Tag Archives: itunes

ARG Tools for iPhone

As a few read­ers of this blog may know, I have been tin­ker­ing with iPhone devel­op­ment for about a year. Technically, a bit longer than that — since the first jail­breaks and com­mu­nity SDKs — but real­is­ti­cally, with all seri­ous­ness, about a year of what I’d con­sider above “tin­ker­ing” but below “pro­fes­sional.” In recent months, I even picked up an iPhone devel­oper cer­tifi­cate for code-signing. At first, it was for the “gee whiz” fac­tor of run­ning code out­side the sim­u­la­tor, on a real device, but I quickly came to real­ize how close I was to hav­ing ship­pable apps.

Given that intro­duc­tion, I would like to present my first offi­cial iTunes Store app, ARG Tools (iTunes link). It is a bit of a niche util­ity, aimed mainly toward puz­zle solvers and ARG play­ers, specif­i­cally with an eye toward live events. For a long time, I have had a set of JavaScript-based encod­ing and decod­ing tools at stackoverflow.org.  I find them to be use­ful, but not always con­ve­nient.  I designed ARG Tools with the fol­low­ing things in mind:

Offline Use — The tools and ref­er­ence are specif­i­cally designed to work offline.  You can load the app up on your iPod Touch and run off to an event with­out wor­ry­ing about whether a WiFi access point will be avail­able.

Countdown Timer Decoder — A com­mon theme among ARGs and trans­me­dia sto­ries is an ini­tial count­down timer.  It often acts as a buffer, allow­ing the word to spread and a com­mu­nity to build up before a game kicks off in high gear.  This tool lets you punch in the count­down value and see the exact date and time at which the count­down hits zero.

Common Encodings/Decodings — The app lets you decode a num­ber of dif­fer­ent for­mats, from ROT-n (1..25) to Vigenere (that would have been crazy use­ful for that ARGFest cake) to sub­sti­tu­tion to trans­po­si­tion to base 64.

Common Letter Representation Reference — Codes, love them or hate them, are not always trans­form­ing one let­ter into another.  Many times, they are turn­ing a let­ter into a com­pletely dif­fer­ent entity alto­gether.  I solved a puz­zle a few weeks ago in which 6-packs of beer rep­re­sented let­ters in braille.  The ref­er­ence sheets in this app include a num­ber of com­mon encod­ings like braille, Morse code, and sem­a­phore.

Google Search - A Google search bar is always vis­i­ble on the home­page.  I admit that the app can­not con­tain every pos­si­ble encod­ing, decod­ing, or let­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion in exis­tence.  I once had to solve a puz­zle in which let­ters were encoded as chem­i­cal names.  I solved another in which I needed con­stel­la­tion names.  An in-app Google search is a touch away.

Quick LinksARG Tools con­tains an embed­ded browser with links to the top ARG and trans­me­dia forums and web­sites.  You can quickly get to that piece of encoded text, copy it, and paste it into the app.  In the field, you can use your iPhone to report updates from a live event.  Players that may only be famil­iar with a few of the included web­sites might be exposed to new and dif­fer­ent sites.  Webmasters: the main menu links all include the suf­fix “?source=iphoneargtools” if you have a fancy log­ging setup that lets you track such things.

Easily Obtained — The app is small enough to be down­loaded over the air.  It is also free-as-in-beer (but I chose not to go Open Source).  This means that Person A can show it to Person B and Person B can instantly down­load it onto her iPhone.

Easily Expanded — This is more of an “under the hood” fea­ture than a vis­i­ble one, but the main menu is just a data file (a plist, for those in the know).  It maps main menu entries (names and icons) to embed­ded “applets” (ViewControllers, for those in the know) for each of the types of encod­ing and decod­ing.  It maps to self-contained sta­tic web pages for the ref­er­ence mate­r­ial (braille, Morse code, and so on).  It maps to URLs for the web links.  This means it is rel­a­tively triv­ial to add new items.  This, in turn, makes updates and bug­fixes eas­ier.

