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Array Addition and Other Fun Javascript Hacks 30 June 2013

fun hacks

It’s times like these that I’m reminded of my favorite childhood TV show (actually it’s kind of a close contest between this and Spongebob), Mythbusters, and that perennial warning: “don’t try this at home”. But this isn’t actually dangerous in any physically life-damaging way, it’s just dangerous in that it’s a very bad idea. The whole thing started with a friend who was irked by a few Javascript oddities, one of them being the inability for arrays or tuples of numbers to add.

I actually came across an idea some time ago while reading about cross-site JSON exploits. But the premise for adding arrays is rather simple: since the language only supports subtracting and adding numbers, the javascript engine will try to convert an array to a number by calling its valueOf method. There really isn’t a numeric representation of an array so valueOf usually just returns NaN, which isn’t tremendously useful. However, we can override the valueOf function to return any number we want.

We can create a valueOf function which assigns numbers to arrays according to a specific pattern, such that the resultant number can reveal (without much ambiguity) which arrays were involved, and whether they were added or subtracted. There are probably a myriad of ways to construct numbers like that, but one of the simplest (or at least the first one that I could come up with) is to raise some given radix (at least 3) to a unique number that increments every time valueOf is called. You can understand it pretty simply in base 10.

Lets say our first array is [1, 2, 3] and our second array is [5, 4, 3]. Every time the instance’s valueOf is called, we plop it onto a temporary global array and record the index. In this case, lets assign the first array index 1, and the second array index 2. If we raise the radix 10 to that index, we can get the respective unique numbers: 10 and 100. Now these numbers can be added or subtracted, leading to 110 or 90 or -90 (or unaltered, leaving 10 and 100). To find out what operations and what numbers are involved in the operation, we can first add 1000 which is 10 raised to the size of the global array, which has the useful effect of making everything positive. Now we’re left with 1110, 1090, 0910, 1010, and 1100. We can ignore the first and last digits, and each digit can be either a 1, a 0 or a 9 (if it’s anything else, this is just a number, not the result of a magical array addition). A 1 tells us the number was added, a 0 tells us the number isn’t used, and a 9 tells us that the number was subtracted.

This leaves a weird problem though, which is how you’re going to convert a number back into that array transparently. And this segues into the more atrocious segment of this hack. If and when Skynet and the other assorted malevolent (uh… I mean, misunderstood) artificial intelligences develop their courts, the fembots and gentledroids of the jury will no doubt consider me guilty of whatever felonious usercrimes may exist. They’ll consider me an equal of Norman Bytes, butchering idiomatic javascript in the shower.

What exactly makes it such a heinous offence, you may find yourself asking. The answer is simple: the unholy matrimony of with and Object.defineProperty (also, keep in mind that it isn’t DOMA’s fault).

The great thing about Object.defineProperty is that it lets you get in the middle of the whole variable assignment process. The problem is that this only works with object properties, not top level variables. But Javascript has a nice (read: wretched) with statement which lets you treat variables as if they were object properties. This still leaves a slight problem because there’s no way to define a catch-all property. And if nothing so far has wrought utter terror to your soul, this last critical part may very well do exactly that. Since variables that are called must exist there in name, we can use the Function toString method to decompile the source and use a simple regular expression (any symbol which starts with A-z $ or _ followed by any of that or a number) to extract candidate variable tokens, and for each one, we can define a getter and setter on a new object which is subsequently passed as the first argument to the function whose first enclosed statement is a with.

The power of intercepting all function calls, variable declarations and retrievals then comes by recursively creating another fake object filled with getters and setters whenever a property is accessed. For method calls to primitive types like strings and numbers, we do the same type of sorcery but directly on their respective prototype properties. Whenever a function is passed a number which happens to match the pattern for an array addition or subtraction, we can passively intercept and substitute its value. Any string which matches a certain pattern of CSS selectors can be then transparently substituted with the NodeList which results from a document.querySelectorAll. And we can change all the variable declarations for a loop such that array values are used instead of keys.

And now, four minutes before the end of this month, I’ve successfully yet again managed to eke out a blog post to fulfill my quota. And I guess I don’t have an Humane Society to prove that no humans were harmed in the making of this blog post, but how bad could it possibly be— it’s only 150 lines.

Google+ Profile Suspended 24 July 2011

My Google+ profile was suspended on grounds that were not wholly unexpected, but still shocking. I’m likely violating many of their conditions, as I’m 16 (under 18 at time of writing) though when my Google Account was registered, I probably lied and said that I was 30 (At that time, when I was 11, I tended to do that with all services to evade the nonsense COICA on Neopets). I’m not really the victim here (Though I’d like to pretend that I’m pretending that I am so I have an ostensible excuse for narcissism without admitting it by admitting it). I hardly ever share anything on Google+, so I lose nothing except for the ability to make an occasional uninsightful post and the ability to brag about my 3.4k+ followers.

I assume it’s the fault of every social network to obsess over its user base, to define a subset of humanity and designate those as members. To praise individualism, differences and variance yet rely so heavily on the homogenuity and uniformity of the users. A network can not be inclusive and exclusive at the same time, to assume that’s possible is the definition of insanity.

It’s a pity how a minor issue can inflate so much. A minor annoyance in the legalese which every average legally inept and time starved human that we all assumed Google would turn a blind eye to in order to focus on user adoption. “Use the name which people know you by”. It’s a startlingly obvious notion for social networks, if a software system is attempting to duplicate the nuanced structure of physical and digital relationships in a unified and coherent implementation, it makes sense to retain the basic handles which we rely upon. 

But rather than draw upon this logic, that sentence is followed upon by the possibly inconsistent idea to “Use your real name”. What if your “real name” isn’t what you’re known as? What if you don’t feel comfortable revealing this information? This attempt at recognizing nuance fails so blatantly at the most basic principle of consistency and blatantly disregards the considerations of a rather significant portion of web users.

Some say that this principle is good, that it filters out those who should not belong in the network anyway. That those who tend to use pseudonyms do not belong on a good faith network which depends on the cooperation and trust of every individuals. That pseudonyms are employed by criminals and those with malignant intent, and therefore all precautions must be taken to eliminate that risk.

A network has a different role in dealing with its users than a specific group does. There’s a rather interesting notion that is presented by Google’s terming of the rules as “Community Standards”: the idea that everyone who uses Google+ is a part of some sort of community. Not a loosely associated network of individuals through transparent circles, but a community as if every one had to occasionally encounter and take offense to each other.

Postel’s law, the idea that a software framework should be liberal in what it accepts and conservative in what it sends, should apply with the massive-social-network hopeful known as Google+. At the “web scale” which Google operates at, it should be clear that humans often have very few attributes in common. The slightest interpersonal misalignments turn into gaping canyons on the magnitude of billions.

