Archive for May, 2012

Stay Firm

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Every once in a while, I find out a cool way to add some functionality to a standard piece of tech I have by feeding it some custom firmware. Custom firmware might be one of the most overlooked ways of enhancing your devices. Don’t let the idea of running third party software scare you. Though you do run the risk of bricking your tech, most of the procedures for installing custom firmware are well documented and take a matter of minutes.

Here are some of my favorites.

DVD Players

I have always had good luck with Philips brand DVD players for reliability, and most of them also tend to support DivX, which I also like. Anyway, most of these DVD players have region free codes, so you can hit some buttons on your remote and instantly play discs from any region. Taking this a step further, you can also find custom firmwares for your DVD players that you can flash via USB or a disc. These firmwares give you more options for subtitles, longer file name display, volume control, display options, CEC functionality and more.

If you have a Philips DVD player, check out this site for some excellent custom firmwares by vb6rocod. If you have another brand, do some Google searches. You never know who is out there messing with DVD players.

Digital Cameras

As I mentioned in previous articles, I have a Canon 600D. And as I also mentioned, I am a huge fan of the Magic Lantern firmware. The Magic Lantern firmware is atypical in the way that it doesn’t replace the stock firmware. Instead, it runs along side it offering an expansive selection of new features such as HDR video, increased shutter control, and other little gems like microphone levels. Something else that might comfort or annoy you: Magic Lantern runs off your SD card. So, you have to format each SD card you have the way ML wants you to. A pain, but it also ensures that if you need your (or not your) camera to appear stock, you can just pop out the card and be good to go.

The Magic Lantern firmware is available for most Canon DSLRs. While Nikon and Panasonic camera lines don’t have anything as advanced as ML, people are working on firmwares for Nikon cameras. Who knows where things will be in another six months.

MP3 Player

About 2 years ago, I put Rockbox on my dying iPod Video. After a while, a bunch of little glitches in the Apple firmware got to become a daily annoyance and there were no updates in sight. Rockbox is simply fantastic. I can add files without having to go through iTunes, I can include my FLAC or Ogg files without needing to transcode, Last.fm support is included, I can completely customize my GUI. Rockbox is not just for your old iPod. It supports a slew of devices from the Archos players to the iRiver. Another little side benefit of having an iPod Video is that I can boot and run either the Rockbox firmware or the stock firmware if I ever needed as there is enough memory to include both of them. I haven’t yet, but it’s good to have that option.

Wireless Router

If you are anything like me, you simply amass wireless routers overtime. Okay, you’re probably not like me, but who doesn’t have a WRT54G of some generation somewhere in their house? Why would anyone want to run custom router firmware? The options of course. You can turn a cheap $5 Linksys router from a yard sale into a fully functional high-end device. For example, maybe you want usage graphs, ipv6 support, advances qos, overclocking, daemons, higher TX power, etc.

I currently run an early WRT54G with Tomato and an original Fonera WAP with DD-WRT. If those don’t suit you, check out OpenWrt.

 

There are tons of other devices that can run custom firmware that I just haven’t got around to toying with or don’t have to play with. For example: the PSP, iPhone, AppleTV, WDTV, etc. all have the capability of running custom firmware to run third party applications and homebrew software. Some other platforms have the ability to work around or through stock firmware such as the original Xbox, Wii, and others. While I still use my softmodded Xboxes once in a while and my letterbomb’d Wii, they aren’t true custom firmware installations (and not the easiest processes either).

Simple hacking of your everyday technology can be a great way to add life to your aging toys, and make the experience of some of your newer ones much more enjoyable. So, load up the SD card and get acquainted with the secret menus. And please, don’t remove the drive before the update is complete.

Saving Rev3 – What Were They Thinking (Day 19)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

So here were are with Day 19, and boy has the project come a long way. To the handful of people helping so far, I want to give thanks. From those who download, to those who scavenge, to those who re-tweet: it wouldn’t be possible otherwise.  Having said that, it seems that every day, with every new show, problems arise.

Allow me to show you just what I mean.

Let’s talk first about Web Drifter. In the beginning, there were four episodes of the series before it stagnated. Then, the episodes were wiped from the site completely. Just gone. Then two more episodes were produced: episodes 2 and 3. But wait, these episode numbers already existed didn’t they? Yep, Revision3 put up new episodes 2 and 3 as promotionals working off of “episode 1″ which I guess was their way of saying there used to be more episodes. Do you follow? I sure as hell cannot.  So, after some creative URL games, I managed to recover all the episodes they stripped from the site for whatever reason.

