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Friday 25 January 2008

Teamspeak and Vista [Lurks]

I recently ran into a strange problem which I know at least one other person has run into without a solution. Today I stumbled across the solution which is remarkably simple.

If I ran SupCom:FA via GPGnet my teamspeak push-to-talk button wouldn't work. If I ran it by just running the game and setting up a LAN game my teamspeak PTT button would work just fine. How odd eh? Chased my arse around trying to remap keys and stuff but the problem remained.

Today the missus pointed out she has the same kind of thing with WoW. I looked at it and sure enough the PTT hotkey just doesn't work in WoW any more. That's just crazy. Then I had a thought... could it be Vista related and basically a hotkey permissions issue? In a flash I realised this very likely would be it because GPGnet asks to be escalated in permissions when you run it (because it can patch and stuff, I guess) and therefore when it launches SupCom:FA this is in a higher permissions level than launching SupCom:FA as normal.

Quick and dirty test. Ran the missus teamspeak as administrator and put it into test mode and fired up WoW. Whammo, it worked. Bugger me.

Problem easily solved by right clicking on Teamspeak shortcut and ticking the run as administrator button. Bosh.

Monday 21 January 2008

Omg they killed Pandora [Am]

pandoraFor quite a while a number of us had been using the excellent streaming radio of Pandora to fill our ears with entertaining toons. Now Pandora worked on a feed from the Music Genome project which, a bit like amazon's 'also bought' type functionality led a listener away from an inputted band and into lots of bands that were profiled of a similar ilk. Many interesting discoveries of stuff you never heard before could be made in this vein with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down system for the user to train up the prog even more. Forward-winds were limited an hour to avoid licensing problems.

That is, as they you used to say on Science World, until now....

The licensing of Pandora was US centric due to the complexities of music licensing globally and the fact that a US startup was clearly going to focus on its home market. However it was possible to listen to it elsewhere as long as one had the opinion, creative or otherwise, that one was in the US in some manner computorily or another. However it is quite clear that the kaibosh has been firmly put on this and now linked off their login.

Well that's a bit of a pity innit. Is there anything else people would recommend?

Saturday 19 January 2008

Apple TV and DivX [Lurks]

Penny Arcade came up with an interesting historical reminder in their latest comic. Also discussed in the purple prose of the news page. Their central premise is that the idea of the convenience of DRM controlled rental movies in the lounge is now being hailed as the second coming as a feature of the new Apple TV (I can't be arsed to link that junk), when in fact the original DivX players offered exactly the same thing and were lampooned into oblivion by Internet Liberals.

Some of you might be a shade confused here. DivX was originally a DVD player with a modem . You could get DivX DVDs, in effect, and basically rent them via some electronic DRM system or optionally even buy them. This was made out to be something massively evil back in the day. The fact that a pirate codec ripping off Microsoft's MPEG4 source code decided to call itself DivX in later years was actually a rare form of American irony. DivX is now, somehow through ways I don't quite understand, an entirely legal provider of MPEG4 codec.

Anyway, I remember the DivX arguments well. I honestly remember that I hated the DivX idea but that was because the usual packs of Internet Liberals (the guys now generally advocating piracy and being able to steal music and rip DVDs etc) had the whole thing in their head as a restriction. Where as in fact it was trumpeting the kind of model with AppleTV and the Xbox 360 live movie/tv download service is offering today. Cheaper access to content you want.

So what's changed? Hard to say. I think if you look back then we all had a different idea about videos and DVDs. These were things to own. The idea that you didn't really own something and you could just watch it when you wanted and then couldn't watch it again seemed alien and wrong.

Fast forward to today and there's so much content, and we're used to obtaining TV, movies and christ knows what else via digital means has caused us all to think about DVDs differently. I have a shelf of DVDs and they represent a particular time frame where that seemed a good idea. Later I thought, hang on... I don't watch these movies again, not really. Why do I want to own it? Much less why do I want to pay a good slice of wonga for it, more than it would cost to go to the cinema to see it?! So I stopped.

Now if I look at my hard drive it's got massive folders of unfiltered drop stuff in a regular Usenet leech folder and a Bittorrent leech folder. Huge amounts of shit just drop in there. I generally watch and then forget about and end up deleting later every time that drive gets a bit full. Anything that I decide rules I copy out into movies, television, music folders on the big archive drive. A fraction of what I leech actually gets that honor.

