Tag Archives: player

Facebook Scams: Not Out of the Woods

Facebook may have just won a theoretical warchest from a spammer, but it’s not put its house in order when it comes to scams. Indeed, I suspect they’re getting worse. Now you can get infected without even having to visit your Facebook account.

What happens is that, if you have set your profile to receive email updates when someone sends you a message on Facebook, these trojan scams actually make their way direct into your inbox. Facebook is just the vector:

Here’s a message, as it looks in Gmail:

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Click on that link and it takes you, not to the Facebook message page, but straight to the dodgy website. In this case the website is still active. It will have a name like YuoTube:

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and a YouTube-like interface:

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The message in the ‘player’ says “Your version of Flash Player is out of date.” Without you doing anything the download window will appear:

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Of course, if you install that you’re in trouble. But are you in trouble if you’ve already visited the page? I’m still working on that.

Website Members Take Over Football Club

A new model of football ownership? The BBC website reports that

Fans’ community website MyFootballClub has agreed a deal to take over Blue Square Premier outfit Ebbsfleet United.

The 20,000 MyFootballClub members have each paid £35 to provide a £700,000 takeover pot and they will all own an equal share in the club.

Members will have a vote on transfers as well as player selection and all major decisions.

What’s interesting is that the website has only been going since April. It has 50,000 members, 20,000 of them paying the registration fee. MyFootballClub was actually approached by nine of them clubs, none of them from the Premier League, before deciding on Ebbsfleet. The £700,000 was raised in 11 weeks.

I have no idea what the implications of this are. But given that the members/owners will now demand a say in the picking of the team, it could be more like the Israeli model I mentioned a few weeks back. Not everyone agrees it would work.

BBC SPORT | Football | My Club | Ebbsfleet United | Fans website agrees club takeover

Everyone Wants To Be a Player

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Still the big players don’t get it. Still they drive people like me nuts, and confuse ordinary users, with their sly tactics that confound and bewilder.

Above, for example, Microsoft’s Windows Media Player provides a list of files that it will play by default. All are checked automatically, including DVD video, midi files, WAV files and MP3 files. Nowhere is there a button for deselecting all of them. Weirdly, at the top is a message that says

Window Media Player 9 Series will be the default player for the file types that are selected in the following list. You must be logged on as administrator or a member of the Administrators group to change these settings.

Microsoft’s way of confusing users who think this is something that they can’t control, and intimidating them into not trying. Nowhere does it say “You can uncheck these boxes if you like; of course you’ll have to do it one by one, which we’re hoping you won’t have time to do.” (I timed it; it took about 10 seconds. That’s ten seconds of my life I’m not going to get back.)

RealPlayer is notorious for this kind of thing. I installed it the other day. The Media Types window, steers the unsuspecting user to signing away all their rights with a big obvious option and one lesser option:

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If you are stupid enough to ignore that, you can try figuring out which files you want RealPlayer to deal with, which of course, has everything checked by default:

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There is, however, an “Deselect all” button. And alongside each format is a helpful note about what software that file type is currently assigned to. Their sneaky trick, however, is to hide the important one, the reason you presumably installed the player, so that you have to scroll down below the visible list to find the Real file types. There’s no button marked “Just let the Player handle the things it’s supposed to handle, and leave me alone, OK?”

Actually, this whole thing is a kind of battle, a bit like the default browser battle. Everybody seems to play the same game, with varying degrees of sneakiness/sleaziness. Back in the Preferences window of RealPlayer is a checkbox that lets RealPlayer fight back, in case you’ve decided against allowing it to play everything. Although in its defence, the first time it notices you’ve left the reservation, you get a warning, which says “RealPlayer is no longer the default player for some audio and video files:

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Still, the wording is sufficiently cheeky to confuse the more casual user: “Do you want to keep RealPlayer,” it asks, as the default player for these file types?”

I like the word “keep” instead of “revert” or “return”. Most users are conservative. They don’t want to change things. RealPlayer execs probably sat in an office all afternoon thinking about the wording to that little message. This message will keep popping up, by the way, each time you change one of these file types until you tell it to stop.

