Friday, March 13, 2015

Yik Yik, UR, and how I would reply...

Been going through my rss feeds and saw this article on TechDirt. Basically some University of Rochester (NY) students are posting offensive things on Yik Yak.  UR's senior legal council (Crummins) has sent Yik Yak a letter demanding they remove all offensive posts (in perpetuity) and deactivate the accounts of anyone who posts anything offensive. They also ask to be provided with:

Any information in Yik Yak’s possession or control, including but not limited to names, email addresses, IP addresses, phone identifiers or other information that would help the university identify those users.

As TechDirt reports:

Yik Yak’s FAQ indicates that it won’t be doing anything Crummins has requested. It responds – like most online services – only to actual legal documents like court orders, subpoenas and warrants

Which is good, but I’d do them one better. If I were them I’d email Crummins back and say:

Dear Sir:

We would like to inform you that we have taken your concerns and instructions to heart. As such, because we find your email so offensive we are deleting it immediately after sending this reply. Furthermore, we will be sending your IT department and your ISP demands that they de-activate your email account as to prevent you from offending anybody else.

Good day

It probably wouldn’t even make him think twice, but it might make them feel better.



I was going to write a quick reaction post on my phone, but forgot how shitty the Blogger app for Android is.  No blockquote?  Doesn't Google realize that 90% of blogging nowadays is quoting other posts?

Srsly Googs, get with it.


>Just in case, testing Markdown blockquote functionality.

Did it work?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Abstract Studios now DRM-free on Comixology

Now I know that Strangers in Paradise wasn't DRM-free on Comixology a while ago.  I'd checked it specifically.  Well now all of Abstract Studios' (ie Terry Moore's) comics are now DRM-free.  Strangers in Paradise, SIP Kids, Echo and Rachel Rising.  Which means my bank account will be getting significantly lighter over the next month or so.

Torn on whether or not to start Rachel Rising, because I strongly dislike reading ongoing comics, I'm absolutely a binge consumer.  On the other hand, I've heard good things, I'd like to support it, etc.  I'll probably start reading it soon.


PS I've still got no clue what's going on with Dynamite's catalog.  Comics that were DRM-free on their second Humble Comic Bundle sale aren't DRM-free on Comixology.  They are slowly expanding their DRM-free titles - most of The Boys is now DRM-free.  What's going on, how did IDW (and many others) convert their catalog over so much faster than Dynamite?

Also can we start a letter writing campaign to Boom Studios asking them their stance and plans regarding DRM?  They had a DRM-free Humble Comic Bundle as well but aren't participating in Comixology's DRM-free option.  I sent them an email about it ages ago and never heard back. Hmmph.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Server/Streamer Dillemma Resolved

Well, I worked it out.  I did end up buying a Pi2 and a Banana Pi.  The Lubuntu image fort he BPi worked great, looks great, and I set up a Samba share with no problem.  The Raspberry Pi was a little more difficult, though to be fair it needed sound over HDMI to be setup, the BPi has no use for sound so I didn't even test it.

I tried a few different distros but couldn't (and still can't) get sound working across all applications on the Pi.  Mplayer won't play sound, VLC will but won't play video.  Some audio players worked, some didn't.  I tried all the tricks: uninstalling Pulse, forcing audio through HDMI instead of the headphone jack, etc.  No dice.

Ultimately I tried OMXPlayer, which is pretty cool.  I wish the timeline seeking were a little more fine-grained but it's fine.  The playback is really smooth and it looks great, better than any other player I got running.  OMXPlayer was written for the Pi (I think) and it shows.  The only issue is OMXPlayer is command-line only, so I added a desktop entry for OMXPlayer so it would play the file with a double-click, no typing required.  The desktop entry I used was copied from this thread.

Other hitches not unique to the Pi:  I forget over and over how big of a dick Ubuntu can be with external drives.  If it's a thumb drive or SD card it usually allows any user to write to it, but a large hard drive is locked down and only root can write to it.  Chmod and Chown don't work as they should, and strange workarounds always seem to be needed.  This was my experience when setting up my old laptop as a file server too.