I can't speak to Apple TV because, well, it's bollocks. iTunes is bollocks. Lack of 1080p is bollocks etc. However Microsoft have launched the movie download service for the Xbox 360. You go in, see a movie you want and leech it. I think you need to start watching within a week or something, and when you've started watching it you need to finish watching it in a day or so. That concept seems to be getting as ribbing from Penny Arcade. But how's that different from those pay-per-view movie and sports channels on satellite? Except for the fact you don't need to watch at a specific time slot. It's also perfectly obvious that renting a movie via this system is a lot cheaper than buying the DVD. Let alone the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray. So where's the problem?

I can't wait for this stuff to be done correctly to be honest. Watching movies and television is worth money to me if it's the stuff I want to watch. I steal it now because it's the only way to get it but it is a bit of a faff and of course quality is variable.

Of course content owners end up being own worst enemies as usual. They wont sell me in the UK the latest episode of some hit American TV series in HD. Not until some terrestrial channel has aired it months later. They, of course, still fail to understand that content is in a global market now. Region locking is fundamentally bollocks.

Yet if some movie appears on the 360 which I haven't seen and I'd like to see, I'd absolute fork over some Microsoft points and watch it. It's HD (albiet only 720p but 1080p is prohibitively large really), the encode quality is clearly great from source material. It's surround sound pumped straight out of the 360 via optical into my DD decoder speakers. Media playback controls are perfectly competent on the 360.

Let's be honest though, there's going to be some leechable HD x264 rip in a Matroska container that plays beutifully on a PC - ripped from a Blu-ray source - out weeks before the studios deign to flog it on these services. On the other hand there's a lot of movies out and I don't see them ALL before they reach this weird period where studios decide pay-per-view is good distribution timeframe. So I can see me using it.

The thing I wish they'd do is just output the premium US television NOW. When they premier on the big channels in the US, this shit should ALL be up on a service so you can buy the television episodes. In my little imaginary utopia things like Firefly would still be on the air because those thousands and thousands of us around the world that loved that show when we were downloading it would all be paying a few quid.

And who knows, the yanks might suddenly realise the market for HBO-like quality material is actually bigger because they aren't so absurdly reliant on the whims of American prime-time couch-droolers. All those great shows that were axed... they could be running. Leave MEGA STRUCTURES and MOST DANGEROUS PETS on the network television (and channel Five) as normal, chuck out quality shows for the world market. It'll come. I wonder how long we'll have to wait.

It is funny though, looking back at DivX and looking at how much we hated the very idea of the same thing which sounds like hot sex today.

Thursday 17 January 2008

Fixing mp4 audio sync [Spiny]

Fixing audio mp4 sync.Anyone who owns an iPod video or PSP has probably coonverted video to watch on the bus. When converted from another source say avi or flash video (Which the clan approved FreeDownloadManager does very niceley) the audio can go out of whack & by the end of the piece it looks like a badly dubbed karate film.Here's how to fix it. I gleaned this stuff from the interwebs, but if you follow my guide instead of theirs you'll do it in half the time. You'll need Quicktime and the rather excelent VLC Player.1. Find the delay
  • Open the video in In VLC Player
  • Start playing the video & skip to where it starts to go out of sync
  • Then press Ctrl+K or Ctrl+L to adjust the audio delay till it's back in sync. It'll show you the size of your adjustment in the top right of the window
  • Repeat this at a few intervals, making the last adjustment close to the end of the video. The reason for this is that often the audio gets progressively more out of step the further you go through the video, so it's easier to do it a bit at time. When making your final adjustment, note the size of the audio delay you've introduced (measuered in milliseconds)

2. Fix it
  • Open up the video in quicktime
  • Drag the right hand selection marker (the black triangle) all the way to the right.
  • Do Edit->Select All
  • Now drag the right hand selection marker back for the same amount of time as your audio delay. e.g. 3000ms = 3 seconds
  • Do Edit->Copy
  • Do Edit->Add to selection & scale
  • Select Show Movie Properties from the Window menu
  • You'll see the video & audio tracks duplicated. Untick the first audio track and second video track so you're left with the original video track and new audio track
  • Play the file to verify your work
  • Go back to Window->Movie Properties and delete the unused video & audio tracks.
  • Do file->Save As to save your video to a new file

3. Sip Champagne & nibble nachos.By the way if you're still using quicktime to play mov & mp4s, install VLC & use that instead. Or ffdshow & windows media player.

