Mobile Linux

A lot has been written about mobile and embedded device platforms lately (aka. ‘phone’ platforms). Usually articles are about the usual incumbent platforms: Android, IOS, and Windows Phone and the handful of alternatives from e.g. RIM and others. Most of the debate seems to revolve around the question whether IOS will crush Android, or the other way around. Kind of a boring debate that generally involves a lot of fan boys from either camp highlighting this or that feature, the beautiful design, and other stuff.

Recently this three way battle (or two way battle really, depending on your views regarding Windows Phone), has gotten a lot more interesting. However, my in view this ‘war’ was actually concluded nearly a decade ago before it even started and mobile linux won in a very unambiguous way. What is really interesting is how this is changing the market right now.

Continue reading “Mobile Linux”

Joost and video on demand

Screenshots And Video Of The New Joost

Joost has announced that they are changing the way their service works. Having used it quite a bit, I think this is probably the best thing for them since it was based on a misguided channel/TV metaphore. However, I wonder (along with Techcrunch) what their added value really is. It used to be that p2p seemed like it was the only way to escape from blocky, tiny videos with low frames per second and audio/video sync problems (aka Real Video, what happened to those guys anyway?).

Just last week I was looking at some videos on Vimeo and noticed that they have streaming HD now. Like Youtube, it starts streaming right away. Unlike Youtube, the video is sharp, full screen, high resolution, and mostly free from severe compression artifacts. In other words, they seem to have figured out a way to push large amounts of data to me cost effectively. I didn’t measure it but I estimate I was getting around 1mbps data from them at least.

Doing this on a large scale used to be really expensive. However, in recent years, content delivery networks (CDNs) have emerged that can cost effectively deliver large downloads to massive amounts of users. A CDN is actually similar to p2p. Essentially it involves ensuring you have a servers+bandwidth in every major provider network and keeping these servers in sync. Bandwidth inside a provider network is a lot easier to get. For providers the benefit is that they don’t need to use expensives bit pipes from other providers to get the content to you. So as long as they don’t run out of local bandwidth (of which they have plenty), they will prefer this. Also with less hops to the user, it is a lot easier to ensure there is actually enough bandwidth to the user. Essentially, this brings the best features of p2p to web streaming and makes Joost more or less redundant. Although arguably, they still have a slight cost advantage here due to their reliance on a CDN (this type of service of course costs money).

There are now several flash based streaming sites that use a CDN. What these services have in common is crappy content. There’s only so much amateur, 3 minute video fragments I can take. Also, 3 minute “commercial” fragments of full content normally broadcasted on really obscure tv channels in the middle of the night is hardly compelling. The reason for this is copyright legislation and a systematic ignoring of users outside the USA by media corporations.

Joost, flawed as it was, actually has some okish content hidden inside it. I quite enjoyed watching episodes of Lexx (an obscure but fun Canadian SF series from the nineties) and also a few full feature kung fu movies from the seventies as well as a few documentaries. I wouldn’t pay for any of that but if you are bored, it’s at least a way to pass some time. But Joost never managed to convince media corporations to provide premium content. They still haven’t solved that problem.

If you live inside the US, life is good, apparently. There’s Apple TV, Amazon, Hulu, and a few others like netflix offering massive amounts of good quality pay per view type HD content for download, and in some cases even streaming. Some of these services are ad supported, some of them are subscription based. Joost won’t stand a chance in that market.

However, for about 5.8 billion people outside the US, life is not so good. Here in Finland there are only a handful of video on demand companies whose offerings suck big time comparatively. Additionally, their UI is in Finnish which makes it extremely hard for me to use them or even to figure out what they are trying to offer me. The US based ones won’t deliver content outside the US because that requires separate deals with media companies for each country. In the US, one deal helps you reach a population of around 250 million users. In europe, countries are a lot smaller. My understanding is that to some extent this type of services is now also available in the UK and Germany, which are relatively large countries.

Finland has only 5 million inhabitants.In other words, no content for me. So, if I want to see a movie, I can hope one of the pay per view TV channels broadcasts it (I don’t have a subscription though); buy the DVD; go to the cinema; or hope one of the handful of local TV stations broadcasts something worth watching.

Itunes 7

I installed itunes 7 with some mixed feelings yesterday: I was fully aware that it was not working as advertised for some people. Prior to installing I read about various issues people were having with disappearing files, crashes and sound quality. I had a good reason for upgrading anyway: version 6 never really worked well for me. Just yesterday I just couldn’t launch it. The process would start and then claim 100% of one of my cpu cores but no UI would appear. Not even after waiting 15 minutes. This happened several times to me already. Probably it is some weird conflict between quicktime and my hardware/drivers.
So I figured version 7 probably wasn’t as bad or at least couldn’t get much worse. So, I fired up my backup script that syncs my music library with an external HD. After that I killed the itunes processes and fired up the installer. Pleasant surprise: everything worked. I was sort of bracing myself for random crashes but there weren’t any. Lucky me. If it wouldn’t have worked, I would have been able to roll back to version 6 (several posts in the forums explain how).
So on to the review. Itunes 7, unlike version 6, is a major upgrade with several nice new features and small adjustments to the user interface. I like the changes. My favorite one is album art fetching from itunes (I signed up just for this feature) and the ability to flip through your albums graphically is just real nice. It just works ™. Other nice touches include gapless playback (great for listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon), the new ipod screen which is selectable if you plug your ipod in, integration of podcast settings when you select the podcast screen.

One thing I would like is to be able to exclude compilations from the album view for the obvious reason that they are not albums (hence, no artwork or the wrong artwork!). Also I have a lot of shit there that I almost never listen to and which I don’t want to see when browsing my carefully collected albums (all properly tagged, naturally).