Now, what about Diggcetera. If you go to the site page, you might see that the first 14 episodes don’t have download links. On top of that, the streaming versions don’t work at all anymore. So what the hell do we do? Luckily, Moonlit had a bit of time to do some detective work and found a Youtube channel and Vimeo profile for what appears to be Diggcetera videos. From here, going by page name on Revsion3, we could relate that back to the episodes on Vimeo and get them all sorted. Now, here’s something interesting Moonlit discovered when trying to determine if the order of episodes was correct: If you look at the thumbnails, though they are correct for the episode they are numbered and labeled for the wrong ones. Someone labeled screenshots with incorrect episode name and number when making the pages, but not consistently. Why would anyone do that? An intern could work through most of these issues in a half an hour.

Let’s move forward to something “slightly” newer: The Digg Reel. When I downloaded this two years ago, all the episodes were up and linked, so downloading was pretty easy. However, now it appears episodes 155, 151, 149, 145, 141, 131, 113, 102, and 14 are gone from the site. As in, the pages have just vanished. I still have the episodes from back then locally, so I know the titles, and trying to retrieve the pages pulls up nothing. So what happened to the pages? Who removed them well after the series ended? Luckily, the episodes are still on their servers, so redownloading is a breeze. Something else bizarre with this show is that it had the first 28 episodes in hd720p30, but episodes 29-78 are only available in standard hd. It is as though they didn’t know how to work a new camera for a bit or something.

Bytejacker is an example of a show that was independent and later picked up by Revision3. Not only did Revision3 start the series at episode 1 from when they started carrying it, but they also create gaps in the numbering system. So now, archiving is seen as a bit of a nightmare. We’re at episode one from Revision3, but it’s further down the line when you look at the series as a whole. And the gaps don’t help in the slightest. These gaps spring up in several shows, and it’s often difficult to tell when the episodes existed and were removed, or if they never existed at all.

 

Let’s take a break from talking about Revision3 as a disorganized video storehouse, and start talking a bit about them as a company. That word “company” didn’t always feel as strong. if anyone remembers Revision3 from the beginning, they’ll remember thebroken, Systm, and all the other little shows by Kevin Rose and his friends. As G4 slowly killed off TechTV, this is where fans came to get new videos from their favorite personalities without needing an above-basic cable package.

At some point between 2006 and 2008, I noticed a shift in what I was watching. It didn’t feel like as much as a network by and for geeks, but a network by the advertisers for the consumers. I’m not saying that advertising is a bad thing. We all need to pay the bills, but at what cost is advertising okay? I watch a video from Revision3 now, and it feels like more of an advertisement with some show around it than the other way around. Revision3 relaunched with new shows in 2008, and tried going all out to make their mark. You could say they did for a bit but now it just feels tired. Shows come and go in months rather than years, the site is poorly maintained, and I can barely get through an episode anymore. Some of the more popular shows such as Systm have been shutdown. Shows like Tekzilla have been made to rival other shows (Hak5 in this case, which Revision3 later distributed. It is now a shell of itself).Other shows come and go before anyone realizes they’ve been there.

Don’t take my word for how the place is. Read Dave Randolph’s post (later removed from his site). Read David Calkin’s post. Read Wess Tobler’s post.

Read them all.

And now the company is being bought by Discovery. What does that mean?

Another chapter in Revision3 is starting, and I hope it doesn’t end up burning the first part of the book.

Saving Rev3 – Frustrations (Day 14)

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Fourteen days ago, I started the SaveRev3 project (read why here). If anything, it has been off to a good start. Tons of shows are up in one capacity or another, and it doesn’t seem like it will be long before the entire selection of archived shows is online.

Having said that, let’s talk a bit about Revision3. I’d like to describe their setup without using the word “clusterfuck” but that would be pretty difficult. If you are unfamiliar with it, Revision3 keeps a list of “Archived Shows” which houses shows that they don’t produce anymore. This includes shows that went on to do their own thing after Revsion3 such as Epic Fu, notMTV, and The Game Show.

 

Project Page

 

If you browse through this list, you might wonder why it feels like some shows are missing outright, and that is because they are. Plain and sweet, Revision3 for one reason or another has decided to take some shows down, and remove all mentions of them… or so they think. So we know there are shows missing, but how can we get at them? Take any of these missing shows: thebroken, SubSystm, Mysteries of Science Explained, Geekdrome, etc. and do a little googling. You can usually find a dated forum post for the most recent episode, even if it was years ago. From here, use the Wayback Machine for Revision3’s site and migrate to the show’s page (when they had it).

