Category Archives: Technology

Zune FUD II

The amount of Zune FUD is reaching staggering proportions following Microsoft’s Zune launch.

C.W. Nevius has a blog post over at the S.F. Chronicle titled “Zune Reinforces Microsoft’s Dorky Image“. Nevius links to TechTree that claims:

For starters, in order to download the Zune software, a user’s system has to meet certain requirements; namely, Win XP SP2, processor running at minimum 1.5GHz, and so on. By comparison, Apple Computer’s iTunes 7 software does not have any such hardware requirements.

Actually, the CPU requirement for the Zune software is 500 MHz, just like for the iTunes software. The 1.5 GHz Zune requirement is only for video playback.

TechTree also claims:

Also, to download the Zune software, users’ need to use only Internet Explorer 7 (IE 7). The software cannot be downloaded by using Mozilla’s Firefox for instance.

Actually, the software downloads just fine with Firefox.

The Mac zealots will have you believe that the Zune is no threat to Apple. If they really believe that, why do they resort to FUD?

Another example is Andy Ihnatko in an article titled “Avoid the loony Zune” for the Chicago Sun-Times:

You’ll find that the Zune Planet orbits the music industry’s Bizarro World, where users aren’t allowed to do anything that isn’t in the industry’s direct interests.

The iPod owns 85 percent of the market because it deserves to. Apple consistently makes decisions that benefit the company, the users and the media publishers — and they continue to innovatively expand the device’s capabilities without sacrificing its simplicity.

Companies such as Toshiba and Sandisk (with its wonderful Nano-like Sansa e200 series) compete effectively with the iPod by asking themselves, “What are the things that users want and Apple refuses to provide?”

Microsoft’s colossal blunder was to knock the user out of that question and put the music industry in its place.

Mr. Ihnatko would have you believe that Apple listens to the user’s needs, while Microsoft listens to the music industry’s needs. Yet the Zune lets you sync non-DRM’ed music back to your computer and the iPod doesn’t (the iPod only allows you to sync DRM’ed music back). From ExtremeTech’s Zune review:

Reverse Sync: Just as it is with Media Player 11, getting songs off your Zune is a snap. When you select your Zune on the left side of the player, you can browse the content that’s on it by artist, genre, etc. Not many people notice this, but the right-hand sync pane will now say “drag items here to create a list to sync from [Zune Name] to your computer.” Just drag whatever tracks, albums, or artists you want to dump from your Zune to your PC media library, hit Sync, and you’re golden. Simple. The hoops you have to jump through to get music off your iPod look silly by comparison.

Imagine that! Microsoft providing users with a feature that Apple refuses to provide. Not that a Mac zealot will ever admit to any such thing.

The Zune definitely has its drawbacks: software installation takes way too long (hopefully fixed in the next version, there’s no reason why it should take so long), hard drive access not enabled by default, misleading points system for purchasing songs, lack of MacOS X and Linux support, etc. However, when a reviewer fails to say anything good about the Zune, such as noting the sync files back to computer feature, it’s obvious that the reviewer has been exposed to the Reality Distortion Field for way too long. From Wikipedia:

RDF is the idea that Steve Jobs is able to convince people to believe almost anything with a skillful mix of charm, charisma, slight exaggeration, and clever marketing.

Zune FUD

There’s an amazing amount of Zune FUD on the net these days. I’ve owned several generations of iPods and I’m looking forward to the release of Zune. It will be the first portable player to support MP3, AAC, WMA, WMV and H.264 (though apparently H.264 support will be through transcoding at launch; native support will probably follow in a future firmware update). The 3-play/3-day limit on wireless music sharing is a major handicap, though.

Microsoft Zune

Looking for cryptographer

I am looking for a cryptographer for a small paid project. Experience analyzing AES is required.

No anonymous inquiries please.

Update: Found someone, but feel free to get in touch anyway.

ThinkDead

The fan in my ThinkPad died last week. On bootup the ThinkPad gives me “Fan error” and shuts down automatically to prevent the CPU from frying. I contacted IBM early last Thursday and they said they would get me a box by the end of the next day so I could send the machine to Memphis (!) for repair. It’s now the end of Monday and I still haven’t received the box.

My dad had his ThinkPad repaired in Oslo recently. He dropped it off at IBM’s service location and 3 hours later it was repaired. When they called it was rush hour so my dad decided to wait until the next day to pick it up. The next day IBM delivered it for free.

You’d think that getting a ThinkPad repaired would be easier and quicker in Silicon Valley than Oslo, but I guess not…

Update: DHL delivered the box on Tuesday. IBM had a quick turnaround; they repaired the ThinkPad and sent it back on Wednesday.

One more thing: DHL sucks. I was supposed to have the ThinkPad back on Thursday, but didn’t have it until Friday. DHL somehow managed to completely lose track of the package for about 24 hours. When I called, they apologized and said that “sometimes the driver forgets to scan the package”. Their “noon next day delivery” ended up more like two days. I had to head over to the DHL depot and wait in line for 30mn to actually get my package.

“A digital thing lasts forever”

This comment over in the Ars forums:

The need for backups was more of an issue back in the days of magnetic media, where the originals could and did degrade over time to the point of being useless.

reminded me of this comment by Jack Valenti, former president of the MPAA:

Where did this backup copy thing come from? A digital thing lasts forever.

A while ago I bought GoldenEye on DVD. New discs of this Bond movie are not being made anymore so I bought it used. The disc did not have any noticable scratches yet all my DVD players were unable to play the last 30 minutes of the movie. Most likely a bad case of DVD rot.

Jack, DVDs do not last forever, but comments such as this one probably will:

I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.
— Jack Valenti, “Home Recording of Copyrighted Works,” Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives, April 12, 1982

Reversing NSC

I’ve reverse engineered the encoding used in the Microsoft NSC format and written a decoder. Here’s how Cisco describes NSC:

A multicast description file is required at the Cisco content engine’s Windows Media Technology Server. This description file, in the form of an .nsc file, is received from a known URL, mount point, or even via email. This file is also referred to as an “announcement.” The source path follows the standards based URL format: http://www.cisco.com/path/filename.nsc. … the structure of the .nsc file is protected with the use of encryption. This is used to protect the media from network sniffing of the media source’s IP address, port, and stream format.

That it’s encryption is a faulty assumption (or bullshit marketing) on Cisco’s part. The algorithm doesn’t take a key.

Download: nscdec.c (MD5: 7c81ca49bc68c2b8671d00f0cdf960e3)

Example usage:
$ nscdec 02AW000000000SLm1D0580HG1C0440MG0m0380800i0200GG0000
Encoding type: 2
Decoded string: [WMRELAY02 , A]

Update: VLC should have NSC support in the near future.

SMPTE 421M

The following documents just became available for download from the SMPTE website:

Trial Publication of SMPTE 421M PROPOSED SMPTE STANDARD for Television:
VC-1 Compressed Video Bitstream Format and Decoding Process

Trial Publication of RP 227 PROPOSED SMPTE RECOMMENDED PRACTICE for Television:
VC-1 Bitstream Transport Encodings

Trial Publication of RP 228 PROPOSED SMPTE RECOMMENDED PRACTICE for Television:
VC-1 Decoder and Bitstream Conformance

VC-1 is also known as Windows Media Video 9. See this screenshot of VLC playing the Shuttle Discovery Launch video using the VC-1 reference decoder under GNU/Linux. The reference decoder won’t be publicly available until VC-1 becomes a SMPTE standard. Update: the reference decoder is now publicly available at smpte-vc1.org.