Pseudonyms mean quite literally a fake name. Now, why would someone want a fake name? The simplest answer which by no means encompasses all or even most uses, is that someone has something to hide. As the evil voldemort-controlled ministry of magic in harry potter and the deathly hollows part 1 the movie leader said “You have nothing to be afraid of if you have nothing to hide”, which I found shockingly similar to Eric Schmidt’s “If you have something you dont want shared online, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”. 

Does pseudonymity necessarily produce a culture incompatible with civilized society? I would say no, and even if the answer was yes, it doesn’t matter. The internet is a big and diverse place and it doesn’t matter if there are people who have questionable motives exist as they aren’t forcing their ideas on others. 

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare (through Juliet) asks “What’s in a name?”, expressing the notion that the name is a meaningless and artificial convention which only serves to create an equally artifical and antagonistic gap between the protagonists. We can choose to subscribe to these existing and equally artificial distinctions and we should be able to choose not to. 

Why the Chrome Web Store is Bad for the Web. 02 June 2011

Note: I’ve changed a few things that will hopefully make my point a bit more clear

Apple got it right in 2007.

If you’ve read any of the other posts in this blog, you will probably come under the assumption that I’m a devout follower of the Church of Google. Thus it will probably be quite a surprise to read the headline, something which appears downright sacrilegious: it questions the infallibility of the great Google. But I try very hard to maintain some semblance of objectivity and rationality, and this post will be about why I think the Chrome Web Store is bad for the web.

The Chrome Web Store is the applications and extensions gallery for Chrome. It’s Google’s centralized repository and directory for discovering Chrome-related things. Just hearing the name of it, you can probably tell, it’s likely quite inspired by the iOS/iTunes/Mac App Store. It’s not because they aren’t able to innovate (or it might, but I won’t take that view), but it’s probably the result of the huge App Store boom. It’s not that even what Apple did was particularly innovative, but somehow it managed to secure billions of dollars for the company, and all it’s competitors quite rationally want a chunk of it. This however, isn’t about improving the state and future of the web, but rather the indulgence of buzzwords. This post isn’t only about the Web Store, but rather the entire Chrome Applications and Extensions systems. From distribution to installation and the user experience afterwards.


There are two types of installable web applications that exist in the Chrome Web Store: hosted apps, in other words “glorified bookmarks”, and packaged apps. Glorified bookmarks are relatively hard to create, expensive and have no real additional functionality. Packaged applications evade the standardized mechanisms for offline web properties and eliminates many of the advantages of web apps in the first place.

Chrome’s developer overview for creating installable web apps describes the system as a solution to one, rather insignificant, problem. It’s the problem of permissions escalation: some technical detail that hardly seems important. Put simply, it’s that users get annoyed when they’re asked to hit “Okay” to annoying permissions prompts. And so Google’s solution is to invent a certain class of web site which has different security properties, where all the permissions are put into a single prompt.

To users, however, the existence of a web app is a solution to a much different user experience problem: they want to hit nice large pretty icons to go to sites which they frequently visit. But somehow, the solution they opted for creating these large clickable bookmarks is quite terrible. The only user-facing purpose of installable applications is the ability to bookmark with a large icon, something that Apple got right with iPhone OS in 2007.

Apple got it right.

I love those four words in that order, it feels so sensationalist and rebellious. But before the Cult of Apple leaps on that statement, notice the wording “Apple got it right”. It doesn’t strictly mean that whatever Apple’s doing now is right, just that what it did is right. In fact, that’s exactly what happened. Apple got it right, then made it different, and Google made it wrong.

First, we need to recall the distant year of 2007. It was quite a while ago, and I won’t pretend that my memory is that great. But it was a long time ago, a full year before the first beta release of Google Chrome. The iPhone was released with it’s plethora of eight apps and no ability to install more. The App Store didn’t exist, and the closest semblance was the for jailbroken devices (Cydia came later). A few months later, Apple released a series of updates, and Steve Jobs signaled what he believed to be the future of iPhone applications: The Web. It doesn’t come surprising that Apple’s Mobile Safari was and likely still is (more or less) the best browser for any mobile device.

The important aspect is the way these web applications were installed. You went to Mobile Safari, and browsed around. You found a web app, and you used the web app the way the web was intended. No installations, you just navigate to a URL and start using it. You find the app useful and/or awesome, and you “bookmark” it. But, instead of actually doing the browser “bookmark”, you hit the button right below: “Add to Home Screen”. It asks you for a name for that application, automatically prepopulated with the document page title. You hit “Add”, and you now have a nice, shiny icon on your home screen. You can hide the browser chrome and it becomes indistinguishable from the normal native application experience.

That app icon is just an image URL specified with a single meta tag. It’s totally decentralized in every way, and represents the openness and simplicity that simply makes sense for this platform. All a developer needs to do to enable their web site to turn into a fully fledged web application is to add a <link rel="apple-touch-icon" href="/customIcon.png"/> in the head section of the page.

Contrast that with what Google requires: creating a Google checkout account, entering credit card information, navigating to the Chrome Web Store page and clicking several links in the footer in order to navigate to the page where you have to pay $5 for creating an app, create several icons, copy the manifest.json template and editing some values pointing to the icon locations, going to chrome://extensions, enabling developer mode, adding the unpacked app to make sure that it works, then going back to the original directory, zipping it up, and uploading it to the Chrome Web store, where you have to write a description, add screenshots, reupload an icon, publish, wait ten minutes, and then spam the internet with that link and edit your site’s code to point to that page. It’s an awful much to go through in order to just create a bookmark.

Apple turns evil.

This subtitle is intentionally misleading. I don’t really think Apple’s evil, but that loaded four letter word is much more concise than the more appropriate phrase “Apple adopts a new platform and shifts ideologically to favor a system which is ultimately in conflict with and entirely inapplicable to the web in its current state or in the foreseeable future”.

Apple’s prescience of the power of the web was sadly a bit anachronistic. The web technologies that would enable their vision were not yet ready. The second browser wars haven’t really even begun, and the jailbreakers, despite handicaps, still managed to develop that platform more than the officially sanctioned web developers could. Browsers were too slow, hardware was to slow, there weren’t enough features, not enough could be done, and the paradigm was not well understood.

Apple followed the lead set by the jailbreak community and launched their own native application development and distribution system: The App Store. It was a hit, and soon became a super huge buzzword. It an all that it represented: centralized one click micropayment driven mobile advertising funded indie developer weekend novelty apps.

Google gets it wrong.

So there was an App Store craze, and everyone wanted one. So it logically follows that Google built an App Store. But the web had no notion of apps. There were web applications, but they weren’t rigidly defined as apps. This is where Google got it wrong. The Chrome Web Store needed to sell apps, and had to create a dichotomy out of the web in order to do so. It created a distinction between web apps and websites where none had existed and shouldn’t have ever existed.