So go forth!  Download the app!  Tell your friends about it!  Give it high rat­ings!  More details as well as a few more screen­shots can be found at http://iphone.netninja.com/applications/arg-tools/.  If you have sug­ges­tions for how to expand its func­tion­al­ity, please share.

Posted in: Code iPhone Puzzle Games

Forcing iTunes to automatically download TV shows (or, the magic of crontab)

LostIn the past two weeks, I have expe­ri­enced noth­ing but heart­break and let­down with regard to BitTorrent. Most things I down­load, I am per­fectly con­tent with access­ing them a day or two later, but LOST is my big show. I have to watch it that very night. When it comes to LOST, I had grown accus­tomed to how it worked last sea­son. See, a year ago, some­one on the east coast–or even points in Canada that are an extra time­zone over–would cap­ture and share the show as soon as it fin­ished air­ing. I would start down­load­ing ASAP, and more often then not, I’d be ready to watch it before it started here on the west coast. Without com­mer­cials, even. A week ago, Part 2 of the sea­son pre­miere went up quickly and I down­loaded it, but Part 1 didn’t go up until extremely late. I ended up hav­ing to wait a day and plug my ears at the office to not get spoiled by any­thing. This week, the tor­rent file itself went up quickly, but the down­load was slooooow. When the clock struck 12:30, it was past my week­day bed­time and there was still 20 min­utes left on the down­load, not to men­tion the 45 min­utes of actu­ally watch­ing the show. There was no way I could watch it that night. Today, I got up early and watched it before work.

In my des­per­a­tion last week, I ordered an iTunes sea­son pass. This... basi­cally... worked. I don’t mind putting my money where my mouth is when it comes to dig­i­tal media dis­tri­b­u­tion, but I dis­cov­ered the next morn­ing that, even though the episode was ready to down­load, it did not down­load auto­mat­i­cally like pod­casts do. You have to go to a pull­down menu and select “Check for pur­chases” for it to down­load TV shows. The down­load (because it grabs the HD and SD ver­sions in par­al­lel) would take an hour or two, so there was no way to watch it before work.

This week, I thought I would be a lit­tle more smart about things. If I could get some­one or some­thing to peri­od­i­cally hit “Check for pur­chases” through­out the night, it would down­load and be ready by the time I woke up. With a lit­tle googling, I dis­cov­ered a magic URL that does this very thing. It turns out that when pur­chases are ready, iTunes sends you an email with a link to click. That link just hap­pens to call the “Check for pur­chases” func­tion­al­ity. All I had to do was go to itmss://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/checkForPurchases?ign-mscache=1 sev­eral times through­out the evening, and the work would be done.

For me, this was a sim­ple crontab entry. For you? Well, maybe the same, or maybe you have an app or some­thing that can open a URL occa­sion­ally. All I had to do was add this to my crontab:

# Thursday mornings, check for Lost episodes on the hour
0 0-6 * * 4 /usr/bin/open 'itmss://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/checkForPurchases?ign-mscache=1'

iTunes then checked for pur­chases every hour, started down­load­ing at 2am, and by the time I woke up, both the HD and SD ver­sions of LOST (with DRM, but for­mat­ted for the iPhone, com­puter, or Apple TV) were ready to be watched. I was able to view the HD ver­sion before work. Of course I’m keep­ing the tor­rent down­load, too, because nobody like DRM. And I’m such a fan­boy that I’ll prob­a­bly get the DVDs when they are released just to have the extra fea­tures.

Posted in: Code Lost

iTunes 7.2 breaks FrontRow video streaming

This post is partly for the ben­e­fit of any friends expe­ri­enc­ing the prob­lem and partly to get the spe­cific error mes­sage text out there on Google.

Every since a recent update, the Mac Mini hooked to the TV stopped play­ing shared video files from other machines (movies, video pod­casts, music videos, etc.) Audio files still play just fine. It is just the video files that are bro­ken and return the fol­low­ing error mes­sage: “This shared video can­not be played. The shared video server may be hav­ing prob­lems play­ing this video.”

