Category: software

Don Melton’s video transcoding scripts

Don Melton has updated his very smart video encoding scripts to make them far more automated, and significantly faster too:

…this package automatically selects a platform-specific hardware video encoder rather than relying on a slower software encoder.

Using an encoder built into a CPU or video card means that even Blu-ray Disc-sized media can be transcoded 5 to 10 times faster than its original playback speed, depending on which hardware is available.

Slightly surprisingly (given his Apple background) he recommends Windows as the platform of choice, largely due to to nVidia’s superior NVENC encoder.

Encoding a 30GB BluRay rip of Princess Mononoke took about 15 minutes, which from memory is about half the time taken compared to his older software driven scripts. The resulting file was 6GB which is far more manageable. I haven’t tried a lower bitrate for portable devices yet.

(Tip: The scripts auto-detect any installed hardware encoders and choose the best one, but I had to force it using the —hevc flag. Turns out it was because I hadn’t updated my nVidia drivers to the latest required version, which the script log shows when you use the specific flags. Otherwise it simply falls back to software encoding, which I hadn’t noticed.)

I still struggle slightly with the logic of doing this given the price of storage these days, though it does make sense for Plex streaming efficiency and portability. But it also means you’re watching a lossy source, which seems counter intuitive when we’re all buying 4K OLED screens precisely because of their image quality.

However I suspect it’s like high quality lossy audio - blind testing can’t differentiate there, so hopefully the same thing applies here. I haven’t spent time doing an A/B comparison, but I trust that these scripts are already pretty well tested given their popularity. In any case I think I’ll keep the full fidelity rips somewhere. The ripping process using MakeMKV is pretty slow for BluRay, so it’s not something you would want to repeat.

Attention eaters

Great Craigmod essay on ‘becoming readers’, and the fierce competition books face:

The main adversary of book publishing is: Anything that eats attention. Publishing has always been a game of competing for attention. Any number of media inventions have threatened to finally eviscerate the book market: radio, movies, television, et cetera. But smartphones tip the scales unlike any previous object. They do so by placing into our pockets a perfect, always-at-hand vector for lopsided user contracts, arriving in the form of apps and websites.

Fascinating how he conflates Netflix with apps like Instagram and Twitter - all delivering an endless barrage of guff to hold your attention:

Browsing Netflix is an endless sensation of falling forward into ever more content. Previews auto-play. As soon as one episode in a series ends, the next begins before credits finish rolling. If there’s no other episodes in the series, random trailers begin to play. The very design of Netflix itself is constructed to reduce your ability to a) think about what you want to do, and b) step away from the service. It’s designed to be a boundless slurry of content poured directly into your eyeballs. In a way, it’s training us to never step back or even consider, say, reading a book or going for a walk.

Securing Windows

Twitter security celebrity1 SwiftOnSecurity maintains Decent Security, providing some nice detail on how to securely install your Windows machines, and then how to maintain and recover them (particularly useful when your relatives call wondering why their browser is exploding):

This is a guide to bi-yearly maintenance for Windows 7 and higher. Although this isn’t a computer disinfection guide, it will remove many viruses and repair their damage.

Some of the info is incomplete, but it’s an excellent starting point.

  1. Talk about niche 

Secure IOS to Android messaging

WhisperSystems have updated their IOS app Signal so that it now supports private and secure text messaging between IOS and Android devices using TextSecure (the Android equivalent of Signal):

We cannot hear your conversations or see your messages, and no one else can either. Everything in Signal is always end-to-end encrypted, and painstakingly engineered in order to keep your communication safe.

The EFF agrees - no ads, no cost, no catches. A great way to claw back some of the privacy ground ceded in the name of convenience.

Secure messaging scorecard

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a very helpful secure messaging scorecard as part of their campaign for ‘secure and usable crypto’. Interesting to see just how insecure some of the bigger tools are:

Many options—including Google, Facebook, and Apple’s email products, Yahoo’s web and mobile chat, Secret, and WhatsApp—lack the end-to-end encryption that is necessary to protect against disclosure by the service provider. Several major messaging platforms, like QQ, Mxit, and the desktop version of Yahoo Messenger, have no encryption at all.

The anti-free-software movement

Nice argument from the Pinboard crew for paying for web services you like: if you don’t, someone will buy them or they’ll go out of business. Includes a handy chart.

Only companies the size of Google & Apple are immune to this, and the obvious trade-off is you’re at their mercy.

Related: Shifty Jelly, developers of the excellent Pocket Weather AU, on the joy and horror of independent app development. Having read the Pinboard piece, why not go buy a copy (for iOS & Android).