Embedding videos the old fashion way

There was a time when I embedded web videos manually by uploading the video file to a server, and then wrote some HTML embeded code on the web page to show a video.  Then came YouTube which solved one of the biggest problems which is server bandwidth, but they insisted on transcoding the uploaded file before they’d show it.  What this meant was that I had to upload at a significantly higher bitrate so that the losses will be minimized but that is a very time consuming process on a ~400 Kbps upstream connection with HD video files.

So now I’ve decided to try a little experiment using DropBox.com’s public folder feature and some HTML 5 “video” tags.  Below is a 1440×1080 video clip I encoded using H.264 High Profile level 4.0 at 2.2 Mbps for the video stream and 128 Kbps AAC audio.  The bitrate is what YouTube would probably give me for their “1080P” stream but I would have likely had to upload at 5 Mbps for a starting point and that would take a lot longer.  Using this method, the end user sees the original encoded video with no intermediate transcode step.

You must have an HTML5 capable browser.

Unfortunately, the WordPress graphical editor will screw up the raw embed code so I have to edit the post using raw HTML. Javascript apparently doesn’t support full screen. Free solutions like Video JS will support browser full screen (you still need to push F11 for true full screen) but the video doesn’t play back smoothly in Chrome. Furthermore, this still won’t work in Internet Explorer 9 or Firefox 3.6.23 which is frustrating. The good news is that the videos are easy to download, though it’s possible to download flash video (without DRM) as well using extra plugin tools.

There is another alternative which is to go directly to the download link. Opening that link in Internet Explorer will open Windows Media Player which has the lowest CPU utilization and highest chance of smooth playback on lower end devices like netbooks. That will do full screen for sure. Or we can use the Windows Media Player plugin which is really going old school, but that too has the benefit of smooth video playback, but may not work on Macs and Linux devices.

‘Pentium’ branded Sandy Bridge laptop for $268!

UPDATE 9/2/2011 – The deal is alive again.  I bought one and it is a reasonably nice screen and keyboard.

Here is a Lenovo “Pentium” branded Sandy Bridge laptop for $268! at Fry’s (Silicon Valley, don’t know about other regions).  That’s a little too good for me to pass up as my old wooden computer experiment is barely holding on from bit rot.  This thing has an Intel B940 dual-core processor that is a 32nm Sandy Bridge microarchitecture chip with all the power saving features of an i3 processor.  Hyperthreading is disabled though.  Comes with Windows 7 Home Premium license.  No HDMI port but c’mon, $268 is rock bottom prices.

Note that these deals will likely be gone in the morning so hurry up if you want one.

This should make you wonder why 10″ tablets should sell for $500, or even $400.  Those IPS displays and capacitive touchscreens are expensive now but they’ll have to come down in price as tablets push those components into the mainstream.  This laptop is obviously nowhere near as portable as a tablet, but it will make a nice luggable device that will primarily be used at home plugged in.

UPDATE – Damn it.  Fry’s reissued a Friday ad on Sunday and a bunch of people there were asking for this and they didn’t have it.

Google Android 6 stage update process

So I bought a new HTC Nexus One (brown with US warranty) last week and it came with a custom Vodafone UK ROM with Android Kernel Version: 2.16.405.1 CL223106 release-keys.  Unfortunately, this particular firmware prohibits any OTA updates or even manual updates and it was a nightmare trying to track down the problem.  Luckily I fell upon this user comment on Amazon’s website which led me to this page explaining the upgrade process which calls for a 5 stage process to get to Android version 2.3.3 which allows you to run the 2.3.4 update.

So to summarize, the upgrade process goes something like this where each stage took about 5-30 minutes (depending on download time).

  • Downgrade to 2.2 build FRG33 using passimg.zip method
  • Upgrade to 2.2.1 build FRG83
  • Upgrade to 2.2.1 build FRG83D
  • Upgrade to 2.2.2 build FRG83G
  • Upgrade to 2.3.3 build GRI40
  • Upgrade to 2.3.4 (Google announcement here)

With an upgrade procedure this onerous, no wonder so few devices are running newer versions of the Android Operating System.  The result is that there is an immense level of Android fragmentation leaving 99% of the devices vulnerable to a serious security flaw in the ClientLogin API.  ClientLogin was apparently designed without any encryption such that AuthTokens are transmitted in the clear.

The market share for non-vulnerable versions of Android OS might be a little better than 1% now but not much better according to Google’s statistics.

Image credit: Google

The tablet wars are not a foregone conclusion

Marco Arment spent a hell of a lot of time trying to make the simple point that the tablet wars are a foregone conclusion in favor of Apple.  The thing that stuck out about his review of a review is that it spends so much time frothing at the mouth because someone said something nice about a competing Apple product that’s true. But if Ars says the hardware of the Tab 10.1 is nicer than the iPad and it’s a true statement, what’s the problem?  The Ars review pointed out that the third party hardware support on iPad is still beating Android.