The false dichotomy.

Steve Jobs said that on Mobile, people want Apps, not websites. Before blindly mimicking the concept of apps on another platform, one should probably explore why users like apps over websites. It’s because the mobile app offers a _better mobile-optimized _interface to whatever they’re doing.

Websites aren’t generally designed for mobile, they are often slower, and can’t make use of persistent user interface elements like a tab bar. Apps aren’t popular because of the existence of the App Store. It’s because there’s additional value provided in having those apps, that users use the App Store to get them.

However, web apps, just like websites are optimized for normal computers. Web apps are no better than web sites, and when web apps really have nothing to provide, their respective web stores are useless.

One purported reason for creating the distinction between apps and websites is to give developers the opportunity to charge for the application in the web store. But why should the ability for an author to receive money for his or her respective works be exclusive to web apps? Why not all web sites?

While it’s quite clear that if anything meant to supplant a desktop application and is built for the web can be considered a “web app”, nearly everything else exists in a sort of gray area. Facebook, Twitter and the other social networking are predominately content focused, but have some app-like characteristics, and so they could be considered “web apps” too, despite how there aren’t really desktop equivalents. But what about sites like the New York Times? Pure content sites would logically seem to be the farthest one can go from the concept of an “application”. It’s clear that any web site can be considered a web app.

Since anything can be considered a web app, the Web Store is a mere directory of a certain number of websites. It’s a limited subset of the internet with terrible discoverability properties restricted only to sites where the owner (or a particularly devout fan) is willing to pay $5 in order to allow a subset of users to bookmark the site. It’s proprietary, no other site can have quite the same properties as the web store because Google has the Web Store URLs hard coded into chrome somewhere. Searching in the web store really isn’t that great either, with no ability to search reviews, no pagerank, no search operators, no ability to search within the content of apps. You would figure that if Google were to clone a subset of the internet, at least they would get search right.

This closed, exclusive and excessively tedious process for creating mere bookmarks attacks some of the web’s traditional benefits and ideals.

Packaged applications.

The above sections dealt with how the “glorified bookmarks” are useless and downright harmful. There is a second class of applications which are similar to the former in that they also get a pretty large prominent and clickable icon, but different in that they actually provide functionality that is different from mere ordinary websites. Its virtues include that they tend to work offline and have the ability to do certain things that normal web apps can not do. However, it pretty much stops there.

Packaged apps work offline, but their mechanism evades the standardized system of HTML5. Rather than promoting the use of standards, they promote the use of a proprietary and nonstandard signed zip package.

As they’re “packaged”, they aren’t really “true” web apps, because they don’t actually operate in the scope of the web. They are much closer to desktop apps, practically. They have no URLs, and thus can’t be linked to, evading the very first two letters in HTML and HTTP: “HyperText”. One of the greatest things about web sites is that they can be linked to, and they almost always share that universal identifier to share with people. It’s universally accessible and one of the few things that actually enables intra-site interoperability.


While the “glorified bookmark” class of applications, which make up the vast majority of the Chrome Web Store, can be quite easily fixed by implementing something akin to the iPhone OS home screen web apps, the “packaged applications” are a bit more interesting. They are the source of that problem which the applications system was meant to resolve: permissions. In the current state, there is no system for handling multiple permissions on the web, aside from flooding the screen with infobars, when even that only partially works. What the web needs is a user friendly, informative, and useful system for giving additional permissions to web sites.

Along with that, the Web Store handles the selling of applications. Accepting money is a two part process, consisting of authentication and payment. Browsers should handle user identity, since they have the resources to do it right, in a nuanced, secure, efficient and user friendly way. Once that’s done, payment would be a logical extension to that. A developer could drop in a Google Checkout widget to have one-click in-app-purchases by tying into the secure browser identity system.

The Chrome Web Store should be reduced to a community maintained directory of useful web applications, something like a wiki, and there shouldn’t be a $5 fee to add applications.

Some people have expressed the idea that the Chrome Web Store is useful because it allows Google, a trusted party, to take down dangerous or malicious applications quickly. And while this is true, note that the Web Store is not actually the sole means to install chrome applications, and a malicious party would most likely exploit those alternate channels, and the only way to combat those is to institute a sort of Kill Switch, much like the kind that iOS, Kindle, and Android already implement.

MusicAlpha Upload to Google Music Beta from Linux and Chrome OS 14 May 2011

Rather pleasant update: This app works again. After some epic hackery, it now works again. Install it now, in its fully functional, redesigned glory.

Rather depressing update: This sadly no longer works. It was fun and somewhat useful while it lasted. I have no idea why it doesn’t work, and I would really appreciate if someone could find out why it fails. However, it would be a good idea to install it anyway and I guess.


Google Music Beta is a pretty cool web app, but the Music Manager sadly only works on Windows and Mac. As a Linux user who unfortunately feels neglected by the service, but still appreciative of being invited to the service a mere day after it’s announcement, I decided to do something to remedy the situation. Not to mention the irony that one can’t even upload music to the service from Google’s own Chrome OS. So MusicAlpha was born.

This project was a pretty interesting hack, so I guess I’ll try to document the process of how I made it and how it currently works. And also, for any prospective filmmakers, this story might make for an interesting abstract action movie. But for any of you who just want to install the app, click here.


I started this only days after finishing the new revision of Cloud Save, the extension that I never quite understood, but everyone else seemed to get. One part of the newest revision was adding support for Amazon’s Cloud Drive service, which does not have an established API. However, the interactions between the javascript web interface and the server are pretty simple to understand, thanks to the almighty web inspector. The only weird thing was that the actual file upload was actually conducted through Flash, which felt unnecessary but it wasn’t an insurmountable task. But it was all built on carefully learning the way of the web client.

There was one feature request for Cloud Save to enable saving to Google Music, and that’s when the idea sort of started.

The first step was to get a Google Music account, nothing surprising there. A few hours after the announcement was the first opportunity for me to access a computer, and also when I hit the “request invite” button. In a shockingly short amount of time of a mere day, I received a nice email saying that I had been invited to the service. Yay. Now the letdown of not being able to upload from Linux begins, as well as the scheming to reverse engineer it.

A few months ago, I had the idea to do something similar, but with another Google product: Google Goggles. But after hooking up the anrdoid simulator with a http proxy (Charles), and looking at the results. I was rather dismayed, but not particularly surprised by the results: all the communication was encoded using Protobuf. Protobuf, or Protocol Buffers is “Google’s data interchange format”, according to it’s Google Code project page. It’s a structured system for encoding binary data where a .proto template is already known and compiled. Protobufs are bad in much the same way minification is. There are totally justifiable reasons to minify source code, but the elimination of a useful View Source detracts from the open ideal of the web. Though protocol buffers aren’t encrypted, they are not comprehensible without a .proto file to decode them. With a lot of work, one might be able to reverse engineer a .proto file, but it’s certainly much harder than a JSON protocol.

