Blocking Fairfax's Auto-play Videos

All of Fairfax Media's websites -- including the Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age, have obnoxious auto-playing videos that load in the background, and interrupt you when you're halfway down the page, not to mention using up your bandwidth and download quotas for something you don't want.

I have long since uninstalled the Flash plugin from my computer, and so for a while, their Flash-based video player just wouldn't work in Safari, my primary web browser. It seems they have updated their video player so that it supports h.264 embedded video, which means Safari will happily play it now, no Flash needed. I do not like this at all.

I have the AdBlock extension installed on all my computers and web browsers, and I have managed to construct a rule that would prevent their video player javascript from running, thus stopping the auto-playing videos.

Just add the following line to your Adblock filters list (all in one line):

fd.videoplayer_min.js$domain=smh.com.au| theage.com.au|brisbanetimes.com.au|nationaltimes.com.au| watoday.com.au|domain.com.au

Mind you, this would prevent ALL video from playing on any of their domains too, which I don't have a problem with. YMMV

Swimming Upstream

I first heard of Shane Carruth's new movie, Upstream Color, in March, soon after it was shown at South by Southwest and getting quite a bit of buzz online. It also received critical acclaim at Sundance where it was screened previously. The trailer for it is intriguing, and I was really looking forward to it. Carruth's 2004 movie, Primer, is one of my favourites, and I consider it to be one of the most underrated sci-fi movies out there.

Upstream_Color_poster.jpg

When it was announced that the self-distributed theatrical release of Upstream Color in April would be accompanied with a simultaneous release online through iTunes, Amazon and a DRM-free digital download, I nearly fell over. Nothing like this has been done before by the big studios, as far as I know.

I waited patiently until April and when it was finally available, I went to the website, clicked through to buy the movie in DRM-free 1080p HD video directly, only to be greeted by the following screen:

What just happened here? I thought it was a self-distributed movie and not subject to stupid regional distribution agreements and restrictions that the incumbent movie studios have? Going back to the main website, I came across this line of fine print:

  • All products unavailable at this time in UK and Australia due to distribution agreements.

Hmmm.

I couldn't find anything about these distribution agreements for Australia at the time, and I was mildly annoyed at the fact that anybody, anywhere in the world can buy this online, including those in the US where it was on limited release in some cinemas around the country. Anywhere, except Australia and the UK. Still, I was patient and figured it was just a minor technicality and it would be available to us soon.

A few months later, it became clearer what those distribution agreements were. Upstream Color made an appearance at the Sydney Film Festival in June, distributed by Palace Films (the film distribution arm of Palace Cinemas) where it garnered good reviews, but I completely missed due to lack of time. It was still not available for purchase or download, and no mention of a general release, if ever.

Another couple of months went by, and I hadn't been paying close attention to any announcements related to the film, but it came on my radar again last week when it apparently opened in cinemas around Australia. My hopes were dashed when I checked out which cinemas were screening it. There's only ONE venue in all of Sydney (a Palace-owned one in Paddington, no less).

Thinking that it's now finally in 'general' release in Australia, it might be available for us to buy it online too, but no dice. The website still shows the same 'unavailable' screen, and while you can buy the soundtrack from iTunes Australia, the movie is nowhere to be found.

Disappointed, is one word to describe what I'm feeling right now. Angry and frustrated are another couple more. There has already been a lot said about the high level of piracy in Australia (particularly for TV), and this is mostly due to the poor availability of digital downloads or streaming content, because of regional agreements with broadcasters and distributers. Even Choice (the Australian consumer organisation) has called for more services like Netflix and Hulu to be made available here (and how to circumvent geo-IP restrictions in the meantime).

It is commendable that Carruth has taken the stance of not wanting to go the traditional route for distributing his movie, to give his audiences the ability to watch it however and whenever they like, whether in a local cinema, on a DVD/Blu-ray or from a digital download. Unfortunately, this deal that was struck with Palace Films (and whoever the UK distributor is) just stings the very people who really want to support him.

I'm sure Palace has written in some kind of exclusivity clause into the deal, hence the lack of purchase or even rental options for Australians, but how is this going to benefit anyone except for Palace when it's only screening in ONE cinema in Sydney? I'm sure as hell not going to suffer through Sydney traffic to travel halfway across the city, pay exorbitant parking fees, and have the privilege to buy overpriced concession stand snacks and drinks to watch a movie that I was prepared to PAY to own since April. I'm sure Palace would rather me buy a DVD or Blu-ray that they would release when they feel the time is right, complete with the 'Australia Tax' tacked on (no, I'm not talking about the GST).

Viewers in Australia who don't live in any of the major capital cities, can't or aren't willing to go to the screening venues at the specific times will just miss out. Carruth, the director and producer ends up reaching a much smaller audience than he could otherwise if Palace didn't prevent him from selling the movie himself. Ironic that going through a 'distributor' ends up limiting the accessible market than self-distributing the movie online.

Overwritten

Jotting this down as a reminder and a warning to others that working with low-level disk tools are dangerous and can cause data loss.

Late last night, I decided to 'burn' the Raspberry Pi Raspbian OS disk image onto a new 32GB SD card I recently got.