Window Media Player, meanwhile, is a bit weirder. Windows’ file system will acknowledge that control of the file type has passed hands, but WMP won’t. Instead, in the file types options window, the checkbox will be ticked but “dimmed”:

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The help file helpfully says:

If a selected check box is dimmed, Windows Media Player has only partial ownership of the file type. Multiple file extensions are assigned to the file type, but the Player only plays some of those extensions by default. To give the Player full ownership of a file type, double-click the dimmed check box.

I’ve read that second sentence a couple of times, and still don’t know what it means. But to me the implication is clear: It’s virtually impossible for Windows Media Player to surrender all rights to a file type unless you actually uncheck the right box in the options window. And you may notice that the only way into the options window is through a menu that can only be accessed on the default Windows Media Player skin by a little arrow in the left hand corner:

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The bottom line: I can understand that control of media is valuable real estate for these guys, but I really feel for the poor folk who are trying to just play music, or videos or whatever. There must be a better way of doing this.

When Old Media Buys a Community

MSNBC, owned by MSN and NBC, has bought Newsvine, a sort of citizen journalism, blogging and news-sharing site. But who stands to lose from the deal, and what does it tell us about the equity of Web 2.0?

One commenter on the page that announces the news hits the nail firmly on the head:

In the end I feel dejected, sad and I guess just a little like we should have seen this one coming. What, pray tell is going to happen to OUR huge sums of ad revenue? I mean you guys are making mad loot out of this deal, what about our money?

The deal was cash, but terms were not disclosed.

It’s one of the unresolved paradoxes of Web 2.0 (and citizen journalism): How do you reward those who make a website like Newsvine what it is? Or at least, how do you avoid making them feel hopelessly exploited?

This from Calvin Tang, a co-founder of Newsvine:

I personally would like to thank all Newsvine users who have helped make Newsvine what it is – the most vibrant and active community of users on the digital news media landscape. In addition to being one of the most powerful and unique publishing platforms on the web – the open dialogues, the free and creative expression of ideas and the genuine manner in which all of you participate on the site are some of the foremost reasons that msnbc.com found Newsvine to be an attractive company to partner with.

To be fair, Tang does point to the possibility of “an adjustment to the way contributors are compensated based on suggestions from users.” It’s not clear what this is: At the moment anyone with their own “column” on Newsvine gets 90% of ad revenue derived from visitors to that page. And all content is owned by the person who creates it.

Newsvine is actually hugely popular among those who use it: about 1.2 million unique visitors per month, according to Read/Write Web, and growing at an average rate of 46% per quarter. The site, R/WW says, gets about 80,000 comments and 250,000 votes a month. That’s pretty good traffic in a couple of years.

But still there’s the nagging feeling that money is being made on the backs of others. If all those producing the work were interested only in wider exposure, then the MSNBC deal is good — lots of opportunities for their writings to be read by a wider audience.

From the comments a lot of Newsvine users feel a sense of loyalty and protectiveness towards the site and its founders. And although it’s obvious that the best exit strategy for a site like this is to be bought out by a bigger player, probably one in old media, the illusion that something like Newsvine is an antidote to old media is an important one to maintain; how many, otherwise, would expend effort and time contributing for free if they felt the primary goal of the site was to get bought out?

Money is probably of little consequence to most of those using Newsvine. They’re more interested in the satisfaction that comes from “owning” a community. But inevitably money changes the equation: it is that very community, not the site per se, that has attracted MSNBC’s dollars. Should not the community, therefore, be entitled to some of that money?

Of course, the community itself, by not being party to the discussions with MSNBC nor beholden to the deal, can just up sticks and leave if it doesn’t like the outcome. And that’s where the other illusion kicks in: MSNBC can’t buy the community, although it may feel it has. It can buy the site where that community has built its camp. Make the wrong moves, not make enough moves, or fail to spread the wealth, and it may wake up one morning to find the camp has faded away in the night.

Newsvine – Msnbc.com Acquires Newsvine

The Message Behind Instant Messaging

Be careful what you wish for. For nearly a decade I, and a lot of people like me, have been dreaming of the day when we could send an instant message to someone who wasn’t on the network as us. An instant messaging program is one that sits on your computer and allows you to send short text messages to other Internet users in real time — if they are online they see the message as soon as you’ve sent it. it’s faster than email because they get it straightaway, and it has the added bonus of letting you know whether the other person is at their computer and awake. Hence the name instant messaging. The big players, like Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Google all have their own programs and networks, with millions of users. The services are free but beam ads at users through the software.