Before I began, this was the worst fear. That everything as encoded with protocol buffers, and my attempts to mimic it would be rendered futile.


I borrowed a computer which ran Windows 7, and installed the Music Manager in hopes of deciphering the secret enigma of the great google. I needed a simple packet sniffer, and so I used nirsoft’s smartsniff. I didn’t use wireshark because it wasn’t my computer, and I didn’t want to install and download a huge app with an intimidating user interface. Smartsniff worked pretty well, and I thought I was almost there. Packet sniffers generally can’t decode https data without some MITM-esque certificate faking, and I have reason to believe that that wouldn’t work either since running the strings command on the MusicManager.exe file includes something that resembles a public key.

Anyway, I found two raw unencrypted HTTP requests, and sort of fixated myself on those two.

POST /uploadsj/rupio HTTP/1.1

User-Agent: Music Manager (1, 0, 12, 3443 - Windows)


Accept: /

Cookie: SID=[redacted] path=/

Expect: None

Content-Length: 851

Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded

{“clientId”:”Jumper Uploader”,”createSessionRequest”:{“fields”:[{“inlined”:{“content”:”jumper-uploader-title-19Redacted”,”contentType”:”text/plain”,”name”:”title”}},










]},”protocolVersion”:”0.8”} I noticed the second request was rather huge, 3556KB. Just enough to fit a normal-sized MP3. I knew what was in there. PUT /uploadsj/rupio?upload_id=REDACTED&file_id=000 HTTP/1.1

User-Agent: Music Manager (1, 0, 12, 3443 - Windows)


Accept: /

Cookie: SID=REDACTED path=/

Content-Type: audio/mpeg

Expect: None

Content-Length: 3141REDACTED

ID3…..%vTENC….@..WXXX……..TIT2……. Redacted At this point, I was relatively ecstatic. Or at least, I will pretend that I was, because everything looked elegantly and remarkably simple. I had no idea where the upload_id came from, but I figured that it was part of the response from the first POST request. Part of the problem was that SmartSniff didn’t give me the actual responses to the HTTP requests, only the request data. Or at least from the five minutes that I bothered using it. The cookie looked like a generic cookie that would exist in a normal browser session.


Since it used generic browser cookies, the simplest way to start would be to make a browser extension. Specifically, a Chrome App. That way, I could get the necessary permissions to do all the cross domain security protocol violations and probe around a bunch of requests. Since XHRs already include cookies for a specific domain, there’s nothing I need to do to set the cookies. I hoped and suspected that the User-Agent, Accept, and Expect headers were basically ignored, and the content-type would be rather trivial to set.

A lesson in premature optimization was the huge block of JSON which got sent with the first POST request. I had no idea what was really essential, so basically, I just deleted almost everything there except for what I thought might be really important: the file name and size. There were no errors in the POST request, so I figured it was okay to delete all of that stuff. I ran the POST and just as I suspected, the JSON that resulted included the upload_id, in fact, it included the entire PUT url, which was pretty nice.

{“sessionStatus”:{“state”:”OPEN”,”externalFieldTransfers”:[{“name”:”REDACTED.mp3”,”status”:”IN_PROGRESS”,”bytesTransferred”:0,”bytesTotal”:314REDACTED,”putInfo”:{“url”:”"},"content_type":"audio/mpeg"}],"upload_id":"AEdREDACTED"}} Then, when I executed the subsequent PUT request. I was scared. {“errorMessage”:{“reason”:”REQUEST_REJECTED”,”additionalInfo”:{“uploader_service.GoogleRupioAdditionalInfo”:{“completionInfo”:{“status”:”REJECTED”,”customerSpecificInfo”:{“ResponseCode”:404}},”requestRejectedInfo”:{“reasonDescription”:”agent_rejected”}}},”upload_id”:”AEdREDACTED”}} Scary. The rejection reason was “agent_rejected”, which made me think about the User-Agent header, and I wondered if that was supposed to matter. If that did matter, then I would have to prototype it in a different language since XMLHttpRequests forbid the setting of the User-Agent and other headers for security reasons (even operating in a privledged environment!).

But thankfully, before attempting the drastic route, I pasted back in the alleged cruft, the jumper-uploader-title, TrackDoNotRematch, TrackBitRate, SyncNow, ServerId, MachineIdentifier, ClientID, AlbumArtStart (hey that rhymes!), and AlbumArtLength. Magically now, it worked. Yay.


During my quest to understand the bizarre agent_rejected error (because I totally fear rejection, they should have used a nicer word), I tried googling GoogleRupioAdditionalInfo. (I had googled “Rupio” before, since that was part of the POST url, but that didn’t yield any relevant results, it just ended up being a bunch of people’s names). Searching GoogleRupioAdditionalInfo yielded a more limited subset which happened to be more interesting.

The first result, from the SMEStorage Blog described an error emitted by the Google Docs platform. The next result was on the Picasa help forums, about “Upload video results in Error”. Then was a french language forum which mentioned an error which included GoogleRupioAdditionalInfo, this time on the url “”.

So, it seems “Rupio” is the codename (or just the name, but it’s much more fun imagining that there are subliminal codes everywhere) of a unified Google data upload/storage platform. That’s pretty cool. It probably makes sense that they have a sort of unified file storage system across Google Docs, Picasa, and Youtube, since it would probably be easier to maintain a system which is internally consistent. But to inject a sensationalist twist where occam’s razor shows that it’s not justified, this is a hint at an upcoming unified Google file storage service. A sort of file-browser dashboard which links all media and document files together in an accessible and uniform manner.


It worked. Or at least, it seemed to work. Vaguely. At this point, I was reasonably satisfied and began sculpting a nice pretty interface for it. Following my usual way, I just stole the Tango icon for an audio file mime type and built the entire interface around it. I remembered that earlier that day, I had discovered something called Layer Styles, which is a photoshop gradient/style clone that instead generates CSS3 gradients. I thought that was cool and I remembered it, so I played around with it and made a centered rectangle. Gray on Gray.

I decided on a name for it: MusicAlpha. It’s a sort of play on how this Google product features Beta in a way which is much more prominently than usual, with the gray “beta” the same size as the actual “music”. The Alpha sort of says something about how it will almost eternally be stuck in this unstable and incomplete form. It also reminded me of one of my favorite websites: wolfram alpha, and how the logo is stylized WolframAlpha or Wolfram|Alpha.

