Friday, 30 September 2005

You have to see Serenity!

Fans of Firefly have been waiting a long time for this and boy was it worth it.
4.5 stars
It's got action sequences that outclass Star Wars, the wit of Joss Whedon, and actors that really know their characters (having had the TV show to hone them).
However it is one for the fans, with a steep learning curve if you haven't seen at least the Serenity pilot episode of Firefly.
Highly recommended. Run don't walk to the cinema for this one.
Join the GeekiNtainment Serenity Launch Party and visit the messageboards for more at (jking_ok)

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

You have got to be kidding... Podcasts in 5.1 Surround

Next week's Diggnation will be offered in Dolby 5.1 Surround. Personally I
think this is insane (and anyway totally the wrong podcast for this
technology). I'm surprised that this is happening firstly to a podcast,
although it fits perfectly with the podcast appearance of being
anti-corporation and giving the users what they want (our commercial
broadcasters won't even give us Dolby 5.1 Surround and the technology is
there as well as the bitstream).

PR stunt, won't last, while it's nice to see 5.1 being pushed the Internet
is not the place (will the audio bitrate exceed the video bitrate on this

I want less definition in my podcasts.

Source: Systm-announce e-mail message. I'm sure you'll find the press
release on or

Hidden Tiger option: Use CD/DVD at login

The macosxhints team have uncovered another hidden Apple gem -- this one allows you to ask Mac OS X Tiger to open a media item (for example, audio CD or DVD) upon login. In the past you had to kludge this with AppleScripts, now it's built-in.

More Apple Mac OS X hints can be found at

read more | digg story

Monday, 26 September 2005

Recommended podcasts and vidcasts

Here are the podcasts and vidcasts that have stood the test of time for me:

  • GeekiNtertainment -- A talk show about entertainment relevant to geeks, including movies, anime, comics, television, video games and DVDs. Very active messageboards.

  • BuffCast -- From the people who bring you GeekiNtertainment, the BuffCast is a season by season summary of the hit television (and DVD now) series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Released roughly monthly, episode two came out this week.

  • This Week In Tech -- Now recorded in front of a live audience, TWiT brings you commentary from the biggest names in technology broadcasting (later episodes now available in video if you have a fat enough pipe).

  • Command-N -- From Amber Macarthur and Mike Laz. (sorry!) from Call for Help Canada comes a summary of tech news, web picks, how tos, reviews, interviews and views.

  • triplej's Hack -- Current affairs, talkback and analysis from Australia's national youth radio station triplej, available as daily episodes or top stories. Great job ABC!

Honourable mention to Digitallifetv, an internet television exclusive from Ziff Davis hosted by Patrick Norton. They now offer heaps of download formats, small to large including audio-only. I omit them from the list because I haven't found an RSS feed I can add to my podcast client yet.

Feel free to leave your comments if you have any 'casts you'd like to add.

Heads up! Revision3 podcasts and unique URLs

My server downloaded diggnation three times over the weekend. This is not good. Turns out that the guys at Revision3 have tested one of the greatest assumptions of podcasting -- that only 1 URL will be put in an RSS feed for a given item. They are now dynamically generating the URLs every time you request the RSS feed. This means that if your podcast client uses the URL as a unique identifier (such as podracer/bashpodder in my case) it will continually download the file.

I had to edit podracer to fix this, not sure what the best solution is but I filtered the dynamic parts out of the URLs leaving the domain name and the file name as the unique identifier -- anyway heads up.

Some more SE K608i (et al) tips

Here are some random tips I've come across with my Sony Ericsson K608i phone. Many of these will also work with other Sony Ericsson or other Bluetooth phones. For example, Telstra are now offering the K600 which is essentially the same phone.

Firstly Mac users should head over to for all of the files to use with the phone, including better instructions for iSync than I provide. Great site that I should have mentioned sooner (sorry!).

Secondly, if there is a file type you are frequently sending to your phone (such as MIDI or AMR audio), on your Mac you can set the application to launch them to Bluetooth File Exchange. Do this by selecting the file, pressing Command-I, and clicking Change All..., then you can double-click and hit Enter to send the file.

On the phone itself you can make Notes permanently visible by using the Show in standby option. This is very handy for to-do notes. First write the note in the Notes menu (under Applications) and Save it. Then in the notes list, select More and select Show in standby.

Make use of the shortcut menu! This is accessible by pressing up on the joystick while in standby. You can save a lot of keypresses with this. For example, I use this for the Select network (which is otherwise buried) menu item, giving me back a feature which was only one button press away on my old phone.

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Opera is going free!

From digg: "Opera Software has removed the banners and licensing fee of their Opera Web Browser, and it is now freeware."
This is good news. I suggest you give it a try -- and if you do, here's a tip for you digg fans. Add digg as a side panel! Choose View|Toolbars|Customize... and on the Panels tab choose Add Web Panel... Enter digg's details and click OK. Now you'll have a digg button you can use. To make the web page fit better in the panel, choose Small Screen from the View button above the panel.

read more | digg story

Sunday, 18 September 2005

Content providers listen -- DigitallifeTV

Digital Life TV, from Ziff Davis (the people who pay Patrick Norton), are now offering their IPTV show in low and high resolution formats. This is massive step forward, and a suggestion that this team are listening to their viewers. Please support this show for making this move.

Thank you team and kudos for implementing a solution so the whole world can get your show!

(FYI the smallest file runs at about 1MB/min, so you should be able to download it at about 1/4 real time, so 3 hours on dialup)

read more | digg story

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Open letter: Request and suggestion for super-low bandwidth pod- and vid-casts

I'm having trouble finding e-mails for some of my favourite pod- and
vid-casts so I'm putting this out there here:

Dear pod- and vid-cast producer,

Firstly congratulations on the success of your content, I'm an avid consumer
of it.