Now here’s the rub: Because there are no open standards, most instant messenger users can only trade messages with others using the same program. So if I signed up with ICQ, say, I won’t be able to chat with Aunt Marge if she only signed up with Yahoo. It’s a bit like only being able to send emails to people who use the same email service as yourself. Or only to make phone calls to other people using the same operator.

I’m not going to get into who’s to blame for all this. For the past few years I’ve been using a program that lets me include all my chat accounts in one small program, so I can talk to anyone on any service without having to run four or five different chat programs. No ads and less clutter on my screen. Yes, I do feel slightly bad using software that leaches off other people’s work, but if those other people can’t solve my communication problems with Aunt Marge I had to find someone who could.

But as instant messaging has grown, the arguments against fencing users of each system in have grown weaker. Instant messaging is no longer the province of teenagers: it’s as popular in business now as it is in the home, and many a market deal from London to Seoul has been done over instant messenger. Not only that: and the rise of voice over internet services like Skype, which include instant text messaging features, and the introduction of video chat, mean the clamor for interoperability has become harder to ignore.

Hence the recent announcement that Yahoo and Microsoft have started a test run of allowing users of their services to swap messages. This is a big step forward, although it’s noticeable that AOL, by far the biggest player in all this with their ICQ and AIM services, aren’t yet joining the party. Still, it’s good news. But there’s a sneaking worry about it all this. Why has it taken them so long? And why now? In reality, hard commercial reasons lie behidn the decision. It’s not just about helping me send a message to Aunt Marge on another network. In the recent words of Niall Kennedy (thanks, BJ Gillette), program managers at Microsoft, it’s about gathering information about us as we chat and surf so that the companies can target better ads at us. Quite reasonable for them to want to do, I suppose, but one more reason for me to be a tad suspicious about what I say or do online. For now I’m sticking with my third party, ad-free, leaching program.

The Air Guitar

There’s only one thing worse than air guitarists and that’s people who make fun of air guitarists. It’s a hallowed tradition going back to Jagger, Bowie and Noddy Holder. And now it’s technically feasible, thanks to the Finns who have made air guitarists’ rock dreams come true:

The Virtual Air Guitar project, developed at the Helsinki University of Technology, adds genuine electric guitar sounds to the passionately played air guitar. Using a computer to monitor the hand movements of a “player”, the system adds riffs and licks to match frantic mid-air finger work. By responding instantly to a wide variety of gestures it promises to turn even the least musically gifted air guitarist to a virtual fret board virtuoso. […]

The resulting system consists of a video camera and a computer hooked up to an appropriately loud set of speakers. A player then needs only to don a pair of brightly coloured gloves in order to rock out. Computer vision software automatically keeps track of their hands and detects different gestures.

The Smell of Sterile Burning

There’s a growing noise about Sony’s apparent attempt to install digital rights management software usually associated with bad guys trying to maintain control of a compromised computer: Mark’s Sysinternals Blog: Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far:

The entire experience was frustrating and irritating. Not only had Sony put software on my system that uses techniques commonly used by malware to mask its presence, the software is poorly written and provides no means for uninstall. Worse, most users that stumble across the cloaked files with a RKR scan will cripple their computer if they attempt the obvious step of deleting the cloaked files.

While I believe in the media industry’s right to use copy protection mechanisms to prevent illegal copying, I don’t think that we’ve found the right balance of fair use and copy protection, yet. This is a clear case of Sony taking DRM too far.

The comments below Mark Russinovich’s post reveal not only growing frustration with such clumsy attempts to control what users do with CDs they buy from legitimate sources, but it may also prompt a class-action suit against the company in the U.S. since early versions of the End User Licence Agreement on the software may not have covered such software installation. A representative of SF-based Green Welling LLP has posted a comment asking to hear from “any California residents that have experienced this problem before the EULA was changed. We have looked at many DRM cases and Sony went too far with this particular scheme”. (The End User License Agreement originally, according to Russinovich, made “no mention of the fact that I was agreeing to have software put on my system that I couldn’t uninstall”.) Bruce Schneier asks whether Sony may have “violated the the Computer Misuse Act in the UK? If this isn’t clearly in the EULA, they have exceeded their privilege on the customer’s system by installing a rootkit to hide their software.”

