantly of all it has tabbed browsing. It also has bookmark managing which just works better than Moz, Eg being able to right click on entries and draw stuff around just like in IE.
The preferences are clean and well laid out and of course it is basically compatible with everything because it's just IE. The very latest version even comes with the Google toolbar built in (the standard one wont install) and that behaves exactly like the proper IE one. I have, in short, discovered my ideal browser.
Of course many will crow about how is MS and still evil and how it doesn't adhere 100% correctly to the W3 Org's standards and all that shit but then those people don't use web browsers for actually doing work and hence complaining that something is broken is a luxury they have, when you just need to view the fucking site.
I like the way it sits in the task tray when it's not being used too. One simple click and bosh it's back with my tabs. It also enforces tabbed browsing in a way Moz doesn't do. So you wont end up with a few confusing instances of it. I think it's the nuts, basically. It's your old favorite but just better.
It's free but they're fishing for donations. Maybe some ways down the line if I'm still using it, I'll sling them some cash.
So what are you bastards using?

Wireless compact keyboard [lurks]

Right, the hunt is back on. I'm looking for a wireless compact keyboard to use for my lounge server. Originally I had a crappy cheap infrared and it was fine but fucked up after awhile, now I've got a very nice IBM wired. Only it's fucked too. It randomly goes into numlock mode for no reason, which needs an arcane vulcan death grip-like combination of key presses to revive it. Really, though, the problem is that it's wired and that's just a pain.

Now I already know that the big e-commerce outfits don't have what I need. I just refuse to believe that this is something unusual though, after all when I bought the infrared one is was a dime a dozen at the markets and now they have nothing like it! So join me my brothers, let us find a wireless compact keyboards (with integrated pointing device) which is suitable for lounge servers.

Tuesday 9 December 2003

Microsoft's new mice reviewed [lurks]

I've got one of the new new Microsoft wireless mouse, the Intellimouse 2.0 job. I'll keep this sort because there's not vast amounts to say. At work, the wireless receiver complained of low signal quality despite being less than a foot away. No such problem at home. It hated being on a Dabs mouse mat with a black bit in the middle. Works fine on the table.
Then there's the wheel. Well, the tilt stuff is utter bollocks. It's quite hard to tilt, you have to push it a long way. It's just plain uncomfortable to move your wheel finger that far from side to side. It's a gimmick and completely useless. The surprise is the smooth mouse wheel action is pretty cool. So is the software change so you move it faster and it scrolls faster. That's quite nice actually.
Mouse movement is a bit naff, don't know why. Have to ramp the speed right up to match a logitech and it's inaccurate. Use mouse acceleration is now called enhance mouse pointer precision or something, even though that's clearly got nothing to do with it.
The worst thing of all is that it sticks. It's got all this mondo clever power saving stuff right. So it shuts off when you don't move it. The trouble is, it shuts off and then the wheel doesn't work. You need to move the mouse to wake it up then the wheel starts working. And when it sticks, you have to wiggle it a bit to get it to wake up.
Ergonomically it's good but the title wheel is a useless gimmick and the mouse movement is stuffed and the stickyness is a serious issue and there's some evidence the wireless reception is iffy too. This is no way a gamers mouse, do not buy one.
This is getting unplugged and replaced with the logitech. Even at work I'll use a ball mouse over this and that has to tell you something.

Thursday 4 December 2003

Doctor Who [beej]

So the Beeb are remaking Dr.Who and fortunately there's no way on earth the McGann brothers will be let near the role after the last effort.
Who would you choose as The Timelord for 2005? My suggestions are...
  • Eddie Izzard!
  • Bill Bailey
  • Jonathan Creek bloke
  • Jonny Vegas
  • Jean-Luc Picard
  • Llewelyn Bowen from Changing Rooms

If anyone says 'The guy from Spooks' then don't be surprised if I kick you in the nads.