I wish to suggest the implementation of super-low bandwidth versions of your
content -- such as in the 3GPP mobile phone standard [1] -- for a number of
* To reduce bandwidth costs for everyone
* To increase your consumers by way of international and dial-up customers
-- not everyone yet has broadband and even for those who do, many
(especially internationally, I speak for Australia here) have limited
monthly data allowances and/or slower speeds to international sites.
* To increase the type of portable devices that your content can be viewed
on -- I very happily use my mobile phone on the train and bus for pod- and
vid-casts. High-bandwidth (even 128kbps MP3s) files are often not suitable
here due to limited internal memory of mobile phones.
* To retain compatibility with iTunes -- my suggestion uses QuickTime which
is native to iTunes so enables dial-up customers to get your cast through
iTunes should you choose (video included).
* To allow you to offer previewing of your casts directly from your site --
this is something no-one seems to have exploited with pod- and vid-casts, to
try something new requires downloading a whole large episode. A low
bandwidth file means people can quickly view and decide whether they want to
get the (possibly larger format) whole version of your cast.

I suggest using the 3GPP standard, which is supported by both Apple
QuickTime 6.5 [2] or later (Pro or by way of tools such as BitPlayer [3]),
and ffmpeg [4], either or both of which may already be part of your existing

For audio, you can encode to narrowband AMR (GSM Adaptive Multi-Rate codec)
at 12kbps, and for video 64kbps (56kbps MPEG-4 video, 8kbps AMR-NB or AAC)
are acceptable values which optimise downloading time, file size and

I've been doing this for myself for about a month now with great success but
it would be most beneficial for the cast producers to provide this, since I
am from the category (international, mostly on dial-up, broadband with
restrictive data volume) of users most affected and cannot continue to
transcode on my end with the increasing amount of compelling content being
provided. There are third parties [5, 6] offering this to a limited extent.

Feel free to communicate further on this, I hope to continue to enjoy your
casts into the future!

[4] (there are some limitations when using

Joshua King

Thursday, 8 September 2005

Blogging from the command line

I found some scripts here which I have modified to improve upon the Blogger-by-mail functionality Blogger offers. And it worked!

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Blogging from the command line (2)

The key to this is cURL, which comes with Linux and Mac OS X. You'll need to have secure support, because you post to Blogger using HTTPS.

First you need to find out your Blog ID, using this command:

curl --basic --user blogger_username:blogger_password

Now that you have that ID, you can post by the following command (this exploits Bash's here documents):

curl -X POST -T - -H "Content-type: application/xml" --basic --user blogger_username:blogger_password <<END

an XML document following these instructions.


With that second one, you might want to wrap that up in a script, but hey, remote HTML posting (didn't find a picture upload in the API though).

Tip: ffmpeg, 3GPP and QuickTime

Firstly, hands down Apple's QuickTime is the easiest way to create
3GPP-compliant content, such as for mobile phones. I use 3GPP as a format
for downloaded pod- and vid-casts so that I can watch them while I'm in

However, most of this content doesn't originate on my Mac, but on my Linux
box (connected to broadband), where the transcoding is scripted. Here I use
ffmpeg which can also encode to 3GPP (H263/MPEG4/AMR/AAC all supported) with
some work.

So in theory I've cut QuickTime out of loop -- but I get interesting results
especially with video clips longer than 10 minutes. On my pvPlayer (running
on a Nokia N-Gage) the clips steadily start to drop more and more frames as
the clip goes on.

The solution to this is to 'flatten' the 3GPP file using Apple QuickTime.
Now if you don't have QuickTime Player Pro, get BitPlayer (Mac only) which
offers the features you need in a free download. Mobilehackerz (in Japanese)
is the benchmark for this sort of encoding, and they seem to do exactly the
same thing.

Basically you use QuickTime to re-wrap the file without re-encoding it. Open
the movie in BitPlayer, choose Export Movie... from the File menu, and
change the format to 3GP. Click Options... and on the Video tab change the
codec to Passthrough. Do the same on the Audio tab and click OK and Export.
A minute later you have a file which will play through completely on all

Now this isn't superstition, QuickTime does change the file (I'm not exactly
sure how), and seems to also make it smaller. Hmmm... Wonder what the
'special sauce' is there.

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Podracer on Linux

I want to raise the awareness of a very cool command line tool for Linux for downloading podcasts. Podracer is a derivative of bashpodder, that supports both HTTP and Bittorrent downloading. Being a shell script, it's fully customisable, which I've exploited to make a solution that downloads, transcodes, and emails podcasts to me from my broadband to my remote dialup connection. Linux users should check it out. Those who avoid the command line should look at LeonScape BPConf, a simple graphical wrapper for bashpodder.

Google GMail Review

As promised. If you don't have a webmail account, look no further than Google's offering. While currently invite-only, it has a feature set that exceeds most other providers.
2.5GB storage. Never delete email again (which is just as well because you can't).
Efficient web interface. The best webmail interface I've ever used, it offers keyboard shortcuts, and preloads everything to make navigating around your account more responsive. You have to wait a couple of minutes to sign in on dialup, but after that it's good.
POP3 and SMTP access. Use any standard email client with your account. Some nifty features here include the ability to download copies of messages sent via the web and that Google uses a nonstandard port to send mail getting around the blocking some ISPs impose. Both connections are also secured.
New Send Mail As feature. Verify your ownership of other email accounts and Google will offer to spoof the identity of outgoing email. In combination with the access from any email client or web browser, you can now manage your own identity. Send from your old accounts.
Integration with other Google services. Including the new Google Talk and portal.
My verdict: there's no reason not to get GMail at this point and no-one else comes close in free functionality. Comments? Also, I have invites!