I wanted it to be minimal, but I’ve since adopted the belief that drag-and-drop file selection was only a fad. Sure, it’s often really useful, but it’s not great to restrict to that. A hybrid approach is much better, and if you have to have only one, then the standard browse button is better since you can drag and drop files to that button (on chrome, anyway) without any special code. Drag and Drop is often quite terrible on laptops, and I’m not sure if you can even drag and drop files with Chrome OS, since the file browser might be modal.

There’s not much to the interface, it’s probably as minimal as it can get. Two links, one to the service, the other to me. A button. That’s it.


At some point in every good story (not implying that this is a good story), there’s false hope, where the protagonist (not implying that I’m the protagonist here, either) believes that he or she (not implying that I’m a she) is closer to the end than is factually warranted (I’m actually implying that that’s exactly what happened). I checked the Google Music song list, and lo and behold, the song was there.

Sort of. Not really. Something was. Not sure it was a song.

There was a blank row. Double click it, and something does play. And it is the song. But, there’s no way to seek because incidentally, it doesn’t know how long the track is, so there’s no way to render the position of the song.

It was late, and this was frustrating, so I just posted a terse blog post announcing the beginning of the project:

So pretty soon, I hacked together something that almost sort of worked, with one rather significant caveat: It doesn’t pick up any tag data, name, time, artist, album, etc. I can’t figure out why. I guess I’ll try some more tomorrow. And by the way, I totally lied. I didn’t try at all the next day.

Yesterday, that is, May 13th, the delightful Friday the Thirteenth, I tried again. I installed Music Manager on a VMWare installation of Windows XP, and sniffed the traffic with Wireshark running on the host computer. Didn’t notice anything new in the plethora of data which happened to get exchanged. I tried running smartsniff from the VM, but every time I tried to start sniffing, VMWare magically crashed.


At this point, I thought of looking at the MusicManager.exe binary. Usually, binaries have some random strings in them, which you can look at to give some hint at what it does, without actually decompiling something. I’m now going to proceed to anachronistically mention something about android, because of a certain URL that I find out later in this chronology: So I used strings MusicManager.exe | grep android, and found some rather interesting things




Metadata.ParentalAdvisoryType There appears to be 214 mentions of the phrase “skyjam” in the executable, which I assume is not some new solar powered Google sandwich filling distribution mechanism powered by artificial intelligence driven aeronautically mobile condiment dispensers (obviously using Arduinos).

I have no idea what Skyjam is, but that’s totally a much cooler name than Google Music, regardless of how big you write “beta”. And what’s wireless_android_skyjam? Why is skyjam so deeply tied with wireless and android? Maybe it’s got something to do with flying robot sandwich machines. Or not.

Maybe it has something to do with that Simplify Media company which Google bought last year. Or maybe I’m just a little sad that the product ended. According to TechCrunch,

Google VP Vic Gundotra said that Simplify’s technology will be used to offer a desktop app that will give you access to all of your (DRM-free) media on your Android devices remotely, using Google’s new iTunes competitor on the web.

> Desktop App: Check. Android: Check. New iTunes Competitor on the Web: Check. Simplify’s Technology: Not so much.

For those who aren’t familiar with what Simplify did (which I assume is nigh everyone), it streamed your music by making your desktop into something of a server, so your huge cache of music can be accessible by any mobile device remotely.


I had a random false lead. I thought that the server still read ID3 data on itself, and noticed that the HTTP dump was somehow slightly different from the original file. It was the same length. The exact same length, but some of the bytes were different. Most were the same, and they were all in the same place, but for example, all 0x00’s seemed to have been swapped with 0xe4’s. Some other bytes were also different, and in retrospect this was probably because the program which created the http dump sucked and encoded all the bytes wrong or something. But I tried opening it up in Ghex and I swapped every 0xe4 with a 0x00, and magically the broken file now played, with one exception: the audio now sounded like a fishtank. It’s like everything’s just water, magestically moving around with exquisite sublimity.


I borrowed another Windows computer this time, and tried again. This time, I also tried the HTTP Proxy called Fiddler, which seemed to be able to capture more information, or at least give me more of the information that I would find useful and less of what I wouldn’t find useful. I noticed that for every file which was uploaded, there were in fact three requests, not two as I had previously observed.

So where had this covert HTTP request been hiding? Behind in the magical realm of HTTPS/TLS encryption. I couldn’t peek into the actual content of the HTTPS requests because of the fact it was encrypted. And as the strings command had revealed earlier, there was a huge block of base64 encoded text which appeared to look like a sort of public key. It suddenly connected, the Music Manager probably has its own list of trusted certificate authorities, and that’s why adding a mere certificate to Windows wouldn’t do a thing.

But the unencrypted CONNECT request, which initiates a HTTPS connection said enough.

There was a request to and it was encoded with gasp: application/x-protobufs. If this was some sort of action movie, here would be the scene where the antagonist from the previous movie reveals that he is still alive (with some facial scarring) and the person responsible for all the disappearing bodies (of data).

I was about to give up at this point, but then a new idea sturck.

A New Hope

This is the second movie-title article sub-title that I’m aware of, unless there’s a movie called “Packet Sniffing”. For the prospective filmmaker, this is when the protagonist has the flashback and remembers that time, long long ago (though here it’s only like four days, you can take creative liberties), when refining the art of hackery, a task involved crafting an implementation of a storage system from the web interface of a specific cloud drive service.

So, I noticed that I had spent so much time exploring what enigma lay beyond the surface of Google Music, that I totally forgot to actually use the service. And when I did, I realized that there was an Edit Song Info context button. Trying the feature out, it seems to be a simple JSON post to a certain modifyentries URL.


Amazing. I just stumbled on the magical code which would allow me to finish the project. Yay. Now I had to figure out what the xt= parameter means (after determining it’s necessity). My first hunch was to search the HTML source of the page, because the magical access codes for Amazon Cloud Drive were put inside a hidden input element. But no, it wasn’t there. Now the fear starts settling in, what if it’s a strategically computed magical super string? But why would they ever do that?

Somehow I noticed somewhere on every time the page is loaded, the network logs indicate a Set-Cookie: xt=AM-REDACTED. Now I knew how to get it: Just send an XHR to the cloud player and copy the cookie.


Now, the important pat of all the items in the entries object is probably the id. Everything else seems somewhat generic, and probably exists for any song that you throw at the service, but id clearly has a definite, important, non-random, predetermined value. I thought that there was no correlation between the data passed from the uploaded data and the id which was here, since the upload_id was way too long and had nothing in common with this song id.

Since the songs that get uploaded have no title, they always appear first on the alphabetical list of songs, so I figured I would just pull a list of the songs, alphabetically, and then take the first one to get the ID. Then I discovered the auto-playlists, which included one for most recently added.