Wednesday 3 December 2003

DC = RSI [lurks]

Like many working journalists, I'm always on the cusp of having a serious problem with repetitive strain injury or RSI. That's something of a misnomer because the injury itself isn't cause by the repetitive nature of the work, it's just that doctors didn't adequately understand what was going wrong when the condition was first identified. It's actually caused by a constant strain on a tendon. Such as you might do when typing, typically it's the tendons in the forearms - as it is for me - although other people get variants.
Normally for me, it flares up the next day after I've had a particularly long session of the offending activity. Now the tendon in my right forearm is swollen and very painful indeed. Only this time it wasn't me typing, because I've learnt to manage that roughly - by pushing keyboards right the way back on a desk and resting my forearms on the table, relieving the strain. I've tried a fancy chair and a proper posture and those didn't help as much as my own technique. Fucking quacks.
Anyway, I digress. The cause of this flair up of my RSI is, you guessed it (or if you didn't due to the title of the blog, then you're a thick cunt), is Desert Combat. More specifically, handling of a joystick. Since we've been playing limited numbers vs a bag load of bots, I've had unprecedented access to my vehicle of choice - the Apache. So much so that I find I end up resting my right hand on the joystick even when I'm not flying one. Oh and I played some X2: The Threat on the weekend too, with a ... sigh ... joystick.
The thing is, I'm kinda hosed here. There are no low profile joysticks. They're all these bulky things which I have to raise my arm up to grasp upon my table in the typically bad RSI inducing posture.
So, do I hang up my helicopter gloves or move to keyboard and mouse? I dunno. I should just probably play less but since our lounge is a building site, my other activities had been removed this weekend. Or, I could seek out some more ergonomically friendly joystick. Does such a beast exist? I suspect not, it's just as much the fault that my huge desk is quite high...
Still, some pretty sizable ownerage was handed down at the weekend and that has to be worth a little pain.

Tuesday 2 December 2003

Looking for a low-end digicam [lurks]

Right, I'm looking for a digital camera. I don't want a ninja flash one, this time I don't even consider a zoom lens important. The missus and I are going half on it, she's going to get the most use out of it and I'll just use it when I need to take the odd snap. I had more or less settled on the Olympus C-150 as it's a stonking price and I swear by Olympus cameras on the whole.
Thing is, no one has it in stock. So I thought, maybe someone else knows of a camera in the £100-£160 range which is worth a look-see?

Lurks XviD guide [lurks]