Also, Linux audio still seems to be where MS-DOS was at its height.  I didn't have to mess with channels or IRQs or whatever but I might as well have.  Not to mention the confusing overlap of interfaces.  Do ALSA and Pulseaudio do the same things?  Pulseaudio is the newer one and was supposed to replace ALSA, yeah?  I don't really know, I seem to remember it being explained like that to me at one time.  Audio and wifi were always the biggest issues for me to get working with Linux a decade ago (and video acceleration, but in that case if you didn't have it you probably never would so no tweaking was needed either way).  I still remember the days when updating Ubuntu meant keeping my fingers crossed because wifi and audio were very likely to have been broken in the process.

And don't get me started on the problem of new versions of certain programs (or even the system itself) keeping old config files in their old directories but ignoring them, and you're supposed to know this somehow and seek out the new place to create or edit an identical config---once you realize the program has stopped working right, of course.  Some programs have three or four copies of the same config file scattered around and it's a fun game of elimination seeing which file actually affects the program's behavior.

Wait, was I ranting on Linux or was I talking about my home media setup?  Anyway, it works well, I'm very pleased.  The Banana Pi isn't set up for transcoding, not that I think it could do anything heavy anyway, but with the Raspberry Pi I don't think I'll need any.  It does worry me that I only have one working video player on the Pi, in my experience every video player has a few files it just can't play properly even though every other player can.  Still, I think I'll be fine.

Now to start copying all the videos on my watch list over to my network drive.


Monday, March 2, 2015

OMG The Plot Thickens

As I said in a recent post, I've recently gotten a Chromecast.  It's okay, except or the part where it doesn't support mkv and kind of made me re-evaluate my current home server setup.  Hey, I thought, why don't I replace my file server with a Raspberry PI that's plugged into my tv, that also has a samba share.  I can drag files over to the PI's network folder to play them on my tv.  Of course it would work, why wouldn't it?

Oh David, you simple fool.  Here's why. Benchmark tests of the Raspberry Pi B+, the Pi 2 B, and a Banana Pi.  The BPi has a gigabit ethernet port and a Sata hard drive port for much faster speeds.  However, even a USB drive on the BPi was seeing twice the transfer speeds over a network then the Pi 2.  So its settled, right?  Buy a BPi, set up a file server, plug it inso my tv and play media off the network folder it hosts.

Hahahahaha, nice try though!
The Banana Pi and Banana Pro do not have proper hardware acceleration because of the Mali GPU chipset’s lack of documentation so it is unknown if its full graphics potential will ever be unlocked for media center tasks.
Wah-wah.  So where does that leave us?  A few people chime in to say that the Banana Pi is good for media serving, and the Raspberry Pi 2 is good for media streaming.  In other words, the BPi is a good file host, and the Pi2 is a good player.

It occurs to me that it's not too ridiculous to do this setup:

-BPi with external hard drive attached, plugged directly into my router.  Network share all set up.
-Pi2 set up and plugged into television, streaming media off of the BPi.

Seems a bit ridiculous, like overkill, but look at it this way:  My Alienware uses 10-27 Watts, depending on what it's doing.  A Pi2 and a BPi would use around 4 watts apiece (depending on what you're doing and what's plugged in).  So 8 watts, that's still a large drop in power consumption  Ordered online they'd both be about $40 with shipping and everything.  I already have HDMI cables and 2 amp USB chargers and all that.  So $80 to have a small, quiet and efficient media server/media streamer?

I'm thinking about it.  I am.


Brief (HA!) Aside - why Pi over laptop

So as I was writing that last article I realized I kind of gravitated to the Pi even though my laptop, an existing device, could already do everything I needed.  I thought it over and here's why I may buy a Raspberry Pi 2 B to use as a set top media box and file server:

  1. Low power usage.  The power savings of using my laptop over a desktop are huge.  Using a Pi over my laptop would probably be a similar order of power savings.
  2. My laptop has a fan, it runs a lot, it makes noise.  Not a big deal, but something to consider.
  3. The Pi has better support. My laptop is an Alienware M11x, a great computer for gaming on at the time because there ware a ton of other enthusiasts with an identical device trying to wring out as many frames per second as possible, I could crib their settings and save myself the hours of testing.  Unfortunately the Linux support isn't to great.  A lot of people run Linux on it, but I don't see anyone having HDMI audio working on my model, the resolution is kind of borked, I have to disable the laptop's screen to get full screen video to play right on my tv.  The Raspberry Pi has an army of people doing al sorts of cool things, it's very well supported, there are a ton of custom images for it.  
  4. Smaller package.  The Pi takes up less space.  It should fit nicely under my TV, actually between the screen itself and the stand.  Of course then I plug a big bulky HDD into it, but that's another issue entirely.