Did we kill PC gaming? [Lurks]

Couple of days ago a developer from Infinity Ward, the dudes who make CoD4, posted a blog about an old subject. PC games piracy. This being the same week that Slim noticed that in the UK sales charts, only had two PC game SKUs in the top 40. Bottom line is PC gaming is going belly up and largely it's our fault. Blog snip here:

"They Wonder Why People Don't Make PC Games Any More On another PC related note, we pulled some disturbing numbers this past week about the amount of PC players currently playing Multiplayer (which was fantastic). What wasn't fantastic was the percentage of those numbers who were playing on stolen copies of the game on stolen / cracked CD keys of pirated copies (and that was only people playing online). Not sure if I can share the exact numbers or percentage of PC players with you, but I'll check and see; if I can I'll update with them. As the amount of people who pirate PC games is astounding. It blows me away at the amount of people willing to steal games (or anything) simply because it's not physical or it's on the safety of the internet to do."

Piracy has always been a serious issue on the PC. Earlier in a platform's lifecycle it's almost helpful as ends up being a reason why people adopt a platform and as the platform becomes more mainstream the actual lost revenue tends is drowned out by the potential of a popular platform. However the PC in the modern age; broadband Internet, torrents etc and publisher's clumsy and pointless attempts to secure software have lead us to the point where pirate games are easy to source, easy to download, easy to install and end up giving you less hassle than an original copy.

I've felt strongly about this for awhile now so I've actually gone and bought most big/good PC games whether or not I thought I'd play them that much. Because it isn't a lot of money for a game and because this particular bit of nasty graffity has been on the wall for some time now. However I'm clearly in a vanishing minority. Even in the clan when we have a LAN party I say "Hey chaps, let's buy this game" and there's people who wont, people who pirate or just the idea of forking out any money at all for software (not just games) is an absolute measure of last resort after you've exhausted all other possibilities.

Course what it means is the game devs have fucked off to consoles and we're basically getting game ports as a parasitic relationship off the Xbox 360 since those platforms tend to be developed in tandem. Naturally enough it means that PC-only related concerns just don't factor. We've seen UT3 actually dump the well executed PC-focused in-game interface/configuration and bring in some console menu-centric monstrosity.

It's doubly frustrating for me because, ironically, one of the best PC games around has been released in a favorite genre of mine - Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance. However being a participant of the forums and the modding community, such as it is (not very much), paints a different picture. You've got a developer which very quickly yanked community support people and anyone that was working on significant patches/updates and most importantly, mod issues/tools, off the project right away. They shipped the game with pretty much a broken AI and have no desire to fix it. Instead they'll bash out another mission pack later on, if we're lucky.

Great as FA is. As completely PC-centric as it is. As completely impossibly to do on a console as it is... it sold fuck all. And that's despite a patch after a couple of days of US release dumping requirement for CD. So you can't hold that sort of thing up as a solitary explanation. There's a reason consoles rapidly became the staple diet of the industry.

What does it all mean though? Already more of the clan than ever before have games consoles. Are we packing in PC gaming? Some of us clearly have been already, since they've been attempting to get by with crap laptops rather than customary high-end gaming rigs of old. Taking a look at 2007, much of the very very good PC games were also out on 360. TF2/Portal, Bioshock etc. Only Crysis was PC only and, heh, that was your typical high-end PC game wank fest that runs shit on any hardware anyone actually owns. Even Bioshock I had to install Vista since it outright refused to work on my well worn XP install.

You think, after all these years and all that talk from Microsoft and Nvidia etc, that PC gaming would finally become more plug and play, more reliable out of the box. Well, it's better but it's still a complete pig's ear. Crysis was nothing short of a farce.

