Arnt Gulbrandsen
About meAbout this blog
2013-02-27

Advertising-supported purchasing

Some things I buy from Amazon Marketplace seem to cost less than the cost of the envelope, postage and the labour of putting the thing into the envelope. Ten LR41 button cells for less than €1.

When that happens the envelope is invariably full of advertising.

There is something very appropriate about this. Advertising has nothing to do with my accompanying my daughter to school, so why should there be billboards along our route? But it has everything to do with buying things. And because of it, it's easy and cheap to get hold of odd cables, lightbulbs and whatnot.

I think I need a new pen.

2013-02-23

Blocking ads on the Roku media players

The Roku 2XS (like, I assume, the rest of the lineup) displays advertising on its home screen. I'm the kind of person who chooses paid android apps over the ad-ridden free versions, and I paid for the Roku, so why is there advertising there?

The home-screen advertising needs the zedo.com domain. I have a NAS which can function as a DNS server, so I enabled that function, added an empty zedo.com domain, and updated the DHCP server to make every device use my NAS as DNS server. Finally I power-cycled the Roku.

That was enough. No more ads.

(Note: This trick will not block ads in free streaming channels. I suggest you change to paid-for channels. Remember: If you aren't paying for it, you're not the customer, you're the product being sold.)

2013-02-20

Comparing Roku and Popcorn Hour

I have a Roku 2XS in the office and a Popcorn Hour A-300 in the living room. The Roku is small — the Popcorn Hour is as big as a book, the Roku fits on the palm of my hand. I can almost close my hand around it.

The Roku doesn't have as many connectors as the Popcorn Hour. Getting a digital sound signal from the Roku to an amplifier won't be easy, and the box is small and light enough that it won't sit properly on my desk, which annoys me more than it should. The ethernet and HDMI cables are too heavy for it. Wiggling helps.

The Popcorn Hour is friendlier at setup time. I was able to play my ISO images (I rip all my DVDs at purchase time and play from a NAS) without giving anyone any credit card number. Roku demanded one, and the Roku privacy policy notes (in the small print) that information about anything I watch will be logged to their servers (and the NSA's, I suppose). That makes me want to cook up some attention-getting stream names.

The Roku shows advertising on the main screen, while the Popcorn Hour abstains from such ignoble behaviour.

Roku wins on UI (apart from the advertising). In particular, the remote is smaller, friendlier and doesn't suffer from button overdose syndrome. Both boxes are quiet.

Video quality isn't directly comparable: The Roku plays network streams to digital output, and the video quality depends mostly on the network connection. (There's an app to play files from USB sticks, which I haven't tried.) The Popcorn Hour also plays ISO, Matroska, AVI and MP4 streams from NAS, and scales them up to 1920×1080. The upscaling quality varies from astonishingly good in the best cases to not very good in the worst. (Some MP4s encoded directly from high-resolution masters are scaled up well, ditto most of my ISOs, but not all. Matroska files I made from the same ISOs are scaled up poorly.)

Sound quality is identical when comparable. The Popcorn Hour also has analog sound outputs (of poor quality), which the Roku does not.

Update: The Roku has more apps. None I really care about, partly because I use a projector and a largish canvas. For some reason, a large canvas demands a high bitrate in order to look good, and the streaming services generally stop below 3Mbps so the apps I've tried are useless. If you use a screen or small canvas, app availability may be an important factor to you.

2013-02-19

Linux on the ARM Chromebook: Not quite yet

Installing ubuntu on the Chromebook was really simple, and the result works in principle, but it's not usable. Too many missing packages, some random crashes (while using Unity), and the Chromebook doesn't sleep properly.

KDE (kubuntu-desktop) seems to work better than Unity/Gnome, but not well enough for production use, not even by a twenty-year linux veteran such as myself. I don't want to spend much time hacking on it now, so I'll try again in a few months.

2013-02-13

Herding cats

The daily standup and periodic sprint planning in Scrum expose ideas to more people. There's more chat about things. Methodic code review pushes in the same direction.

That has many good effects. One which may not be so good is that dubious features are easily killed before they're implemented, or rejected when the first part is reviewed. Sometimes that makes me unhappy.

Dubious features are Schrödinger's cats: They can be anything from damaging to insanely great.

Insanely great features are insanely great in hindsight, but the ones I've written weren't great in advance, and I fear most of them wouldn't have passed the Scrum process. It's so easy to say no and concentrate on the sprint story. An answer like write it and see, we can always ditch it afterwards isn't in the spirit of scrum.

I suppose that's no bad thing, overall. More deadlines met. But fewer inspired features.

2013-02-06

SEO at Trolltech ca. 1996

My cron-driven alter ego ran several scripts on the Trolltech web server. This is about one I wrote in 1996 and ran every half-hour to make sure that qt-related subjects were well covered by the search engines. At the time, some search requests didn't give as good results as they could have, and I thought the likely reason was that the search engines hadn't crawled the right pages.

But the pages tended to be in the Trolltech referrer log, or if not, then some other page very close to them were.

So I wrote a crontab script to watch for new referrers in our apache logs, and whenever it saw one, it did the following.

First, get rid of spam (yes, even then there were spam pages). The test was simple: At most x% of the text could be links, the page should mention one of a set of keywords, the page could contain at most y links, and at least one link had to point to Trolltech.

If the page passed that test, the script tried to clean up the URL a bit (delete session cookies, delete index.html). Next it tried to locate a higher-level index page linking to the candidate page and other related pages (since submitting an index page gave the search engine more to work with).

Finally, the script would submit either the payload page or the index page to Altavista, Hotbot, Lycos and a fourth engine whose name I've forgotten. I don't think it was Google, Google came later.

It worked very well. Searches for Qt-related subjects gave better results than before, and yes, the search engines saw more links to troll.no. The script ran until shortly before I left Trolltech in 2001. By that time Google had learned to crawl well, and the script laid unused and forgotten until I found it today, while going through and wiping my old hard disks. (Update: The reason I don't know the name of the fourth search engine is that I had put the submission URLs in a configuration file.)

Update: The fourth was, of course, Excite, whose existence I had quite forgotten.

2013-02-05

An ARM Chromebook arrived

The thing weighs nothing and feels cheap, but not badly made. I sort of like the way it feels — it's well engineered, but its flimsiness urges me to set up proper backups on day one. My reaction surprises me, but I like the compromise. Hardware does break, it's good to face that.

The SD card I need to install linux still hasn't arrived.

2013-02-03

Ubuntu 12.10 on the Nokia Booklet

The Nokia Booklet will not resume from sleep using 12.10 and I cannot find the problem. 12.04 works, so today is the day when I learn whether my backup regime really works. (Update: It worked oh so slowly. I assume it's time to stop upgrading linux on this laptop and get a new one soonish, so I ordered an ARM Chromebook.)