My previous DVD ripping/DivX guide was fairly popular but it seems that it was one of the blogs we vaped when we moved server. Also, I've been doing a fair bit of experimentation with XviD rather than DivX. The reason being that XviD is an open-source MPEG4 codec that is being actively developed, as opposed to DivX which isn't fully MPEG4 compliant and went 8 months without an update. So here's a guide, from scratch, on how to do a wicked DVD rip with XviD complete with a decent soundtrack.
First of all, let's get all of the software. We're going to use GKnot because it installs a lot of it and has a nice GUI which calculates bitrate and does the frame serving stuff for us. This time around we wont be using it for audio. Firstly get the GKnot rippack from Doom9. You should also get the System Pack. You may be able to omit the latter but I've only tested this procedure having that installed. Next up, grab this zip in which I've put Azid and a cmd line LAME so we can do the audio properly. The ones installed by GKnot are old and we need the features of the new versions.
We're obviously also going to need a copy of the XviD codec. Get Koepi's current build.
Now we're ready to go. Slap in a DVD. Run GKnot. On the first tab you've a button to launch DVDDecrypter. Click that, select your drive. Select a a space to save off the VOBs, obviously you'll need bag loads of space on that drive. Then whack the decrypt graphic on it to start the rip and decrypt. You'll have to wait awhile until it's done.
When it's done. On GKnot again, first tab, whack the DVD2AVI button. File/open, select the first VOB that is listed on your hard drive, from the location you ripped them to with DVDDecrypter. It will offer to auto add the rest in the sequence, which is fine by us. DVD2AVI will get bigger and you can now hit F5 to play. In fact, you should do that now. Now we have two cases, if the film is PAL - it will quite often say it is interlaced in the panel on the right when previewing. This is almost always lies. If you really think your DVD is interlaced, wait until it pans and hit escape. If you've got a comb sort of effect on odd/even lines then it's interlaced. Make a mental note of that, we'll have to fix that later.
Now if the DVD is NTSC, things get a bit more tricky. It may be a video framerate DVD or it may be a film framerate DVD. Basically let it play for awhile and DVD2AVI will display a number next to FILM in the preview. If it keeps increasing and goes up over 90% in fairly short order, then it's FILM. In which case go to Video/Field operation and select Forced FILM. Now we need to sort out ripping the audio stream out of the VOBs. To speed the process up a bit and to save on a bit of disk space, we'll just extract what we need which will be Track 1 invariably.
Make sure Audio/Track Number is 1. Make sure Audio/Channel Format is Auto Select. Make sure that Audio/Dolby Digital is set to Demux, which will just Demux track 1 which we have selected. It often defaults to Decode, which we don't want so check this every time.
Now it's just File/Save Project now, save filename into your DVD rip directory - doesn't matter what you call it. It'll take awhile and you'll see some AC3 file appear in the directory and a small D2V file. Sorted.
Back to GKnot. At the bottom left of the GUI, there's an Open button. Bang that and select the D2V file you just saved with DVD2AVI. A preview window will pop up and show a bit from inside the movie.
One of the things we can do with XviD is get it to spend a bunch less of the file on credits where nothing is happening. You know, scrolly ones on a black background kinda thing. You can do this for credits at the start (a bit more rare) and/or credits at the end. If you want to do this, just get out a pen/post-it or whatever and make a note of the start and end frames of the credits at the start and end of the movie. You can do this easily by just dragging the slider in the GKnot preview window, the current frame is displayed in the window title. You don't need to do this step if you're lazy.
Now pop the main GKnot GUI to the front. We need to crop the video so we're only saving the content. Select the third tab called Resolution and hit Autocrop button. You shouldn't really need to do anything else. Now we need to set up the size and bitrate of our rip. The second tab on GKnot is called Bitrate, select that. Now you can enter the size of your rip in CDs, size of CDs and what not. I'll assume you aren't an idiot and can work that out. Select an audio track bitrate of 128kbps and select 1x vbr-mp3 in the overhead calculation pane.
The key thing here is the bits per pixel. We should be shooting for something like 0.20 which gives excellent results. If you go a bit lower than this, it'll go yellow to warn you. You can get away with that in many cases, you'll just see more artifacts. The resolution/compression trade-off is up to you. If the bits per pixel is too low, you'll either need to make the movie bigger or switch to the Resolution tab in GKnot and scale the movie down. Anywhere from 512 to 640 is good. As you drag the slider, you'll see the bits per pixel change. So you can fiddle with these settings to get a compromise you feel happy with.
When you're happy with your choices, hit the Save & Encode button on the GKnot preview window. Now if you're sure your vid is interlaced, enable that on the GUI which has appeared. I recommend the Field Deinterlace option for that. If your vid isn't interlaced the leave that to None. Resize Filter, set to Neutral or Sharp Bicubic. I use the former but others use the latter. Up to you. Hit the Save and Encode button on this and it'll prompt to save an AVS file. Save that in your rip dir with an appropriate name.
Now you're on the Encoding panel of GKnot called the DivX Encoding Control Panel. That's great but we don't care about that because we're gonna do XviD so just close that.
Now in your start menu you've got a Gordian Knot folder and in that there's an Apps sub folder. In there, you'll see VirtualDub. Run that. Now we've got VirtualDub, it might bleat a bit the first time you run it. Just fuck off the bleats and select File/Open and open that AVS file you last saved from GKnot.
In Audio menu in VDub, set to No Audio. In the video menu, select Fast recompress. Then select Compression from the video menu. You'll have a list of codecs. We'll be wanting to select the XviD codec. Hit the configure button. Select from the drop down, 2 Pass - 1st Pass. Then hit the advanced button. Much of the settings here is open to experimentation but I can recommend at least the following is turned on; Enable Lumi-masking, Quarterpel, Global Motion Compensation.
Now go to the Credits tab. Remember that I said to note the start and end of the credits and the beginning and/or the end of the movie? Well here's where you put them. All you need to do is tick the start and/or the end credits option and fill in the start/end frame. If you forgot to write them down from GKnot you can always just exit out of this and find them from within Virtual Dub. I'd leave the other settings.
Now keep pressing OK until you're back to a blank VDub. Select File/Save as AVI and save out firstpass.avi but tick the little box on the file requester that says 'Don't run this job now...'. It'll just add it to the queue so we can run both and leave the PC be while it does the biz.
Now go back to the Video/Compression options. Hit configure on the XviD codec like you did before. This time select '2 Pass - 2nd pass - Int' from the drop down. Now you've got a box to enter video size. You get this number from the GKnot GUI on the Bitrate tab. You've got the Video Size in Kb. So enter that number into the Desired Size box in the XviD codec. You don't need to do anything else, just hit OK and go back to VDub and select File/Save as AVI again. Again ticking the 'Don't run this job now...' box. Name your file finalvid.avi or something descriptive like that.
Hit F4 to open the Job Control. You can just whack Start on this and VDub will fire off doing the first pass and then the second pass. Couple of tips here, firstly if you want to see how your machine is performing you can select 'Show Status Window' from the new 'Dub in progress!' menu that will appear. Secondly, VDub does often slow your machine down when it's doing it's thing however if you run the task manager and select the VDub process, you can right click to turn the priority down to Below Normal and continue using your PC as normal.
Now we're going to do the audio. You can either do that on the same machine or shift it to do on another machine to speed the process up. Earlier I linked a zip which has Lame.exe and Azid.exe in it. To make things easy, copy the AC3 file to wherever you've extracted those and rename it to something easy to type. Do pay attention to the number in front of the ms in the filename though as if it's not 0, we'll need it later.
So now we just do this;
azid.exe -c normal -s stereo -a xxx.ac3 xxx.wav
lame.exe --alt-preset 128 xxx.wav xxx.mp3