But overall I can’t think of anything negative and it didn’t eat my mp3s either! The latter seems to have to do more with luck than anything else. The Apple forums are full of stories of not so lucky people. But once apple fixes the bugs this is definitely a release to look forward to. If you install it, do it like me with a plan B.

good headphones

I enjoy listening to good music. In my opinion good music is good because it sounds good on anything from a cheap mono transistor radio to the most expensive badass soundset money can buy. However, having something decent to play music on can make even crappy music enjoyable and really adds to the experience when playing something genuinely decent as well.

So I replaced my sennheiser HD 210 headphones with a pair of new ones from the same brand. The previous pair has lasted me about four years. Lately something is vibrating in an annoying way for particular (low) frequencies. Other than that the sound is as clear as it was when I bought them. However, the HD 280 I replaced them with today sounds better and doesn’t come with the annoying vibrating. Like the HD 210 at the time, the HD280 is slightly over 100€. Really good headphones (also available from Sennheiser) come at as much as 600€ but connecting that to a budget sound card is a bit pointless IMHO.

Anyway, the HD280 so far sounds great and feels great. On top of that it seems to do a good job of blocking out ambient sounds such as the noise I’m making typing this and the fans of my PC. I’d say the HD280 is definately way better than the HD210 I listened to for quite a while and was pretty happy with as well.

New PC & moving itunes library

Update 30/07/2009I just bought an imac and moved the same, but now consolidated, library over to it. Check out the instructions here.

Whoohoo! My new hardware has arrived, last week. I’ve been busy playing with it so that explains the small delay in posting.

Right now I am still going through the tedious procedure of getting everything the way I want it. I have a local network so I can access my old PC. However, dragging my external HD between the two machines is much faster.
Tediousness includes copying my itunes library. Tricking itunes into accepting the old library is somewhat of a challenge. But that’s what’s google is for. Since I found google’s answers a bit disappointing (lots of drag this folder there type of stuff from Apple users), I’ll post some detailed instructions for real users who do not “consolidate” to the itunes folder but choose to keep their music organized manually. To add some difficulty, my new machine has no second harddrive so the paths are different after copying.

If all goes well everything is moved (music, playlists, play statistics, ratings) AND I can sync my ipod with the new pc without that requiring it to be wiped and refilled with the moved library. I’m moving the library, not recreating it.

The Itunes library consists of only two files, its own itunes music folder and whatever external directories you imported (two in my case). One of the two files is a binary file, the other one is an xml file with data on all your songs, including path names, statistics, ratings, etc. Essentially, the xml file contains everything we want to migrate except for the mp3s. Unfortunately, moving the itunes library is not as simple as copying the files to the new machine. Sadly, Apple deliberately made it hard to do what you are about to do. So here’s a step by step guide (windows specific though Apple probably is about the same):

  1. At all times, keep at least one intact backup of all files mentioned in this post. Never work on the originals. Preferably, leave the original library untouched, you can always go back to that.
  2. Start by copying your mp3 folders to your new machine. That may take a
    while. Make sure they are where you want them to be. It took 20 minutes for my folders using an external HD, not
    counting the time it took to create the backup from scratch on
    the external hd (basically I used my incremental backup). Also copy both Itunes files (xml and itl) and the itunes mp3 folder (if not empty)
    onto the external hd.
  3. Now dowload, install, run & close itunes. It will create an itunes
    directory for you the first time it starts, that’s where it will look for its files. Replace the stuff inside this directory (My Documents\My Music\iTunes) with the
    backups on your external hd (including the itunes music folder). Now here comes the tricky part. Thanks for
    this post for putting me on the right track! DO NOT start itunes again until after the steps below.
  4. First fix the pathnames in the xml file. They still point to the old location. Open the file in a capable editor, the thing to look for is search and replace functionality. Search and replace the parts of the path names that are now different: your itunes music folder and any other folders you imported in your old library. Save the file.
  5. Now this is important: iTunes will ignore whatever path info is in the xml file! Unless the itl file becomes corrupted. We can fix that! Open the itl file in an editor, delete the gibberish inside, save. Your itl file is now corrupted, normally this is a bad thing. You still have the xml file though (and a backup of the itl).
  6. Start itunes, it will ‘import’ your music and afterwards complain that the itl file is corrupted, let it fix it.
  7. Check if everything is there. In my case I messed up with the search and replace and some files were missing. Just go back a few steps, copy your backups and retry.
  8. Done. Everything now is on the new PC. What about the ipod? Just plug it in!. You already installed iTunes on the new machine so you have the drivers for your ipod. The key or whatever itunes uses to recognize you ipod is in the xml file. And now also in the recreated itl. Apparently the xml file is sort of a backup of the itl. I suspect the itl is a bit more efficient to manipulate programmatically. I have no idea if this preserves any itunes store stuff you purchased. Presumably, this involves deauthorizing your old machine and authorizing the new one. I never used the itunes store so it’s not an issue for me.

The only thing I lost in the transition is some iTunes preferences that are easy to restore. For example I had some of my playlists set to shuffle. The imported playlists no longer had the shuffle enabled. Big deal. The preferences probably aren’t part of the library. I noticed that the shuffle settings do not sync to the ipod either. This is annoying actually because the shuffle settings is deep down in some menu on the ipod and I only want to shuffle playlists. I like my album songs served up in the order that they were put on the album.

I’ve used winamp for most of the past decade (I think from 1996?). Only when I got my ipod a few months ago, I started using iTunes, by choice. There is an excellent winamp plugin which will allow you to sync winamp with your ipod. Presumably, moving a winamp library is a lot more easy since winamp uses a file based library rather than a database. However, the main developer has left AOL, so winamp development seems a lot less interesting these days. AOL seems to just pile on commercial crap with every release. So I’ve given up on it for now.