After a bunch of failed Googling and hair-pulling, I finally man­aged to find a thread on the Apple sup­port forums of count­less oth­ers hav­ing the same prob­lem. The solu­tion? Kill off iTunes 7.2 on the FrontRow machine, then install the older 7.1.1. You can still leave the update on the machines serv­ing up the videos, just not on the client that is run­ning FrontRow.

With some­thing as obvi­ous as “the new iTunes doesn’t play videos under FrontRow,” you kind of have to won­der what kind of QA occurs before iTunes gets released.

Posted in: Software

Work Crews, Right Turns, Bad Music Players

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/11/

This morn­ing, I was stopped at a light on the water­front, wait­ing to turn onto Moody and on to the free­way. My eyes wan­dered and fixed upon the cor­rec­tional facil­ity work crew van across the road. Lately, there have been a lot of these kinds of work crews on the free­way doing stuff like pick­ing up trash, but I haven’t seen them close to foot traf­fic before. My eyes then wan­dered to the guy stand­ing next to the van. He was wear­ing an orange jump­suit and hold­ing an elec­tric hedge trim­mer. I then double-checked the door locks.

This after­noon, as I was mak­ing a right turn (in the outer of two right turn lanes) with a large van obstruct­ing my view to the left, the light turned green, and a small asian lady in a large red SUV ran the red light and almost T-boned me. We gave each other dirty looks when we reached the next red light.


So the Zune came out today. For those that do not know, it’s Microsoft’s sup­posed “iPod killer,” Maybe I just don’t under­stand, but their whole busi­ness model looks retarded to me. This arti­cle does a pretty good job of sum­ma­riz­ing the pric­ing issues. With most ser­vices, you sign up, put a credit card num­ber on file, then pur­chase things that get charged to the card. In the Zune’s case, you buy a block of “points,” then use those points to pur­chase music. If you run out of points, you need to buy another block of points–like a ticket book or book of stamps. You’re effec­tively buy­ing and redeem­ing gift cer­tifi­cates over and over again rather than directly pur­chas­ing songs.

So then how much do songs cost, com­pared to iTunes? Zune songs are 79 points and iTunes songs are 99 cents. So it’s cheaper, right!? Nope. The exchange value for points is 1.25 cents per point, so they end up being the same. Actually, the Zune songs are a quar­ter of a penny cheaper, but the draw­backs make it not really worth the one-penny-per-four-song sav­ings. When buy­ing any music, you have this extra layer of cur­rency con­ver­sion to keep track of. In the US, we have this thing called “dol­lars” that has been proven to be per­fectly ser­vice­able for trans­ac­tions for sev­eral hun­dred years. More recently, the greater por­tion of the free world has this thing called “credit cards” that make it eas­ier to pur­chase on the inter­net because it’s elec­tronic and auto­mat­i­cally con­verts between cur­ren­cies. I’m not sure what about this sys­tem needed to be rein­vented, but Microsoft rein­vented it any­way.

The fewest num­ber of points you can buy is 400 for $5. That’s 5 songs with 5 points left over. There’s no way you can use up your points until you buy $395 worth of songs. The left­over points (and asso­ci­ated cash) end up sit­ting in your account at Microsoft–sort of like a bank. You’re effec­tively giv­ing MS an interest-free loan. Your pen­nies alone don’t amount to much, but when you get thou­sands of peo­ple using the ser­vice, that can be a lot of money that MS is earn­ing inter­est on and not pass­ing along to the peo­ple who effec­tively “own” those points/money.

The other con­fus­ing this is that Microsoft built up a music store and a DRM tech­nol­ogy called Plays-For-Sure. It means that music you buy from Napster or Rhapsody or what­ever non-iTunes ser­vice you use will play on Windows Media Player and will be playable on music play­ers that sup­port this Plays-For-Sure tech­nol­ogy. Basically, MS has thrown that into the trash. The music you pre­vi­ously pur­chased from one of these ser­vices won’t play on the Zune and music you buy from the Zune store won’t play on your exist­ing Plays-For-Sure media player.