It's not all that bad. After all we had a good run playing TF2, even if it wasn't that long lasting. And that's clearly better on PC than on a console but I wonder if that'll be the case next time around? And of course the next generation of consoles beyond the Xbox 360 and PS3 will almost certainly be devoid of the last few remaining hurdles that stop them from being premium online platforms capable of hosting things like MMO games. Big hard drives, that sort of thing.

I think it's a shame. There's a lot of stuff around PC gaming that I like. Proper high-def gaming. Games which don't try to conform to a lowest common denomonator and a gimped controlller. Integration between the computer you're using to do everything outside of the game and playing the game. Hard to think how I'd chat on IRC to me chums on an xbox. The community aspect, forums, mods and all of that great stuff.

Ultimately human nature has reared it's ugly head. It strikes me that as a group we now appear fast ready to ditch the platform that we fucked over and take off to the inferior console platform for no other reason than there's games on the console. Because there we can't avoid paying game developers for their hard work so it's they are still commercial viable.

That's a pretty sorry state of affairs don't you think?

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Asus EEE PC [DrDave]

Just because something is small, doesn't mean it is any less functional. Or so I would frequently tell my ex-wife. She didn't buy it though. Maybe if I had produced an Asus EEE PC by way of evidence, my argument may have been met with more sympathy.

I picked up one of these dinky marvels last week for the princely sum of £220 sir, after I'd finally found a place that had stock that is. By 21st century standards, the EEE is deeply underpowered: a 900MHz Celeron CPU (running at 630MHz thanks to a BIOS stability issue), a tiny 4Gb hard drive, 512Mb of memory and an 800x480 screen. It might be an upgrade for Pod, but this kind of spec is a step backwards for even a low impact PC user like myself. Luckily, performance is not really the point of this device.

The EEE is the forerunner of a new breed of laptops - the affordable sub-notebook. Sub-notebooks are not a new thing of course - a number of my fine peers in this very clan have used the likes of Sony's TR1MP for ages, but paid a hefty price for the privilege of portability. The EEE looks to fill the other end of the market - at about a sixth of the price of high end sub-notebooks, it is easy to overlook the hardware deficiencies and see through to the machine's strengths.

And it's not short of strengths: Extremely fast boot time. Solid state hard drive. Built in wireless. A very crisp and bright display. And, above all, size. It's hard to describe how truely tiny the EEE is. The picture above shows it alongside a DS lite, which should give some indication. Think of two DVD cases stacked and you're on the right lines. It feels small. It feels light. But it also feels sturdy. It feels like the kind of machine you could throw in a bag and not worry about it all day.

Another potential plus point is the installed OS. To save costs, and for performance, it comes shipped with a custom Linux distribution: Xandros. Initially, the OS is set to so-called "Easy Mode", nice big icons linking to commonly used applications or webpages - firefox for example, Wikipedia or Google Docs. This mode emphasises that Asus is squarely aiming this machine at a casual user - someone who doesn't need much more than IM, a browser and an email client. Somewhat confusingly though, Asus have chosen not to include an option to drop out to a full desktop out of the box, though the machine is perfectly capable of doing this. With just a small amount of lunix tinkering, the machine can be turned into a bog-standard linux box, allowing you the same flexibility that you would find in a standard distribution and removing the "toy like" feel of easy mode.

Even better, the machine is perfectly capable of running Windows XP and this is the route I decided to take. I'm no stranger to Linux, and had no doubts that it would be a perfectly good OS for the casual user, but in the end I figured XP would be more useful for my needs (mIrc, browsing, MSN and VPN to work). On top of that, XP's power management is far better than Xandros, and standby times are apparently significantly greater in Windows. A potential downside of going to XP is that Xandros is designed to deal with the limited resolution more cleverly, something that is apparent in positioning of confirmation dialogues. If this was a heavily used Windows installation then maybe this would be an issue, but in truth, I've not yet encountered the problem.

So let's be honest about this: how is the EEE to use? No bones about it, by far the most limiting aspect of the EEE is the screen resolution. 800x480 is, shall we say, a difficult resolution to love. 800x600 would have been fine, giving it that extra chunk of vertical height to make browsing more comfortable. But, for whatever reason the EEE is stuck with a measly 480 vertical pixels, so it's something that needs to be worked around. Luckily, most applications are fine. MSN's chat boxes are large, but not overly so. mIrc doesn't stretch the boundaries at all, and basic explorer file operations are no problem at all. Even digiguide scales well on the small screen. The main weakness is browsing - with a standard setup, firefox renders Google Reader with about three lines of RSS item text. Not good.

