Monthly Archives: June 2007

The Almighty EULA

One of my favorite blogs, Coding Horror, recently had an intelligent discussion of end-user license agreements (EULAs). When I say “intelligent”, I of course mean that it doesn’t credit them as being the ultimate evil in the world that will enslave us all.

EULA Hotel
It’s a real hotel in San Francisco! Thanks to King Molan for the picture.

Seriously, I think EULAs are very important. Many EULAs contain clauses that forbid binary reverse engineering. Whenever I install a piece of closed, proprietary software, I skim the EULA specifically to locate the section that discusses RE and the forbidding thereof. My reasoning is that if the clause is missing, then the software’s creators may just have the source available for download somewhere which would make any RE task superfluous.

Remember, don’t RE if you don’t have to.

BBC iPlayer

This article in IMDb’s Studio Briefing was the first exposure I have had to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s initiative called iPlayer: BBC Chief Says New Software Moves TV Into a New Age. This is the official page (iPlayer is formerly known as IMP), and here’s Wikipedia’s treatment.

BBC’s player client allows users to download recent BBC shows and view them locally for a limited period of time. Any multimedia hacker who hears ‘BBC’ likely thinks of the Dirac video codec. There is no sign of the codec in any of the literature. Indeed, the container, codec, transport, and DRM capabilities all appear to be based on Windows Media technologies. Further, the client distributes content via a P2P protocol. I suppose this is a natural outgrowth of such a community-owned entity as the BBC.

The official iPlayer homepage links to a message board for the program beta. The board is closed now but the latest activity was from… February… May… even July? Oh wait, these messages are from 2006. The BBC is not known to be the most efficient or competitive enterprise in the broadcast market. So it is not a big surprise to see how gradually this project has progressed.

Presumably, subjects under the BBC’s jurisdiction will express the most interest in this media client. I wonder if foreigners will be able to use it as well? There was much consternation on the message board regarding the limitations of the service, e.g., not being able to sync the downloaded content to such portable devices as the Apple iPod and Sony PSP.

Does the BBC publish any content that would even make any hacking endeavors worthwhile? (Not in my viewing experience…)

SNOW Bounty

People have often batted around the idea of offering bounties for FFmpeg work — a preset sum of money for a discrete set of goals. Lars Täuber is making a public offer for someone to complete a specific set of goals in order to bring FFmpeg’s SNOW codec up to 1.0 viability.

Wanted: SNOW
Thanks to Glass Giant’s Wanted Poster Generator

We have never done anything quite like this so this should be a learning experience for all of us. For starters, the person aiming for the 1200 Euros ought to be qualified for the task. Ideally, the individual should — at a minimum — perform a qualification task, similar to what we enforced with the Google Summer of Code this year.

Maybe we will eventually have a proper non-profit organization established in order to administer such bounty programs as well as escrow donations. In the beginning, though, if you are interested, check in on the ffmpeg-devel list and we’ll talk.

Audio Museum

I expect myriad museums on any touring vacation. However, I did not expect to see a highly relevant museum before I even left the country for my trip. At San Francisco International airport, there is a History of Audio museum exhibit sponsored by Dolby in terminal 3. Countless people have to walk by it on their way to and from flights but few people probably ever get a chance to study it (nor do they care, I imagine). Fortunately, I had loads of time to spare and made plenty of notes about things I wanted to look up later.

The exhibit features many artifacts from the history of audio recording. Two artifacts that stand out for the codec nerd are the hardware AC-1 encoder and decoder (2 separate units). AC-1? That’s right, AC-1. We all know of AC-3. The only reference I have ever seen for AC-2 is in the master Microsoft audio codec list (AC-2 has a wave format assignment of 0x0030). This is the first I have ever heard of AC-1. The specific hardware was the Scientific-Atlanta 97085 AC-1 enabled satellite receiver and the Dolby Model DP80 encoder, both from the year 1985.

Perhaps the strangest artifact was the Highway Hi-fi— an in-dash phonograph player that handles 45 RPM records. The exhibit didn’t actually have one of these specimens; the best they could do was an old advertisement featuring Lawrence Welk.

Further along on portable personal entertainment, the exhibit had a Toshiba portable MP3/AAC player claiming to be from the year 1997. This surprised me because I always thought that the Diamond Rio was the first. Perhaps it was only the first in the U.S. and the Toshiba model was available in Japan. There was also a representative sample of the legendary (which must have been their adjective, copied into my notes) Nagra portable.

I saw something called a Cartrivision cassette with a Fisher-Price logo on it, leading me to believe that FP was at one time into consumer electronics. Maybe, maybe not. They might not have actually made them, just branded them.

There were representative samples of gaming systems and games from various epochs. The last gen was well-represented since it’s so recent. Other random games showcased were King Arthur’s World (SNES) as well as 2 TurboGrafx-CD games. I took down the title of one as The Atlas [Atlus?]: Ron Voyage to which I can find no reference on the internet. The other one was Japanese and looked like an SNK fighting game but had a Hudson bee logo.

Getting into the movie side of things, my notes indicate that one of the exhibits had a remarkable replica of a Star Wars Y-Wing starfighter. That sort of thing always stands out for me. It turns out that Apocalypse Now was the first movie in 5.1 surround sound.

Cinema Digital Sound (CDS) was discussed and Dick Tracy was mentioned as the first film to use it.

The exhibit had a laptop with a static screenshot of a piece of software known as Dolby Show Manager. From the look of it, the software is used in digital theaters to schedule the main movie feature as well as commercials, trailers, everything.

Finally, perhaps the most well-specified — yet still mysterious — artifact I encountered was a hard drive that contains the first “DD-Cinema film”. I’m not sure what DD-Cinema is exactly. The HD listed a date of 2004 and had the following specs: “San Jose version, 2.39:1 unsqueezed 1920×803 letterbox, P3 color space, 5.1 surround EX ePCM, encrypted 100 Mbps, packaged for sys 1.0.4”. That’s all I know. It didn’t even indicate what the movie was.

The only other notable bit of multimedia from my trip was at the Beethoven Haus in Bonn, Germany. There is a studio with many specially configured PCs for studying Beethoven’s music. A firefox web browser is the primary vehicle for this. At some points, it would launch an external program for playing RealAudio or MP3 files. What did it use? Why, it’s Media Player Classic, v6.4.8.2. Particularly nifty, though, was being able to follow along with the music on original sheet music showcased through Flash. It all got me to thinking about music notation in the context of information coding theory.