Monday, August 11, 2008

web: life of a Beijing pirate is hard, yarrrr

Even with an outside high-def antenna from AntennaPros, I can't tune in to over-the-air NBC ever since the station moved to San Jose. Curse you, hilly geography!

So no Olympics (or Heroes, or Tonight Show) for me. Yet the opening ceremonies are meant to be the greatest ever!

Ahh, but I hear there be “pirates” a-sailing the IntarWub tubes who make TV booty available to landlubbers. (Though what, exactly, is the piracy in taking something freely broadcast over the air to anyone who can receive it and making it available to others?)

I knew from my experience trying to grab early Joanna Newsom albums how difficult this would be.
  • Google for Olympics 2008 opening ceremony torrent
  • Update to latest BitTorrent program just to be safe.
  • Download the small .torrent file, it opens in BitTorrent.
  • My download speed is close to zero, so I reconfigure my router's port forwarding for my current IP address
  • It starts downloading, dozens of computers world-wide handing me pieces!
  • The torrent contains two files
    1. Beijing.Summer.Olympics.2008.Torch.and.Fireworks.BBC-HD.1080p.H.264.AC3.2.0.mkv (1.12 GB)
    2. Olympic Opening Ceremony [2008] (minus athletes entering).avi (598 MB)
    The first file downloads in a few hours, the second file never gets started.
  • I watch the first file, in Media Player Classic. It's insanely high resolution but choppy as hell and it's only the five minute climax of the guy running around the scroll!
  • Search again, find torrents on The Pirate Bay yarrr, arrrr, together with user reviews. Everyone wants a torrent without commercials and without the irritating commentators, nobody has one. For a bunch of freeloaders we sure are demanding.
  • I settle on Beijing.Olympics.2008.Opening.Ceremony.720p.HDTV.x264-ORENJi, not-quite-so high-def
  • download the .torrent and BitTorrent starts grabbing pieces of the file.
  • It's 5 gigabytes, 53 files 95.3 MB each!
  • The next morning it's all downloaded, but my BitTorrent program continues to offer bits of the file to other users. Arrr, they're not just pirates, they be Communist pirates sharing amongst themselves!
  • Try to play the first file, orenji-x264-beijing.olympics.2008.opening.ceremony.720p.hdtv.x264-orenji.r00, but no luck: Windows Media Player, Media Player Classic, and VLC Player all can't play it. Media Player Classic knows a few details about it like the encoding rate, but there's no sound or video in any of them.
  • Google for x264 "Media Player Classic", figure out it's a variant of H264 video compression, this forum post tells me I need ffdshow plus Haali Matroska Splitter
  • I download and install those decoder packs, adding to the half-dozen media-playing bits and pieces on my computer. Both have dozens of setup options for which formats they should own and mostly incomprehensible video settings.
  • Again, try to play that first 95MB file, nothing doing.
  • I look more closely, there's also a orenji-x264-beijing.olympics.2008.opening.ceremony.720p.hdtv.x264-orenji.rar file, which sounds like a compressed file.
  • Try opening this, 7-Zip volunteers to open it.
  • Indeed, it's a compressed file, so I extract the original file blahblah.mkv
  • 15 minutes later, it's still extracting.
  • The original file is 5,157,477 kB!! 5GB! And there are 50 of these! I'll need to dedicate a hard drive just for this one TV program!
And even with these encoders, the sound is staticky and choppy; I guess not only is my disk too small, but my Athlon 64 3000 with 1GB of RAM isn't powerful enough. The insane file sizes and CPU demands demonstrate that high-quality computer video has barely entered the realm of possibility, unlike computer audio where any $40 cellphone or $2 birthday card can play music.

Yet clearly there are many people who have mastered this hassle and happily grab a daily buffet of free TV shows and movies from the pirates' distributed digital treasure chest.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

music: pirating early Joanna Newsom albums

Joanna Newsom's bio on Drag City lists "Walnut Whales" (2002) and "Yarn and Glue" (2003) both self-released CDs. These home-made albums are no longer sold.

Bizarrely, stupidly, and short-sightedly, these songs aren't purchaseable as MP3 downloads from Amazon, even though this is exactly the sort of long-tail, low cost, make-fans-happy monetary transaction that the Internet should enable. I'll gladly pay for these songs, but can't. Probably her record company contract forbids her to release her own records.

Anyway, where legit business fails to meet a demand, the pirates step in.
  • Google for "Joanna Newsom" "Walnut City"
  • One of the results hits is for Mininova's tracker of a BitTorrent file. BitTorrent is a protocol for sharing files piece by piece among computers. A fan has digitized the tracks from both early CDs, and taken pictures of the covers, and included an excellent early interview.
  • What should happen next:
    • Click to download the .torrent file, it opens in the BitTorrent client which downloads the file from peers, and a few minutes later I play the songs in my music player
What actually happened:
  • click to download the .torrent file, BitTorrent client starts, nothing happens. After contacting the tracker, zero download activity, 0.0 kilobits per second.
  • kill all the other inactive BitTorrent downloads, quit BitTorrent and restart, still nothing.
  • download and install latest BitTorrent client. It reopens the torrent, shows its contents, finds 5 other members of "the swarm" but no download, no activity
  • suddenly I can't access the internet at all (a coincidence?), so power off cable modem and router.
  • tinker with the Firewall settings for BitTorrent in my P.O.S. Norton 360. It has a rule to allow some incoming and all outgoing. Just replace that with Allow all.
  • new BitTorrent client displays a neat warning icon in its status line: "No incoming connections... could be your network". Double-clicking that leads to a dialog with a neat [Test if port is forwarded properly] button, which takes me to a neat web page that tests and says "Error! Port 6881 does not appear to be open" with a link that takes me to a neat port configuration guide.
  • Indeed, my port forwarding settings are out-of-date since my Vista laptop slog, so I update my router to forward to new IP addresses
  • the web page test now works, the warning icon goes away, but still no download activity
  • disable Norton 360 Firewall altogether
  • then a computer in Sweden starts handing me pieces of the file. Estimated time to download: 31 hours.
  • the warning icon comes back, the web page test fails, yet the little-computer-that-could in Sweden is still slowly passing me pieces of the file
  • 20 minutes into this two other computers join in, one handing me pieces at a rapid clip.
  • After another 24 minutes I have the entire download on my computer
  • The anonymous uploader had converted the CD tracks to Free Lossless Audio Codec format. The key is "lossless", these are shrunken files to save disk space and time but they don't use audio compression like MP3 or AAC files.
    FLAC stands out as the fastest and most widely supported lossless audio codec, and the only one that at once is non-proprietary, is unencumbered by patents, has an open-source reference implementation, has a well documented format and API, and has several other independent implementations.
  • But Apple with their monopolistic bullshit not-invented-here "We'll only work with open source when there's a business case to do so" attitude doesn't support .flac files, so I can't play them in iTunes.
  • bitch yet again about this on Apple's feedback form
  • try to find the obscure music player I used last time to play flac files. Nope, not Media Player Classic, it's VideoLAN VLC music player with some Xiph codec bundle.
  • play Joanna Newsom's tracks.
I feel I deserve a merit badge for getting it to work, but it is wrong. It's definitely not stealing, but it is piracy as in "copyright infringer." Alas, the Fairtunes site built by two Canadians in a dorm room that let you voluntarily donate money to artists when you rip them off went defunct years ago. Even during the Napster boom when millions of people were downloading billions of songs, they only received a few tens of thousands of dollars.

Joanna Newsom, I owe you $7.80 (13 songs at .60 cents). What's your PayPal account?

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