When you get to the bottom line, Mr. Arment’s conclusion like so many pundits is that the tablet wars are over and Apple owns the market due to its dominance in app support.  If these pundits are right, then every other hardware maker in the industry will just have to hang themselves, fire everyone, and close up shop.  Or the more realistic outcome is that everyone else will tighten their margins and start competing on price.  When nicely configured Android tablets are selling for $300 or less on a more mature Android 3.x OS and a maturing app market, they will be competitive on price and value.

Beyond Apple and Google, Microsoft Windows 8 tablets will start showing up with something that looks like a very usable touch interface in the fall of 2012 (3 years after Windows 7).  The third party app market will be thin but it will run existing Windows software and drivers so that you can do things like print without sticking your iPad or Android device in a copier.  Microsoft will likely make MS Office (including Outlook email) usable on a tablet interface and it will be enterprise manageable in terms of maintenance and security.

The Windows 8 tablets whether they’re on ARM or Intel x86 SoCs (without legacy PCI support) will be competitive on a hardware level for the first time.  The main thing that really bothers me is the fact that Windows 8 won’t show up for more than another year and things can change in that period of time, but it doesn’t mean that the market will only support one or two players.  Microsoft is probably very late to the party, but the game is not over by a long shot especially when the value aspect of Windows tablets come into play.  While the PC makers will be reluctant to participate in a “race to the bottom” in profit margins, that is the harsh reality that they operate in.  Windows 8 tablets will essentially be netbooks with capacitive touch screens which means they shouldn’t really cost more than $100 over the price of existing netbooks.  That puts Windows 8 tablets in the $350 to $500 price range which is very compelling to the stingy PC shoppers who aren’t going to buy Apple.

Apple’s 3.5″ tablet costs $749

Apparently, Apple’s 3.5 inch tablet with 3G and phone capability (what Apple calls their “iPhone”) with 16 or 32 MB storage costs $649 or $749.  These devices are nice, but it’s against my principles to pay that kind of profit margin for a device like this.

If I was in the market for a phone and data service contract that subsidized it, I’d wait for the next model.  This timing just doesn’t seem right.

Angry Birds for Chrome browser review

I just noticed that they now have Angry Birds for the Chrome web browser for free.  I own the $5 version for the Intel App store and wanted to see how this version compares so here are my impressions.

The good

  • It’s free.
  • Installs very quickly with a few clicks.

The bad

  • No full screen mode.  Even the “HD” version plays in a relatively small window on my desktop.  Maybe if this were a netbook with limited resolution and you hit the F11 key for full screen browse mode, it might be more full screen but it’s not a true full screen mode.
  • Introduction videos look a little lossy in quality compared to any other version.

The ugly

  • Game play is noticeably jerky even on my quad-core Intel Nehalem desktop system.

Compared to the Intel App store version, the Chrome version is vastly inferior in graphics quality and game smoothness.  I don’t know if there will be more maps available for the Chrome version, but the Intel App store version seems like a ripoff compared to the free Android OS version because you don’t get all the levels.  Moreover, the Intel App store version now crashes on my Netbook and Notebook and that’s after a complicated install process where you have to install the Intel App store which requires a bunch of junk to be placed in your OS startup.  So it’s all a mixed bag and the best experience seems to be on the Nook Color.

Rosetta Stone Launches iPad App

Yesterday Rosetta Stone launched their TOTALe HD app for the iPad device, another platform which Rosetta Stone included in trying to create a total immersion process for learning a new language.  I was excited to try and get my hands on the app as soon as I managed to get an opportunity.

The app was a welcome addition because now I finally have another reason to use my iPad instead of sit in the corner as a photo frame, which is where the device spends most of the time now.  Rosetta Stone released their app as a free download from the Apple App Store.  In order to use the application, you need to have an active TOTALe subscription to take advantage of the app.  This is included with any purchase of any Rosetta Stone language product as well as if you purchase an online subscription through Rosetta Stone’s website which can even be purchased at three month increments for as little as $199 which would give you access to all levels of the language.

The app itself is great.  While it does not include many of the additional you would get on a PC such as the Studio sessions with instructors or the online games and stories, but the course does include all of the courseware as well as the previous scores that you might have had from taking a lesson.  The courses themselves don’t appear to be stored on the iPad device but downloaded as a stream.  This can lead to the application dragging from time to time if you have a weak internet connection, but in general the app is far less drag on a connection than streaming video and doesn’t have to be as responsive as VoIP or online gaming.