If the Wayback Machine was nice enough to crawl that page, you can get a show synopsis, episode descriptions, download links, and an rss feed. Now, if you click the download link, you will get a 404. Most people probably stop the game here. However, look at any old episode URL and compare it to a new one.

http://videos.revision3.com/thebroken/0004/thebroken–0004–ep4–large.h264.mov

Notice anything? Revision3 has simply changed the url format out over the years (The files are actually just hosted on Bitgravity). Just plug in their current one and you can get at the files.

These episodes have been sitting on the servers, unlinked, for years. They probably just want you to believe the episodes are gone, but for whatever wonderful reason they didn’t actually remove the files.

Using this method, we now have complete runs for every show removed from Revision3.

Let’s talk a bit about shows still on the site. The organization doesn’t get much worse. If you look at any early episodes for a season, the formats for them are a toss up. The Revision3 Gazette doesn’t even have download links for the first two episodes, forcing you to capture ancient flv files from Youtube. A lot of other shows will have the first episode as a small h264, and then quality will catch up on the following episodes. What happened to the first episode? I don’t think it was shot at low resolution. Then there are shows like Indigital where the first episode has a large XviD, but only a small h264. Did nobody want to bother encoding to another format?

The torment continues. One episode of iFanboy Mini returns a 404 for the large h264, even though the episode is linked, it just doesn’t seem to exist. Did someone delete it or name it incorrectly? Did it even exist to begin with? Other shows like Infected are just odd. First few episodes are MP3 only, then they get up to small h264, then back down to MP3 only for a couple of episodes, then small h264 again.

Foodmob Bites had the numbering scheme messed up four years ago, and nobody fixed it. The episode numbers jump up when they feel like it, and the rss feed has been a mess for just as long. Lil’ Internet Superstar doesn’t appear to have an episode 3. Some shows like popSiren Bite are missing episodes in the listing, and they can only be found by searching the site based on description contents, if you can find that.

Up until recently, downloading episodes was a complete pain. You could snag the last 30 or so episodes from the show’s RSS feed, but besides that, you’d have to download them one at a time. There aren’t many series torrents out there, and although some people made some bulk download bash scripts, they’re few and far between.

I enlisted some help, and what I got in return was a fantastic one-line command that will wget all the episodes for whatever show in whatever format almost effortlessly. Now, it does have some problems: every once in awhile a series of episodes won’t download, and it doesn’t take into account that some shows have their early episodes in a lower quality format, but filling those holes is much easier than downloading one episode at a time by hand.

Something else to point out though, is that the Bitgravity cdn will throttle you. On one of my servers, downloads start out at 10M/s, and later drop to 500K/s before building up and leveling around 1.5M/s and then jumping around randomly.

I’d like to give some shout outs to those who have helped out so far in this brief period of time, in chronological order. Moonlit has made sure I keep some sense of my sanity and has done some information gathering on Revision3 Beta. Shinmaryuu has done a mention or two over Twitter. Corrosion has helped put up XviD files of thebroken. RichardR has been downloading/uploading multiple shows. Pat has donated his internet connection. Digip has offered to mail DVDs (though I’ve reckoned downloading would just be faster).

 

#SaveRev3
 

As of right now, I am downloading and uploading from three different connections. I plan on maintaining a dedicated computer with a 2TB external keeping watch over all the files locally and pulling down more.

As always, feel free to join up and spread the word. If you don’t know how to help, come chat with us and we’ll get you on your way.

Pogo Unplugged

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

I got a little restless while waiting for my Raspberry Pi to get here so I decided to mess around with a few other SOCs while I wait. I was drawn to the the concept of these “plug” devices that were something of a flash in the pan a few years ago. Do you remember the SheevaPlug or the GuruPlug? Anyway, for the absent minded or unacquainted, plug computers are tiny tiny servers that run on very low power. Why keep that bulky server around when you can plug a little box into the wall, tuck it away, and forget about it for a while?

