Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Circumventing Flash Video on Linux

It is quite irritating when trying to view a piece of video, only to find that if you run Linux it is not supported. Read on for how get around this problem.

I am a Saturday Night Live fan and someone sent me a link to the Natalie Portman Raps skit at NBC (http://www.nbc.com/Video/videos/snl_1439_natalieraps.shtml). So after clicking on the link, the site tells me that it requires me to get a newer version of the Macromedia Flash player in order to play the video. Hmmm, this makes me wonder because I have recently upgraded to the latest version (7.0.61).

After digging through the Javascript on the page I find that if the browser is IE it simply plays the video without further delay. However, if your browser is not IE, it checks for the version of Flash player you have installed. If the version is less than 8.0 you cannot play the video. This is odd because I cannot find a version higher than 7.0.61.

After further examination we find the following code:

var pathToASX='/nbc/Video/asx/';
var isIE = (navigator.appName.indexOf('Microsoft')+1);
var content='Saturday_Night_Live/snl_1439_natalieraps';
var trafficPlay=true;
function init()
{
if(isIE)
{
playClip(content);
} else {
MM_CheckFlashVersion('8,0,0,0','Content on this page requires a newer version of Macromedia Flash Player. Do you want to download it now?');
}
}
function playClip(clip)
{
document.contentObj.URL=pathToASX+clip+'.asx';
}


In order to get around the problem we have to first get a URL to the real video. Here's how we do it. Following the above code, if your browser is Internet Explorer (heaven forbid) the code simply calls playClip() passing the 'content' variable which is:

'Saturday_Night_Live/snl_1439_natalieraps'.


Jump down to the playClip() function to see that the 'content' variable (now called 'clip') gets appended to the 'pathToASX' variable:

'/nbc/Video/asx/'


... which works out to:

'/nbc/Video/asx/Saturday_Night_Live/snl_1439_natalieraps'


Lastly the 'asx' suffix is added to form the complete path to the asx file:

'/nbc/Video/asx/Saturday_Night_Live/snl_1439_natalieraps.asx'


Right, now we prepend 'http://www.nbc.com/' and get that file:

wget http://www.nbc.com/nbc/Video/asx/Saturday_Night_Live/snl_1439_natalieraps.asx


...which looks like this:

<ASX version="3.0">
<ENTRY>
<REF href="http://g.msn.com/0VD0/02/26?m=snl_1439_natalieraps.wmv&csid=3&sd=mbr"/>
<REF href="http://g.msn.com/0VD0/02/26?m=snl_1439_natalieraps.wmv&csid=3&sd=mbr"/>
<REF href="http://g.msn.com/0VD0/02/26?m=snl_1439_natalieraps.wmv&csid=3&sd=mbr"/>
<TITLE>SNL - Natalie Raps</TITLE>
<ABSTRACT>A day in the life of Natalie Portman.</ABSTRACT>
<COPYRIGHT>Copyright (c)2005, NBC Universal</COPYRIGHT>
</ENTRY>
</ASX>


Ok, this file is simply more indirection so we get the embedded URL as follows:

wget 'http://g.msn.com/0VD0/02/26?m=snl_1439_natalieraps.wmv&csid=3&sd=mbr'


... which gives us another file containing the actual link to the mms stream. It looks like this:

<asx version="3.0"><entry><ref href="mms://od-msn.msn.com/3/MBR/snl_1439_natalieraps.wmv" /></entry></asx>


So now we have the mms URL:

mms://od-msn.msn.com/3/MBR/snl_1439_natalieraps.wmv


To get this onto our box we need the mmsclient program. I won't go into how to download and compile this but it is very straightforward for a Linux user.

Use the mmsclient program as follows:

mmsclient mms://od-msn.msn.com/3/MBR/snl_1439_natalieraps.wmv


... and that is it. After that completes you will have your very own copy of Natalie Raps. I must say that it wasn't really worth the extra work to download it but I figured someone may benefit by learning how to do it.

Questions can be sent to me via email on the link to the right.

Someone who has the time should write a script or something to automate this process. I just don't have the time right now.


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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Irritating Artsmessage


Have you seen this irritating little message popup when you login to your KDE session?

I have dealt with it for a month now because I had more pressing matters to deal with (mainly work), but have now become so sick of seeing this and missing the ability to use amarok that I have had to deal with it.

For those of you, like me, who have scoured google and found nothing to help, try removing the file at:

~/.kde/share/config/kcmartsrc

I had inadvertently messed up my Arts settings which resulted in the Artsmessage dialog above containing "Error while initializing the sound driver: device: default can't be opened for capture (Invalid argument)". This fixed it, so I figured someone else may benefit from my experience.


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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Click Forensics

Click Forensics, of San Antionio, TX, has released their Click Fraud Network this week. Of course, as a senior engineer at Litmus Media, I am biased. But I don't understand the value of this offering.

Taken from clickfraudnetwork.com:
"Network members receive free access to CF Analytics?, a page tag based click fraud reporting system."
Ok, so what is CF Analytics?
"CF Analytics provides campaign reports detailing click fraud threat level by term and search provider. Additionally CFN will publish aggregate data to the Click Fraud Index site. This information will help members identify trends and communicate with each other about this growing issue."
Right. So CF Analytics "provides campaign reports". I guess this means that, if I am a PPC advertiser, I get a report emailed to me after-the-fact telling me how much money I have wasted using a PPC network full of click fraud.