You could lower the 128 down as far as 96 if you like but LAME will resample to 32KHz automatically. Still sound fine for movies though. When this is done, you've got yourself an mp3 encoded at the target bitrate using LAME's ABR capability and nicely normalized thanks to Azid. No more quiet soundtracks!
Now when your video is done, you can play it as normal to check it out. You can obviously also listen to the soundtrack as well. Assuming you're happy with both, we just need to glue them together. For this we'll need another version of VitualDub called Nandub, because the original doesn't support muxing VBR MP3s. You'll have this installed as part of GKnot in the start menu/Gordian Knot/Apps folder again. Run it now.
Now all you need to do is File/Open your second pass finished video. Then in the Video menu select 'Direct Stream Copy'. In the Audio menu, select '(VBR) MP3 Audio'. Doing so will open a file requestor and at this point you just pick your finished MP3 file that you made earlier. If there was a funny +30 or -30ms or something like that in the original AC3 filename, select Audio/Interleaving and pop in that number in the 'Delay audio track by' box.
Now you can just File/Save as AVI. It'll save a new file out which will have the video and audio muxed together. It ought to be exactly the size you specified in GKnot. That's it, you're done!

Desert Combat 0.5 [beej]

Well, we've discovered DC (again!) only this time Lurker likes it ;) Some good multiplay tonight; here are some screenies for posperity:

Unless you de-balance the AI it can be a bit of a scrum

Lurks and Hans fly overhead in their AH-64

Hans lands his Mi-8 HIP on the roof so that he can pilot the rest of us into the DMZ

Mow them down like ants! muuuuhahahaha!