Given the price it seems win-win.  I'm going to do some research on its file serving reliability before I make any decisions though.

Til then,


If only Chromecast and Roku would meet in the middle...

So I got a Chromecast for Xmas. Actually I got two, funny how that works. Since I've been traveling for work I haven't got the chance to try either of them out until recently.  I was curious about getting a Roku stick too, but now I don't know.  The problem is (according to my research, anyway) there's a big functionality gap between the Chromecast and the Roku and neither one are a perfect solution.

First let's look at the Roku.  It's a concept many people are familiar with, a set-top media player, shrunken down into a self-contained HDMI stick, powered by USB.  It can play almost anything but avi files.  It can run apps (it calls them "channels"), it has a dedicated remote control and you can also control it with Android or iPhone apps.  Using it you can play files from over the internet or from your home network on your television.

The Chromecast is also an HDMI stick.  It has no remote control.  You can't load any apps on it.  What you can do is load apps onto your Android phone or Chrome browser that will let you stream content to your television from either of those devices.  It's very cool and it solves many permissions issues.  No network share or media server required, just play the file locally in a Chromecast compatible player and send it to your TV.

Except, here's the problem:  Chromecast doesn't support mkv files (or avi files). Why I don't know.  You see, if I transcode a DVD or Blu-Ray to play on another device it's going to be contained as a mkv.  It's not even for ideological reasons, it's for functional reasons. I rip with all audio and subtitle tracks left alone, and mkv supports the most number of tracks.  It would be silly to use mp4 only to switch to mkv on those few files that need it.

Anyway, this makes the Roku stick a more obvious choice, but then we lose the convenience of simply "casting" media.  For a Roku stick, I'd need to have a way to make whatever file I wished to view available over the network.  Either a media streamer or a file server.

I will admit, the Chromecast was a bit hard to wrap my head around at first, seeing as how you can't put any apps on it, it's essentially a leech that requires a phone or PC to serve as host.  The Roku is app-enabled media box, but you can't send a file to it on the spur of the moment, you have to copy it to a server or share it on your network.

I can set up a workaround, setting up a media server that transcodes my mkvs on-the-fly to something the Chromecast can use, but that kind of defeats the purpose, right?  I mean, might as well get a Roku stick then.  Also, I'm not sure how I'd play them on my Chromecast.  Play the transcoded stream off the server via my phone and then forward that stream to the Chromecast?  Since the Chromecast doesn't have a remote or apps I can't send it directly to the media server to fetch the video, it still needs an intermediary device.  Yeah, it's not as clean and simple as it could be, is it?

I would buy one of the new Raspberry Pi 2 B models and use it for a media server. I mean it's pretty much capable of acting as a desktop computer, and it costs the same price as a Chromeast (bit bigger and bulkier though).  That means I could also set it up as a new file server and retire the laptop. Unfortunately it just came out a month ago and is hard to get hands on.  But honestly, since I've already got a file server running it wouldn't be too big of a bother to just copy video files to before I play them...  Of course, audio over HDMI doesn't work, but I do have some nice-ish speakers and a sub I could plug in.  Maybe buy one of those Logitech K400s with the trackpad on the side.

You know what, running all this through my head, I see a simpler solution.  Maybe I'll move my file server (an old laptop) to my tv, plug it in via HDMI. I can copy videos to it when I need to and play it from there, no transcoding required.  There, does everything always have to be so hard? Of course, it's a PC so HDMI audio will be spotty, I do have decent speakers and a sub I can run it to though.

Of course looking at Amazon there are PI 2s available in kits.  So pay $25 extra, get a case (which I would have wanted) a PSU, and an HDMI cable.  Then I could mothball my old laptop again and just use the PI for all my serving and media playing needs.  I'll think on it.

Til then,