Unless you have the power of omniscience, you don’t know that the format of the IDs here were like das8f7-adf0w8f-adf87we-mwere, because I slapped a huge REDACTED on the latter half. The random string generating code that I’ve used for years out of convenience is Math.random().toString(36).substr(2), which basically generates a random float, converts the fractional part to base 36 (0-9 a-z) and strips the leading “0.” from the string. This incidentally ends up being quite short (especially on chrome, it’s much longer on firefox), and lacks the dashes.

So I looked at the ID for one of the streams and noticed that the id string was unusually short. I started wondering why something like that would happen, and then it struck me, not quite like lightning because I’m still alive (though whether or not I am when you’re reading this is a totally different question). This file ID was the same thing as the ServerID which I thought was just a random useless value that was arbitrarily required for it to work. I deleted the whole getRecent routine and suddenly everything started to make sense.


You probably don’t remember my old blog post, almost a year ago, titled A Bright Coloured Fish: Parsing ID3v2 Tags in Javascript and ExtensionFM. Recently, by fate, I happen to have used that code more times that I’m comfortable with, and it seems that once again I must revive this old memory. It’s fairly outdated, and some things are very nasty. Not being able to parse ID3v1 is pretty terrible, though I don’t think I have any songs using v1.

I hoped that Google’s magical server farm would have parsed out the ID3 data, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have to manually parse them in the client.

I had to change the id3v2 library a slight bit: the picture parsing code now includes a blob attribute, since the the album art must be uploaded to Google’s servers in order to be included in the metadata.

I guess that fishtank sound was an omen. I’m sure the prospective filmmaker could use it in some way like this.


Rather auspiciously, the modifyentries command included durationMillis. Since it became evident that the music player app had no way of knowing the length of a song without some tag data, that it would be impossible to seek to a certain portion of the song without this ability, it was really important. But since this was from the API for a user-facing operation, and editing the length of a song isn’t something that a user can or should be able to edit, it was pretty fortunate that that was included as part of the API.

This wasn’t without problems though. It’s not that easy to measure the length of a song. The Length tag of a MP3 file is actually seldom included, so that clearly can’t work. I looked at how to measure the length, and it was pretty scary, since it doesn’t seem like there’s any way other than parsing all the frames out and multiplying the bitrates.

But this time, HTML5 comes to the rescue. I never thought I would be so happy to use . I just take the file, convert it to a blob URL through that nest of if/else statements that handles different versions of chrome. I open it with new Audio and wait for the metadata event, indicating that I now know the length of the song to thirteen places after the decimal. Because of course, I would hate to miss the last picosecond of my song.

I felt sad for the little femtoseconds and attoseconds who were neglected by Google when they decided that the song lengths should be milliseconds. Not quantized divisions of Planck time.


At this point, nothing interesting really happened. I fixed up the interface, added queueing, and other insignificant things. I published it and spent the rest of day writing a hopelessly long document describing it.


For those who want to build their own programs which upload to Google Music, I guess I’ll write a summary of how it works.

  1. Get Song Metadata (ID3 data, Duration, primarily)
  2. Login to Google
  3. POST to
  4. PUT to putUrl as part of the response of previous operation
  5. Load and capture xt value from Set-Cookie response header
  6. (Optional) Upload Album Art to
  7. Set file metadata via

Friendly Reminder

To get the app described in this lengthy narrative, click here.

The Ambiguity of "Open" and VP8 vs. H.264 13 January 2011

Google has recently announced their intention to remove the H.264 video codec from its Chrome browser. This decision has been smeared as an evil campaign for controlling video on the web, akin to not-invented-here syndrome. It’s also been lauded as the push that the web needs to remain open and free. Mostly, it’s been marked as inconsistent, due to the bundling of Adobe’s proprietary Flash player.

Richard Stallman doesn’t like the term Open Source because it fails to embody the true meaning of “free software”, and the one thing that’s worse is the word “open”. This debate can’t simply be labeled as one for or against openness (even ignoring the technical details).

H.264 is an open standard. It was developed by a committee, standardized, reviewed by many engineers and developers for multiple companies and has been standardized for use with a multitude of containers and devices. However, H.264 is not royalty free. Software patents in many countries restrict the distribution of software that utilizes the codec to those who pay the MPEG-LA.

VP8 is not a standard. It was developed secretly by a single company, and until recently, had only a single working implementation. The public wasn’t open to collaboration on the specification until the bitstream spec was frozen, including the bugs that existed within. Now, the source code and reference implementation are available under liberal licenses, and all the related patents are irrevocably royalty-free.

Adobe Flash, while not synonymous with a video codec (unless you mean .flv flash videos, which are either VP6 or Sorenson Spark), is going here anyway because everyone feels like comparing it. Flash’s SWF format is not standard, but it is open. There are a few implementations (Swfdec, Gnash, GameSWF, Gordon, etc), but none of them are as complete as the official proprietary implementation. There’s a bitstream specification that anyone can read to create an independent implementation of the player. Implementing and using the Flash player is still royalty-free (Since the Flash VM can decode H.264, obviously that part, not controlled by Adobe still has royalties), anyone can make software that can export SWF animations without paying Adobe.

Implementation vs. Distribution

Or: How Bundling Flash doesn’t violate the Novikov self-consistency principle

Name Standardization Implementation Distribution Dev History
Theora Standardized? Open Source Royalty Free Mostly Open
VP8 Not Standardized Open Source Royalty Free Mixed
H.264 Standardized Open Source Royalties Open
Flash* Not Standardized Proprietary Royalty Free Proprietary
* Adobe Flash isn’t a video codec

Each column of the chart can be treated as one part of “open”. The <video> debate now primarily concerns VP8 and H.264, as Theora is inferior for technical reasons and Flash isn’t a video codec. I don’t know if Theora’s actually standardized, but it has multiple implementations and was developed by the Xiph.Org foundation, and is the closest thing to an actual standard, short of being a product of MPEG. Theora was created from On2’s VP3 code, but was changed significantly by the Foundation before release, so the development history can be considered mostly open. VP8 as announced, and the bitstream was frozen shortly afterwards, leaving little community involvement. For the years before its debut as part of WebM, the format was secret, patent encumbered, and proprietary. At least now, the source code is open and people are free to do whatever they please, but the open source video community probably had very little say in the development of the codec. H.264 has an open software reference implementation, as does VP8 and Theora. Flash’s de-facto implementation is Adobe’s, which is proprietary.

The one that concerns Mozilla, Opera and Google is the distribution rights; whether or not royalties have to be paid. Notably, this is where the parallel drawn by most critics of Google’s move with H.264 and Flash comes into question. Many people believe that Flash is the epitome of evil, and proprietary software, and embodies everything wrong with proprietary software. The distribution column is arguably the most important, and it’s the one that fundamentally determines whether or not something acts as a detriment to “open innovation”. Flash animations and applications can be created and distributed without paying royalty fees to Adobe, regardless of the viewership. Innovation is still permitted as long as the distribution is free (except with changing the inner workings of the proprietary implementation).