Some of the positive things that I did enjoy with the iPad app for Rosetta Stone is the freedom and portability of the iPad with the functionality of the application.  I can take learning on the iPad outside to my porch where I can enjoy the spring weather and learn a new language. Many times the PC version would almost seem better on a touch screen where the iPad app makes that fully available for you and actually allows some portions of the lessons to proceed a split second faster.  The app takes up little room on the iPad and so even the lowest end 16GB model shouldn’t have any problem with storage capacity.  The installation of the application is only 12.6 MB and has to be done through the iTunes App store.

The downsides to the app are that the courses aren’t stored on the iPad which is unfortunate because I really would like to use the device without having to be connected to a WiFi or 3G connection.  On the positive side, 3G coverage is enough for you to use the courses although I don’t know what the data plan usage would be.   Other problems with the app include the fact that some minor data points are missing yet from the Rosetta App including one of the features that I use to study which would be the date the last time a lesson was completed.  One other feature that I find frustrating is when you have languages in a different character set such as Chinese or Arabic, the app resets the character set after every lesson.  This was very annoying for me because I try and make my learning process just a bit more difficult by learning the advanced characters.  Generally on the PC side, the character set is somewhat static unless you completely close out of Rosetta Stone.

The application is clearly a first release and has a number of issues.  Performance appears to be there, while occasionally response just does not seem to be there.  However, this also can be experienced with a weak internet connection on the PC variant of Rosetta Stone.  One of the clear bugs happened to be how some of the courses would have completion of over 100% for the score.  Clearly this is a bug that will probably be fixed in an update.  I don’t feel the that any of the bugs are detrimental to the learning process.  However I did have the application crash during a lesson.   I was able to pick up right where I left off when the application failed though and within a few seconds.  While working on the application I spent two hours studying Japanese while working through three core lessons.

Overall, I would recommend this application to any iPad owner as well as I would say that Rosetta Stone is definitely a great opportunity to learn another language and worth the expense, especially compared to taking college level courses.  I think that the only way to learn a language faster would be to move to a country where the language to be learned is native to the area.  My hopes are that Rosetta Stone will allow the application to download lessons similarly as downloading movies from iTunes because I would really like to be able to use this in areas where 3G just is not available.

UPDATE: June 7th, 2011.  After further investigation I have discovered that portions of the course where are missing from the iPad version.  Ths would include any lesson that would require typing such as the grammar, and the writing portions of the application.   Hopefully Rosetta Stone will realize that the iPad is also capable of text input with the onscreen keyboard at some point in time.

MacBook Air 2011 Model Launch Immenent

Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to put forth a baseless prediction, but while browsing the prices I did notice that the refurbished models of the MacBook Air have all dropped by about $20, previously the entry level MacBook Air model was listed at $849 with a 15% discount. I have watched the refurbished store in the past and noticed that shortly before a product launch, the prices for a particular product would drop as a successor was released shortly there after. This would lead me to believe that Apple will probably launch a new MacBook Air right around the time of the WWDC. My only other explanation for Apple to reduce the prices of their refurbished MacBook Airs would be that the products simply aren’t moving from the refurbished market which would be something I have yet to witness from Apple.

The only reason why I am even bringing this up on this site is that after a quick Google search, I haven’t seen anyone else make this observation and thought I would try and be the first to call this prediction.  A number of other sites have predicted the next MacBook Air would be released around June/July with a SandyBridge Processor and Thunderbolt interface.  Most likely this will include an integrated  Intel HD3000 graphics chipset which will likely result in a significant boost in CPU performance all the while being inferior in 3D graphics.  Then again, who buys a MacBook Air for gaming or graphics editing?

UPDATE: Well, apparently I was incorrect in assuming the exact release date.   Hopefully Apple will refresh the model sooner than later.

TFS 2010 Web Access “Access Denied” error – solved

A few days ago, one of the members of our QA team reported that they couldn’t access any projects in TFS 2010’s Web Access other than one. They were getting an “access denied” error with no troubleshooting information attached. The one project they could get to was the one that they had been working with the whole time. Upon further investigation, the entire QA staff had this problem! I checked every log I could find… IIS and Windows security logs on the SSRS, TFS, and SharePoint machines… no indication of a problem. Then I looked at the configuration, and everything was perfect. I certainly didn’t see any errors. Eventually, I made a dummy user, added it to the appropriate group for permissions, and fired up a clean VM to test. Here’s what I found.

The error came up as soon as you chose “” from the project drop down. It looks like a standard Windows dialog box and simply says “Access denied” with a single “OK” button. However… if you click “OK” on this window, and pay REALLY close attention, you’ll see that your Web browser (we are using IE here… thanks to MS CRM) is blocking a popup from the site. Allow popups from the site and try again, problem solved! The “access denied” is actually from the Web browser or JavaScript running in the Web browser being denied permission to bring up the window to select a project.


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