Luckily, through tweaking, extensions and general common sense , you can happily recover most of the 480 pixels and make browsing a lot more comfortable. This image shows my current EEE desktop, which is fine for most webpages. Hitting F11 expands the browser so that the only remaining toolbar is the tab bar. Similarly, auto-hiding of the task bar gives some extra space to play about with. That said, even with all of this tinkering, the screen may still put some people off, and will certainly limit the scope of this otherwise very capable machine. A higher resolution model has got to be a certainty in the near future.

In terms of performance, the EEE is surprising. Surprising in that it is hard to criticise. The 4Gb solid state hard drive means that the machine boots in about 20 seconds to an XP login prompt. It is, of course, necessary to reconfigure XP to limit writes to the hard drive, but things like turning off pagefiles and moving My Documents to the SDHC card help with this. I have yet to encounter a low memory situation, but if I did I could easily add a stick of SODIMM into the slot in the bottom. Similarly, graphics are fast and the screen is extremely bright and crisp. It has plenty of USB ports, networking options and even a VGA output.

The bottom line, what is the EEE good for? It would be easy to dismiss the EEE as a toy, partly because of the price, partly because of the Fisher Price OS and partly because of the somewhat odd screen that make it all look a bit V-tech. But you shouldn't overlook the fact that the EEE is also a perfectly capable computer which can do pretty much everything that a "real" laptop can do.

I bought the EEE as a replacement for my chunky normal laptop, something to have on while I'm kicking back on the sofa watching TV. My original intent was to sell the other laptop on Ebay if the EEE worked out. So will I be doing this? In all honesty, no. As much as I love the EEE, general useage is not its strong point. It isn't a replacement machine, it is a complementary machine. You couldn't spend hours on it browsing your RSS feeds, or reading wiki pages. For that, you need a large screen. The EEE is something else. It is a machine you can pick up and take out into the garden or the conservatory. A machine you can drag around the house to fix broken routers or printer. A machine that you can put into a bag for a train ride, or take to a Starbucks or a library. In reality, it is closer to the laptop ideal than the 15 inch pseudo-desktops we seem to drag around everywhere - true portability, but without sacrificing functionality. My ex-wife would have loved it.

Sunday 6 January 2008

Aliens!!1111 [Spiny]

SETI@home is looking more volunteers so I created a team for EED. Go sign up, test your overclocking & find teh aliens!!111


Friday 4 January 2008

Top 10 PC Titles of 07 [Spiny]

Firingsquad have their top 10 PC Games of 07

10.Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars9. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars8. Supreme Commander7. S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl6. Unreal Tournament 35. World In Conflict4. Crysis3. The Orange Box2. Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare1. BioShock

It's a pretty good list, but I'd do some amendments based on my personal preferences. Given the clan accolades for SupCom, 08 may be the year that I finally make an effort to try RTS games properly. I'll have to break myself in with more CoH & see how that goes, but I've never felt sufficiently quick witted to play these much.

10. Peggle (Now on iPod!)9. Company of Heroes (The most I've played into *any* RTS. About 5 levels)8. Unreal Tournament 3 (Solid, but ultimately uninspiring. One to keep in the drawer for arcade adrenelline ushes).7. S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl (Tried it for a bit, held off while patched. Will complete later)6. Supreme Commander (Not really my genre - see above, but afficionados approve)5. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (Brilliant, deep multiplayer game mechanics, no distance fog!. Suffers from a it of a steep learning curve that puts many off)4. Crysis (Guessing here, putting this one off till the next graphics card).3. BioShock (A superb example of single player game craft. Not sure I'd call it art though)2. The Orange Box (Sweet, sweet TF2 & Portal)1. Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare (This has hooked me like no other this year, pretty good seeing as how I hated the demo)

Tuesday 1 January 2008

First Post! [Spiny]

...of the year anyway. And a warning from Ars that Adobe is spying on you

Suggest that you add

to your c:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc\hosts.