The Ambiguity of “Plugin”

TODO: Use this subtitle to mention random tangential thoughts.

It seems there are lots of misconceptions about WebM, and new ones as well, because of the use of the word “plugin” by Google in their “More about Chrome HTML Codec Change“. Here’s what the relevant part of the post says (it’s buried into the last paragraph).

This is why we’re joining others in the community to invest in WebM and encouraging every browser vendor to adopt it for the emerging HTML video platform (the WebM Project team will soon release plugins that enable WebM support in Safari and IE9 via the HTML standard <video> tag). Microsoft and Apple through IE9 and Safari, respectively, rely on the underlying operating system’s multimedia frameworks to handle <video> decoding. Chrome and Chromium bundle a customized version of the ffmpeg framework, while Opera uses gstreamer and Firefox has its own framework built on various open source codec libraries.

Browser WebM H.264 Theora Anything Imaginable
Firefox Version 4 Never Version 3.5 Never
Chrome Version 6 Removed in Version 10 Version 3 Never
Opera Version 10.60 Never Version 10.50 Never
Safari QuickTime Default QuickTime QuickTime Default QuickTime*
IE9 Windows Media Default Windows Media Windows Media Default Windows Media
_ Well, not really anything imaginable, but a lot of them_

QuickTime and Windows Media are pluggable multimedia frameworks. And since Safari and IE9 use them for <video> support, any codec or container format supported by the respective frameworks, works in the browser. For QuickTime, the list for videos goes along the lines of 3GP, Apple Video, AVI, DV, Cinepak, H.261, H.262, H.263, H.264, Microsoft Video 1, MPEG-1, MPEG-4 Part 2, Motion JPEG, Pixlet, Planar RGB, Sorenson Video, Qtch, QuickTime Movie, and QuickTime VR. But these media frameworks are pluggable, which means they play whatever codecs are installed. It just happens that those codecs listed above are plugins that are installed by default, somewhat analogous to how Google Chrome bundles Flash. The plugin frameworks for multimedia don’t treat plugins any different from “native” codecs. There’s absolutely no way to tell the difference from a user perspective. Right clicking a video will give you the same ordinary context menu.

Codec packs are often installed by users anyway. A codec pack consists of a set of plugins for the operating system’s multimedia framework. Once one of those codecs are installed to the system, support is available to the applications that rely on the OS’s framework: QuickTime Player, Windows Media Player, IE9 and Safari.

Notably absent are the Opera, Chrome and Firefox browsers that ignore whatever is installed, to use their own bundled decoders. There’s a reason for this, and it’s pretty easy to spot. Firefox, Chrome and Opera are also the only ones on the list that aren’t tied to a specific operating system, and bundling your own media framework lets you keep the functionality consistent. IE and Safari aren’t cross platform. Well, Safari works on Windows, but it still requires QuickTime for Windows to be installed to play the video content.

You also don’t want all the other video codecs thrown into the mix. Standards are about standardization, where you have a limited number of codecs instead of an entire forest of them. This brings us to a bit of History, I’ll begin with the olden days. I can’t tell you too much, as much of the first section happened when I was 6 years old- and certainly wasn’t into the negative user experience of platform-specific multimedia plugins.

A Brief History of Stuff Named “A Brief History…”

Uh… I mean, Video on the Web.

Before the popularity of HTML5 Video, or event Flash, video was viewed on the web using the RealVideo, MPlayer, VLC, Windows Media Player, and Quicktime Plugins. Note that pretty little plugins aren’t plugins to the underlying multimedia frameworks: these are the nasty type of plugins that Flash is among. They’re the plugins that take a long time to load, have interfaces that never look like the surrounding page or browser, only work on certain operating systems, at best, inconsistently. This is the epitome of what standardization is meant to prevent, and the distillation of everything that’s wrong with plugin based video.

Flash’s popularity (probably thanks to YouTube), brought a semblance of standardization to the industry. Video on the web was delivered through the flv container, encoded either with Sorenson Spark or, in later versions of Flash, On2’s VP6. A while later, H.264/AVC which was later added to Flash, and as the superior codec, most people switched to that and FLV is slowly fading away.

HTML5 video became popular recently. I’ll say it’s probably because of iOS, since that’s the only way to get web video to play there and the rest of the aggressive marketing that Apple does. This brings us to today (or at least the general time period of early January 2011 in which I’m writing this post in). Google has just announced it’s intention to remove H.264 from an upcoming revision of the Chrome browser (much like how the Chromium browser never supported H.264). And everyone on the internet that cares enough to say a word is going insane. Which brings us back to the last section, about how Safari and IE9 use the operating system’s underlying multimedia frameworks and how all the other browsers (Firefox/Chrome/Opera) that work on my beloved operating system (Linux) bundle their own.

If Firefox, Chrome and Opera used the OS’s media frameworks, we would be set back into the dark ages when people used every video codec imaginable and nobody would be happy. Standards exist for consistency, and it would be terrible if people started to go on a cost saving measure to never again transcode video, and serve it straight from the server’s filesystem as AVI files containing DV or god forbid MJPEG (the same format the users’s uploaded!) because all the Safaris and IE9s could play it fine. The fact Firefox, Chrome and Opera bundle their own multimedia frameworks forbids the possibility of this, because those browsers (in the forseeable future) will never support anything other than WebM, Theora and potentially H.264.

There’s more to H.264 than just H.264

This part doesn’t make much sense.

Often, the argument against VP8 is that it’s inferior to the H.264 codec, and to me, this seems like the most ideologically valid concern. But in a lot of cases, it stems from a misunderstanding of how H.264 works. H.264 is not a single video codec (not even to mention multimedia container formats), but rather has several Profiles that work on different devices and implementations. Rarely are videos encoded only in MPEG-4/AVC H.264 Extended Profile at 1080p and 60fps. Go on the Apple store and you’ll see that every iPod device you can find (including the iPhone), includes what video codecs are supported. And it doesn’t just say H.264, but rather, something much more wordy like

Video formats supported: H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats For the insanely great iPhone 4. Google is meaner and doesn’t make the information about profile support on the Nexus S quite as accessible (though it’s not the only reason I’m an iPhone user), but it should be safe to assume it’s something along the lines of what the iPhone 4 supports. The iPod Classic has a nice, even longer string, that represents even less support for H.264: H.264 video, up to 1.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Low-Complexity version of the H.264 Baseline Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; H.264 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Baseline Profile up to Level 3.0 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; This is because very few devices can actually utilize all the great features that H.264 defines. Wikipedia has a nice pretty chart. So the point of all of this is to say, even though VP8 is inferior to H.264 from a purely technical standpoint, you probably can’t just use the Main or Extended profiles to support all the devices that “support H.264”. Does this invalidate the inferiority argument? Nope. Dark Shikari said “I expect VP8 to be more comparable to VC-1 or H.264 Baseline Profile than with H.264”. But the large number of devices that support H.264 might actually only support the baseline profiles.