EUCD and what it means for you [lurks]

I've been writing a fair bit of stuff about the new European Union Copyright Directive. This is basically a set of requirements which the EU has dictated on copyright issues, which each member country in the EU needs to incorporate into their own law. Anyhow, this has major ramifications for activities that some of the readers of this web site are known to engage in so I think a distilled summary ought to be of interest to you.
The EUCD in essence contains two areas of requirements which we're interested one. Sharing of copyrighted material on the Internet and accountability for that and the protection your ISP provides you from being identified. The second part is defeating copy protection mechanisms, which is probably of less interest but I'll run through it just the same.
As of October the 31st, amendments to UK have come into effect (I'll spare you the lengthy details) so that the UK now complies with EUCD. That means now.
There is a popular misconception that the new laws have made peer-to-peer sharing illegal. They have not, sharing of copyrighted material has always been illegal. What's new is that there is specific legislation to grant injunctions against ISPs who harbor customers which are uploading and downloading copyrighted materials. There's a process stated by which an ISP can be notified of infringing customers.
So, putting it all in context, let's follow a scenario by which Jonny might get one of these mythical 'cease and desist' letters from his ISP.
Boris runs some kind of Gnutella-based peer-to-peer client. He's a bit of a 'tard see. He's sharing all his movies and as a result, when any one comes along and searches for Turbo Ninjas III, the latest Miramar blockbuster - his client dutifully reports his IP and says 'come and get it' in a lovely free opensource protocol.
A protocol which some clever spods have worked out how to make money from. See what they build a list of big name movies. Then they write their own software which connects to the peer-to-peer networks and searches for all of these movies. Dutifully, all these machines report they have the movie. These folks build a nice little database, sorting the IPs into ISPs and exactly what movies they're sharing.
This company (NetPD is one) then approaches the big movie companies and says - guess what chum, we've got a nice list of everyone in the UK who is currently uploading Turbo Ninjas III on the Internet. You can take this to an ISP and get them to stop! Oh, gis some dosh eh?
Movie company laps it up. Then writes a nice official letter with their address, conforming to the new laws - with this lovely database from the likes of NetPD. IPs, times, exactly what they're sharing etc. Likely the letter will remind the ISP of their obligations and that unless they take action, they will be forced to seek an injunction.
ISP reads letter. ISP runs off to read up on the law. ISP bricks it. ISP dutifully types up a load of letters to the customers, telling them that Miramar tells them that you are sharing Turbo Ninjas III and that you should delete this and stop doing this sort of thing. ISP will also remind customer of the T&Cs. Note, the ISP isn't going to boot you off - the ISP knows full well the reason you have broadband is to be n0rty but it doesn't have much choice.
Boris gets this letter, which correctly identifies that he has Turbo Ninjas III on his hard drive and he's running Kazaa or whatever. Boris bricks it, he's never been busted for anything before and thinks, like everyone else on the Internet, that he can do whatever he likes and he's 100% anonymous. Boris gets a clue and turns off the app. He probably also panics and starts throwing out the piles of warez CDs too.
So, that covers how things are working right now. Anything where you advertise that you have a file on the Net, you're liable for this. That also includes Bittorrent, another open standard where the tracker is happy to pass anyone a list of ISPs of people who have the file. Of course you might not know what a torrent is of, unless you have the torrent file - but then the torrent files are helpfully named and available for download from the likes of so that problem doesn't exist.
Now, the other part of the new amendments to UK law are worth mentioning also. It is now illegal to sell, make available or even tell people how to make any device, technique or software etc which defeats technological systems designed to protect content. That means mod chips. It wasn't actually illegal to sell mod chips before, you'd just get sued by the console maker. Now the UK is the 6th country int he UK to make it illegal.
It also means that selling DVD ripping software which is capable of decrypting DVDs is illegal as well. And CD duplication software which is capable of defeating stuff like Macrovision's Safedisc or, potentially, the new copy protected audio CDs too. Of course all of this is preposterous because as we all know, it's piss easy to get all of this software off the net for free. The main thing is that no one is allowed to profit from selling this stuff now. It's also illegal to circumvent copy protection mechanisms by using this software, free or not, but then if you're doing that it was probably illegal anyway. You wouldn't care because the chance of enforcement is nil.
The Internet is another matter. Although at present you really only stand a chance of getting one of these cease and desist letters if you're pirating movies from Sony or Time Warner. However I would expect more publishers to follow suit, the music industry to get involved and in time, even game publishers.
The days of open Net piracy look to be vanishing. This isn't really a bad thing though, is it?