I'd previously used a GUI app called RPI-sd Card Builder successfully for a few other SD cards for the Pi. Although I'm pretty comfortable in the Mac OS X Terminal, I wanted to avoid making mistakes and wiping the wrong drive with a single typo on the command line.

The process went smoothly, except for a error at the end from the utility about not being able to unmount the drive, which I didn't think much about, and just unmounted the drive manually in Finder.

I plugged the newly created SD card into my Pi, but it wouldn't boot up. It was getting late and figured it might be a faulty microSD to SD card adapter, or that the Pi had issues with that specific brand of card, and would take a look at it the next day.

So tonight I checked the contents of the SD card, and oddly, it was empty. Meanwhile, Time Machine started showing this error about connecting to my Time Capsule:

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 10.44.00 PM.png

I rebooted both my Mac and the Time Capsule, thinking it was one of its intermittent glitches. Nope, backups were still failing, so I connected to the Time Capsule disk from the Finder, and mounted the sparseimage disk image file for this Mac. The contents of that disk that appeared was not what I expected at all. It looked like the contents of the Rasbian boot disk.

I thought Finder must have been acting weird and showing me the contents of my SD card, I unmounted and ejected everything, physically removed the SD card, and reconnected to the Time Capsule disk and mounted the backup disk image again. Sure enough, Rasbian. My stomach churned.

When using the SD card builder app, I double-checked that I had selected the correct disk, so how could this have happened?

As part of the SD card writing process, it needs to be unmounted and repartitioned. I wondered if somehow the drive identifiers might have changed when my Time Machine backup started while SD card was unmounted.

I ran a quick test, where I mounted 2 different disk images using the command line - hdiutil attach <diskimagefile>.sparsebundle . As you'd expect, the first image gets a disk identifier of /dev/disk2s2 and the second is /dev/disk3s2. So far so good, so I unmount them both, and repeat the command with just the second disk image. To my surprise, it got assigned /dev/disk2s2. BINGO.

My best guess as to what happened, is that when the SD Card Builder app unmounted my SD card, Time Machine decided to start backing up and mounted the backup disk over the network, 'stealing' the disk identifier that was originally assigned to the SD card. Even though I had picked the correct drive identifier, it seems like the drives got swapped before the writing started, and when it did, it was done on the backup drive. This also explains why the app couldn't unmount the drive because, presumably, Time Machine was still trying do the backup, even though the partitioning and data had already been re-written.

Even though Finder still shows the file size of that backup sparse bundle as 490GB, which is over 6 months worth of backup history, hdiutil attach <diskimagefile>.sparsebundle shows the partition type as Linux and cannot be mounted, and there isn't a Apple_HFS partition at all.

I'm assuming that disk image is good as gone and I won't be able recover any of that data since the entire partition map and file system has changed, so I'm deleting it and starting a new backup from scratch. I'm just glad that it wasn't my boot drive that got hosed.

Despite my best efforts in taking precautions, the app I used was not much more than a wrapper around the unix dd command that writes to disk at a block level, and this is an incredibly powerful and potentially destructive command. The lesson today, boys and girls, is to eject all unnecessary disks, and disable any apps or tasks that might cause a disk to get automatically mounted (such as Time Machine or other backup/cloning apps) while you're working with low level disk utilities (especially those that repartition or reformat disks).

Boxing Day Tech Sale

I've got a bits of tech that has been collecting dust and I've decided to sell.

Let me know if anything interests you and make me an offer, or bid on the eBay auctions linked.

Apple MacBook Pro 13" (Mid 2009)

  • Model ID MacBookPro5,5
  • 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • upgraded to 8GB RAM
  • upgraded internal 240GB OWC Mercury Electra 3G SSD (285MB/s read/write data rate)
  • Battery health at 524 cycles, current max capacity 4744mAh (~87% of original design capacity of 5450 mAh).
  • minor cosmetic scratches and scuffs, never dropped, no dents, no cracks anywhere.
  • screen, keyboard and trackpad in perfect condition.
  • Mac OS X 10.8.2 Mountain Lion installed

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/300838691893

Apple iPad mini 16GB Wi-Fi

  • Excellent condition, no scratches or wear on either the glass screen or on the back case.
  • Up to date iOS 6.0.2
  • purchased 19/11/2012 - just 5 weeks old. Receipt will be provided for remainder of the 12 month warranty

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/300838674596

Apple iPhone 4 32GB Black

  • Out of contract, unlocked, use any sim worldwide
  • good condition, some scuffs and wear on stainless steel band, tiny chipped off bit of plastic around the screen, no scratches on back or front glass
  • Silver 'LEAF' metal skin, maze pattern, applied to back (removable)
  • Free Kensington Mini Battery Pack to extend the battery life, attaches directly to the 30-pin dock connector
  • iOS 6.0.1

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/300838685425

Apple iPhone 3GS 16GB White

  • brand-new, pristine condition, no scratches, no scuffs, no cracks, no water damage
  • unlocked, never activated, use any sim worldwide
  • iOS 5.x (probably 5.0 or 5.0.1)
  • warranty replacement unit (1-1 swap at Apple Store for damaged iPhone)

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/300838682585

Blackberry Playbook 7" 16GB

  • excellent condition, barely used,
  • updated to Playbook OS 2.1.0.1088
  • ability to run Android apps as well as Blackberry AppWorld apps

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/300838678233