My Hopeless Ideals

Better be blunt with what will probably never happen.

VP8 is a bit worse than H.264, and had it been a patent encumbered video format, there would be almost no reason to prefer it over AVC. The <video> part of the HTML5 specification states:

It would be helpful for interoperability if all browsers could support the same codecs. However, there are no known codecs that satisfy all the current players: we need a codec that is known to not require per-unit or per-distributor licensing, that is compatible with the open source development model, that is of sufficient quality as to be usable, and that is not an additional submarine patent risk for large companies. This is an ongoing issue and this section will be updated once more information is available The only major codecs that are royalty free are Theora and VP8, and the former probably isn’t of sufficient quality. Both of them come with patent risks (or at least that’s what MPEG-LA wants people to believe), leaving a set of zero acceptable codecs. For this to work at all, something needs to be compromised.

H.264 defines a baseline profile that all decoders could be reasonably expected to handle. Such a profile exists so that the video can be viewed, albeit with inferior compression on a variety of devices and platforms with limited computational ability. The internet was built on interoperability, and HTML5 needs an equivalent “baseline codec” for the web. Something that compresses video at sufficient, though not bleeding-edge quality. Something that can be implemented and distributed openly on all platforms.

For HTML5 <audio>, nearly all browsers implement the basic WAV codec. It serves as an acceptable baseline for small snippets of audio to be played in a cross-brower manner. It’s usually uncompressed, and for most applications, inferior to MP3 and Vorbis. <video> needs similar treatment. That niche is, at this time, best filled by WebM/VP8. If Apple and Microsoft were to add support for the WebM format, it would only improve the environment for open innovation. H.264 can be considered the “bleeding-edge” codec, heck, they could even add HEVC/H.265 to set off an environment of useful competition (or not). But a “baseline codec” should be established first. Something that publishers can encode their videos in, so that any modern browser can view.

Right now, the discussion has been polarized between free software advocates who often seek to eradicate proprietary or patent-encumbered ideas from the face of reality and those who hold a disregard for the open source values. This way of thinking, and of treating innovation is profoundly dangerous for both the free software community and the patent-creators. The free software community can not afford to be constantly twenty years behind the times in terms of innovation (especially if you subscribe to the law of accelerating returns), and the patent-creators can’t afford for the free software community to involved in actively foiling their innovations. It’s truly great what MPEG has done, and it’s terrible that such a controversy exists around its adoption. The best scenario would be for MPEG or the ISO standards bodies to eliminate royalties. The fact multiple industries can agree upon a single, high quality, interoperable codec should be enough of a market and innovation advantage to waive the relatively nominal money from licensing.

Will this actually happen? I doubt it. Apple seems firmly invested in the success of H.264. Microsoft may be more willing to add VP8 support if and when the format gains popularity (and especially if Google adds patent indemnification just so they can see a lawsuit made). Mozilla will likely never compromise on principle and Opera might add AVC one day. Given the huge backlash, Google’s the most likely to revert its opinion and add AVC back into Chrome in a future release. Yay for hopeless idealism! And since I’m espousing hypothetical and impossible ideas anyway, why not vouch for reform of the U.S. patent system as well? If you think of it, the fact it’s such a controversy and that people need to use an inferior product in order to innovate, that smacks in the face of the very Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. And this ends what may be the longest blog post I’ve ever written, revised three times. If you’ve actually read this through, please consider commenting or sending me a tweet at @antimatter15 (or following me, that would be great!). Also, if I’m misinformed, please inform me and I might revise this yet again.

microwave on app store 23 August 2010

So microwave is now on the app store. Though wave was just announced to be shut down, I had the app done already (though I was waiting for a wave server update so thread continuation and attachment uploading would work), and I just published it anyway. So here it is. Grab it while wave still works :). It supports offline, so you can cache some waves and read them on-the-go.

Idea: Lego Mindstorms IDE for iPad 08 April 2010

I don’t have an iPad, nor is it #1 on my wish list (It mostly means any tablet platform but since none of the other ones are really recognizable, I’m jumping on the 4-letter apple product bandwagon). But I am fascinated by touchscreens.

I started programming when I was 7 when I got my first Lego Mindstorms RIS/RCX 2.0 kit (and I loved the 13+ sticker on the box back then :P). So I’ve always had a fondness for the platform, it’s really great for getting kids into robotics and engineering. Kudos to Lego.

Recently, I’ve played around with the current rendition of the Mindstorms platform, the NXT. It’s an evolutionary advancement for the platform and maintains the original intuition of the system while catering to those who don’t really grow out of the original system.

The interface is, a very kid-friendly drag-and-drop block layout. I actually sort of like it, though it’s not something which a desktop application could easily be made in. It’s very procedural, and that’s well suited for telling a car to explode and magically arrange red and blue balls into designated corners.

But really, where drag and drop really shines, the place where it really is meant to be, is on a multitouch tablet. It just makes sense. On a large multitouch surface, coding using simple finger gestures and dragging just makes sense. Lego’s own Labview interface, called NXT-G has large icons and is built entirely on the dragging and dropping. Its something that just feels right on a touchscreen.

The gestures need to be tailored to the specific platform, I propose that two fingers, like on a Macbook, should be used to pan around the canvas of the code. Blocks are dragged from a list on the side onto an execution path. On a block already on the canvas, touching and dragging does the logical thing: it moves the position. Touching a block on the canvas without dragging makes a pie menu type display ooze out from the block. The list would be a bunch of output “pipes” which another finger can be used to drag and link onto other blocks which display another pie menu (though only showing inputs rather than outputs) where letting go would create the connection.

Implementation-wise, one could try porting NBC/NXC (which is written in Pascal and already has the makefiles for WinCE/ARM and FreePascal does seem to be able to compile to iPhone/iPod Touch and the iPad should be a virtually equivalent platform). Probably something made in SVG and/or <canvas> could be used to create the interface which can be loaded with a UIWebView or using the PhoneGap platform. Then it would convert the graphical representation into some NXC code, compile it, and use the built in Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR support in an iPad to send it to the Lego NXT brick and do magic.

Visible/Invisible Frames 15 August 2009

New feature, only available at this random fork of the codebase as of yet.

Visible/Not Visible

Since Silk doesn’t have an icon for eye_closed.png, everyone has to suffer by seeing my artwork! muah ha ha ha….