The wire­less abil­ity intrigues me, but the iPod already has a big place in my life and prob­a­bly won’t be replaced any time soon–especially not for some­thing like the Zune.

P.S. it doesn’t work with Windows Vista!!?! The sup­posed next-gen portable media player doesn’t work with the very same company’s next-gen oper­at­ing sys­tem?!

Posted in: Dear Diary Gadgets

Wherein I discover the tolerance values for CD sizing

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/09/

The warn­ing that’s on the wrap­per:

* The audio side of this disc does not con­form to CD spec­i­fi­ca­tions and there­fore will not play on some CD and DVD play­ers.

My adden­dum to the warn­ing:

** The disc is kind of thick, but if you can squeeze it into the slot load­ing drive, both the audio side and video side of the “dual disc” can be suc­cess­fully ripped with free Macintosh appli­ca­tions such as iTunes and HandBrake Lite. You can prob­a­bly even remove the disc from the drive, with a lit­tle wig­gling. You can then archive or dis­card the phys­i­cal “not quite a CD” disc using any means at your dis­posal.

Posted in: Dear Diary Movies Music Software

The Daily Show on iTunes

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/03/

Hmmm.... it would appear that you can now sub­scribe to The Daily Show on the iTunes video store. It's prob­a­bly eas­ier and less buggy than the whole RSS+Torrent thing I tried a while back, but I am not sure I quite care that much about the Daily Show or even have the time to watch that much of it. I barely have the time to watch my three down­loaded shows (Lost, Monk, and My Name Is Earl.) This will prob­a­bly be flame induc­ing, but I could never get into Battlestar Galactica — never cared about the char­ac­ters and the blonde, big-breasted femme-bot was a lit­tle too stereo­typ­i­cal to over­look. I lost inter­est in 24 a few episodes ago. I loved Alias, but stopped watch­ing when it took a fly­ing som­er­sault over the shark a sea­son or two ago. I liked Buffy and Angel when they were on, but alas, they are no more.

Anyway, I ran off on a tan­gent there. The main point of the post is that The Daily Show is down­load­able via iTunes now.

Posted in: Television

Because all the cool kids are doing it

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/01/

My iTunes Music Signature (as well as the list of included songs in case you could not rec­og­nize some­thing or just want to browse.) They're based on my top-rated songs in iTunes, so you can see that my tastes range from klank-klank indus­trial to beep­beep­boop electronic/newave to jazz to silly to clas­sic rock, with just a touch of more modernish-emoish stuff. No real punk made it to the list for some rea­son.

Obligatory link to make yer'own

Edit: Fixed miss­ing “http://” from link

Posted in: Music

I, for one, welcome our new IP television offerings. In spirit.

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2005/12/

It looks like you can now down­load the fol­low­ing TV shows through iTunes (in addi­tion to LOST and Desperate Housewives):

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Monk
  • Law and Order
  • The Office (US)
  • Surface (...I've never heard of it...?)
  • Clips from Conan O'Brien
  • Clips from The Tonight Show With Jay Leno
  • Some ran­dom Disney Channel kids' shows
  • Knight Rider (WTF?!)
  • Dragnet
  • Adam 12
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Knight Rider?! Personally, I'm hold­ing out for The A-Team. Was Adam 12 ever inter­est­ing enough to watch? As I kid, I skipped right past that on the dial (and yes, it really was a dial back in the day.)

Posted in: Television

Lost fanaticism + Apple fanaticism

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2005/10/

Sweet! You can now get Lost sea­son 2 episodes on the iTunes music+video store! How cool is THAT?! They are very rea­son­ably priced, too–but I am a bit leery of the QVGA res­o­lu­tion. I won­der how long it will take after air­ing for each one to show up in the store.

Posted in: Television

iTunes 5

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2005/09/

iTunes 5 is a flam­ing piece of shit that rou­tinely “for­gets” my pod­cast sub­scrip­tions twice daily, trash­ing my music library in the process.

Posted in: Dear Diary