Sony deny that their software is malware or spyware: Their FAQ says “the protection software simply acts to prevent unlimited copying and ripping from discs featuring this protection solution. It is otherwise inactive. The software does not collect any personal information nor is it designed to be intrusive to your computer system. Also, the protection components are never installed without the consumer first accepting the End User License Agreement.”

According to eWeek, the technology has a name: ‘sterile burning’. And it’s built by a British company called First 4 Internet, whose CEO, Mathew Gilliat-Smith, is quoted as saying it’s not a rootkit but part of a copy protection system designed to balance security and ease of use for the CD buyer. First 4 Internet call it XCP for Extended Copy Protection which “aims to provide effective levels of protection against the unauthorised copying of digital audio and data files without compromising sound quality and playability. XCP helps to protect the rights of Artists and Record Labels while accommodating consumer needs for ‘fair use’ copying.” More specifically, it

protects the content of an audio disc without compromising playability or quality. By using a range of methodologies, including the construction of multiple protection layers, limiting the ROM player accessibility to the provided player software and encapsulating the Red Book audio content, XCP can be used by content owners to help protect digital content from unauthorised copying.

It was first shipped by Sony BMG in March. A new version has been developed with features which, eWeek says, “respond to many of the questions Russinovich raised in his analysis” and will be available in new Sony BMG CDs. But will it be too late by then? Who in their right mind would risk buying a Sony BMG CD?

Why It’s Called a USB Drive

The USB is finding its way into your car. CNN.com/AP reports of two new USB connections in cars:

Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest automaker, is … making the USB connection an option on its Golf, Golf Plus and Touran models in December and on remaining models next year.

Just plug your device into a built-in console in the center armrest. The option comes in two varieties, one for the iPod, another for other USB-based players. Up to six of the player’s folders will be displayed on the car stereo system, and the radio buttons can be used to scan, search or shuffle your mix. The setup will cost $240.

This works well for USB-based players without displays, I guess, since most folk just plug their MP3 players into the stereo’s input jack (or use a cassette-shaped adapter) and choose the music from the player’s own display. (One Slashdot poster points to the improved audio that the digital USB connection offers.) And other posters on the same page point to existing in-car stereos that offer USB inputs, such as Goodmans’ CD/Radio.)

Perhaps more interestingly:

Also at the International Auto Show this week, Mazda Motor Corp. unveiled its Sassou concept car. Instead of a key, motorists use a special USB drive to lock, unlock or start the car. The drive can also carry your favorite tunes.

(More on this at Slashdot.)

Now we’re talking. As readers know, I’m a big fan of the USB drive as a place to carry not just files but records and programs. This seems the next logical step. But why stop at cars? What about other keys: offices, homes, IDs, lockers, etc? Could the USB stick become the key that drives everything?

Bluetooth Jackets For The Hip – And The Hip-Replaced

Thanks to Martin Herfurt for this: A jacket that, via Bluetooth, doubles as an entertainment centre, complete with (1) hands-free set with microphone in the collar and voice recognition, (2) integrated headphone connection, (3) flexible keyboard embodied into the material and (4) docking station for an MP3 player with a Bluetooth headset:

The HUB-Jacket comes with 128 Megabyte memory offers enough storage capacity for two hours of music. The MP3 files are loaded into the module from a PC via a USB cable. The fabric keyboard woven into the jacket’s left-hand sleeve “can be comfortably operated even when wearing gloves”. All the electronic connections “are sewn directly into the textile material. They are thus out of sight, robust and enable total freedom of movement”. If this is not enough for you, a “helmet with integrated headphones is also available as an option”. The Bluetooth module in the player allows the user to operate a mobile phone. And, in case you’re wondering, the electronic hardware “is tough enough to withstand repeated falls and washing sessions”. The HUB is part of O’Neill’s Winter Collection and costs 500 euros.

Actually, the HUB-Jacket ain’t alone. There’s the Memswear prototype from my Singaporean neighbours up the road which senses when the owner — presumably an elderly person — has taken a fall and puts in an emergency phone call via Bluetooth. (Here’s the original CNN story). And Nike has developed a Comm-Jacket which, according to DPA, “fitted with an integrated microphone and earplugs and a plug for a walkie-talkie”.