Wait, that is not all! I get to spend some of my valuable time looking at trends on the Click Fraud Index site, and opine about how I think it stinks that the PPC networks cannot push clean traffic to my site.

I don't get it. We already know click fraud is a problem. How does guessing about which clicks are not valid and posting a report to that effect help anything?

If you can tell, or hypothosize about which clicks are valid and which are fraudulent, why not just send bogus clicks to yahoo.com or some other indifferent page? In other words, why not use ValidClick? It is like I am spending money for advertising on television to reach 1,000,000 people with my message, but I find out the TV network lied to me, because my spot reached half of the viewers. Why do I want a report telling me that the actual number that I reached was 520,242? My money is still wasted.

With ValidClick, the bogus traffic simply doesn't get through. Ergo, I don't pay for bogus clicks. Even if the cost was 10% higher, which it likely is not, wouldn't you want to use a network like that? And if it costs the same amount to advertise on the ValidClick network, which it likely does, it would just be a bad mistake to do otherwise.

Disclaimer: I am not an official spokesperson for Litmus Media Inc, ValidClick Inc., Think Partnership Inc. , Second Bite Inc, or any other related organization.


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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Phatterns

Phatterns (a combination of the word PHP and Patterns) is a web design-pattern framework written for PHP5, making use of Smarty templates and ADODB. The patterns loosely follow the J2EE pattern catalog and facilitate proper MVC architecture.

I started this project back in September of 2004 but am now able to use it and work on it for use at Litmus Media. Look for a new release at the end of February.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Muslim Reaction

Another example of how inflamatory the Muslim religion can be is demonstrated by the reaction to the Islamic cartoon published in a Danish newspaper.
...gunmen briefly kidnapped a 21-year-old German on Thursday from a hotel in Nablus. Palestinian gunmen threw a pipebomb into a French cultural centre in Gaza City in the early hours of yesterday. Later, 300 demonstrators rampaged through the lobby of a building housing the Danish embassy in Jakarta.

Anjem Choudhary, one of the leaders of the demonstration, refused to condemn the threat of another suicide attack in London on the scale of the July 7 bombings as a result of the perceived insult to Islam. "I am not in the business of condoning or condemning," he said. "The fact is that 7/7 was brought upon the people of London and Britain by the foreign policy of Tony Blair. There is no reason why there should not be more suicide bombings in London."

Now isn't it interesting that in 1987 when Andres Serrano created his "art" depicting a crucifix of Jesus Christ submerged in a class of his own urine, nobody was kidnapped, and no news was heard of Christians throwing pipe bombs. I have to wonder what would happen if George Carlin did a piece of stand-up, capping on Muslims.

I do think publishing the cartoon was probably in bad taste if the artists knew the stigma attached to a drawn image of Mohammed. But however insensitive and bad form the cartoon may be, is it really worth the backlash that it has caused?

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

ValidClick

Obviously outsiders (non-employees) are not allowed to look at technology like ValidClick at Litmus Media. The same policy is employed at all companies, like Google and Clicklab. The best you can do is to read about their approach.

After joining Litmus Media, I have had access to look at ValidClick technology, and can say without a doubt that this is an implementation of the most advanced, and comprehensive approach to click fraud detection available today. Let me qualify this by saying that this is without seeing the details of some of the other technologies available. However, being a white-hat hacker myself and in the software engineering and development arena for over 15 years, I feel qualified to make the statement.

Can it be broken? Any hacker who knows his art will tell you that nothing is 100% crack-proof. Any software or hardware can be broken at some level. However, in order to break ValidClick you would not only have to know what you are doing but employ some very advanced and unlikely approaches (yes that is more than one approach) to even come close to bypassing the ValidClick fraud protection.

I have to put my seal on this technology as virtually unbreakable. Out of 100,000 people, one person may have the skillset to approach breaking ValidClick. Then out of 100,000 of those individuals having the skillset, maybe 10 would have the saavy to figure out how to actually break it. So that is 99.99999999%. Then¸ I cannot help but wonder out of those 10 individuals who actually could break ValidClick, who would pay these exceptionally talented individuals enough money to make it worth their while to actually do it.

Summary: Since Litmus Media has a team of 10 individuals that fall into the exceptional category mentioned above you can count on the fact that ValidClick is solid! For another company to have figured out a fraud detection approach this comprehensive is highly doubtful. I would trust ValidClick, period.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Senior Developer at Litmus Media

As of today (January 25, 2006) I have taken a position as a Senior Developer at Litmus Media, Inc. My job will be to shore-up the already successful product, Second Bite.
Second Bite is the global leader in shopping cart conversion technologies. Second Bite patent pending technology was developed to confront the shopping cart abandonment epidemic that plagues online retailers. Integration of our abandonment response-based marketing technologies give online retailers up to a 60% increase in revenue without any additional out-of-pocket expense, thereby leveraging their current online presence.
I am excited to join the team at Litmus and look forward to continued success with Second Bite and other products. Thanks to all who offered positions and helped with my search for the right opportunity.

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