Love them or hate them, plug computers are cool little pieces of technology that are highly hackable and a good way to spend an afternoon playing with. I decided to get a Pogoplug to mess around with, as they were inexpensive when compared to some of the other plugs. They’re not the beefiest machines, but they’re not meant to be. I found a coupon that allowed me to get one at 70% off, so I took the gamble. What I got was a little NAS (which wasn’t very good at its job) with a dual core 700MHz processor and 128MB of RAM. You have to go through the hassle of registering your plug with their website to enable ssh access, but it only took five minutes and afterwards you can completely open up the hardware. With a 2GB flash drive and 20 minutes of my time, I installed Arch on my plug and then further configured it with web and IRC server software. Not bad for a cheap little box.

Pogoplug v3 Running htop

I liked the simplicity of hacking the plug and the potential it offered, so I went ahead and ordered two more.

Though the boxes have identical model numbers, the Pogoplugs I got in my second order were not the same. Apparently, my first plug was a v3, while my second two were v2s. What does that mean exactly? Pogoplugs use ARM processors. The v3 plug uses an ARMv6 while the v2 plugs use an ARMv5. So, slightly older processors but the v2s also happen to run at 1.2GHz and have 265MB of RAM. Can’t complain there.

My Pogoplugs

I found an old guide for installing Debian on a Pogoplug, and though it did not work, I followed a link to the site’s forum and was able to talk with someone to help get me going. After a painless installation, I had a second hacked Pogoplug to keep my company. Now what about the third one? Haven’t cracked into this one yet, but I have plans to try my luck with Fedora just for the variety.

What am I going to do with all these? I don’t really know. An IRC network made from just Pogoplugs sounds like fun but is completely impracticable. Any ideas?

Saving Rev3 – Call to Arms (Day 0)

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

I have been putting off posting this entry and restarting this project for months now, but it seems like a good time to pull it back to the surface. Five days ago, Discovery announced they were entering an agreement to acquire Revision3. The agreement is to be finalized June 1st, 24 days from now. As expected, they say nothing will be changing, but the true meaning of that isn’t exactly known right now. Who knows who will be making calls about what shows can stay around, and when ones have to stop production. Will someone be making decisions about reducing storage space or bandwidth?

I am publicly starting the Save Rev3 project to capture as much of their content as possible. Not just “in case” something happens, not for “when” something happens, but because someone should have done it a long time ago. Follow all the project updates at anarchivism.org and JOIN UP IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. There is only so much disk space, bandwidth, and energy a single person can have. Even another one or two people can make things go by faster. If you don’t know what to do, come chat with us and we will help you get going.

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. I have a long and tiresome relationship with the entity that is Revision3. While I could go on and on about personal politics and business tactics, I’ll try to throw everything into a nutshell for the sake of being tidy. When Revision3 first came into being years and years ago, I was a huge fan. I loved thebroken, I loved Systm, and I loved the idea that there could be a whole television network online that I could turn to when I had nothing else to keep me occupied. Let us examine this a little more. Online television network. Back in 2003 or so, this was a totally new idea. You didn’t have to turn to the corporate-controlled 80 channels you might get on standard cable, you could go find people making content that rested nicely in your collage of interests. Sure, we loved TechTV, but this was new territory. This was, for lack of a better metaphor, the wild west of television distribution. Like most things, Revision 3 started small with a few shows. Few enough that it actually had a time when it fizzled out through 2005 and most of 2006 before relaunching the site later in the year. With the relaunch I had a lot of optimism, but as the years went on I noticed a shift from the hobbyist spirited community to a pseudo-niche corporate-minded organization.

That said, I noticed something else. Little was done to preserve the shows that came and went as the years went by. Some of the earliest shows are completely erased from the Revision3 archives, while others are missing episodes.

Sometime last year, I started saving these shows. I got a a decent amount of files in XviD, but could only grab so many before exhausting my storage space. Later on last year, Revision3 changed the game up by announcing that they were discontinuing certain formats, once again changing my archiving habits. I want to go with high quality files, but not the types that are going to disappear halfway through a show’s run in favor of a competing format

So here is day 0. I am restarting my archiving effort, and looking for all those who want to join me on this long, strange trip. Why archive it? No bullshit: Revision3 does not do a good enough job themselves. They may think they do, but if you’ve browsed as many pages on their site as I have, you’d see just how crazy everything is set up over there. Why do I care? These videos are not just simple internet videos, but building blocks of a whole media revolution that may otherwise be lost. Sure compact discs are just dandy, but I for one want to know about the worlds of cassette tape, and 8-tracks, and vinyl records, and beeswax cylinders before I fully understand where we are today. Some people may just be able to dismiss the past up until the present and take everything at face value, but I’ve never been one to.

Help save a piece of internet history, one episode at a time.

Spread the word.