iTunes feed extractor

The downside of Apple’s iPod/iPhone being so popular is that so many podcasts only publish iTunes links, instead of the more standard RSS/Atom feeds. And I know of OS X and Windows users who detest iTunes — imagine how Unix users feel!

Well, the feeds are still there, but hidden from plain sight — turns out, though, that if you pretend to be iTunes, you can actually trick the iTMS server into giving you the raw data. And with Python 2.6’s built-in support for Apple’s property lists, extracting the feed is a trivial matter.
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FSFE and the cross we bear

I’ve been a fellow of the Free Software Foundation Europe for just over a month, and recently a visiting friend commented on a point that, until then, I’ve only noted to myself: that the fellowship logo is rather similar to the Christian cross.

FSFE is certainly not a Christian organization. One could argue that it is a by-product of a traditionally Christian civilization, but one could equally argue that it traces its heritage to Greco-Roman philosophy! The green cross, with a slit on the bottom so that the entire shape looks like an icon representing a person standing with open arms, is probably closer to the Red Cross in iconography than to Christianity. That being said, being a fellow does have some similarities to being a committed Christian.

  • The cross we bear: Joining has a price, whether financial, in time commitment, or other means
  • A mission: we bear this price gladly because we believe in what the respective organizations stand for. In case of the FSFE, it’s freedom. Freedom to learn. Freedom to innovate. Freedom from unreasonable restrictions imposed on you by software patents (at this point, I’d like to extend a special welcome to any budding cinematographer who just discovered that by recording your video in H.264, the MPEG-LA consortium owns your soul — er, I mean your work)
  • Diverse voices: just as Christianity is represented by a myriad denominations, some with higher profile than others, some with a more tarnished reputation than others, yet all based on the same foundation — no matter how garbled in the transmission (we are all humans!), the same is true of the Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) community. There are differences between the free and open source camps, between the copyleft and liberal-license camps, etc. But deep down we believe in sharing our works with others, whichever way we justify it to ourselves and others.

The struggle against the anti-commons nature of overly-restrictive intellectual property will be with us for a long time. We have made huge technical leaps — FLOSS software is competitive in diverse fields including server operating system (Linux, the BSDs, OpenSolaris), instant messaging (Jabber, standardized as XMPP), audio codecs (FLAC, Vorbis, Speex), and are catching up in video (Theora, Dirac, and thanks to Google, WebM, née VP8). Even users still locked into proprietary systems can thank FLOSS, and open standards, for the Web they surf (served mostly by Apache), their web applications (often built on top of the Java platform), and further down, the network protocols they use, all developed in collaboration instead of in proprietary isolation.

Yet the road ahead is a long and winding one. Flash is still omnipresent on the Web, Apple is proving a huge disappointment (after contributing to, and sponsoring, so many open source projects, now they’re starting to shrilly attack any competitor to their iPhone/iPad lines — be it Android, Flash, Theora, or WebM). To quote Benjamin Franklin,

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety

I’m not giving up my liberty, and neither should you. It’s true that it is hard to completely give up proprietary software — don’t be discouraged, many free software advocates are not there yet either. But you can start by following these simple guidelines:

  • Favour open standards — does your calendaring solution support the ICAL format? does your mail provider provide IMAP and POP3 access? is your instant messaging platform XMPP-based (e.g. Google Talk), or are you locked onto a proprietary protocol?
  • Vote with your wallet — if a company has a history of abusive behavior (sadly, Apple is now there), attempt to discourage this kind of behavior. Don’t buy the products they’re trying to protect by this behavior, tell them why you’re not buying, and tell other people why too.
  • Be aware of your rights — you have the right to make a personal copy of your music and movie collections. Yet the RIAA and MPAA tries their hardest to make this impossible — in case of DVDs and Blu-ray, to the point of making it illegal

I highly recommend reading Against Intellectual Monopoly and Gridlock Economy; both are accessible and highly illuminating accounts of the damage our current legal IP regime is doing to our societies. The solution is not anarchy — copyleft licenses *are* legal copyright documents — but to work for reform; if you agree, consider donating your time — or money — to organizations such as the Free Software Foundation, its affiliates — including FSFE; the Open Invention Network; your favourite free/open source project (whether in code, documentation, useful bug reports or donation); or projects that enrich our cultural commons by making public domain information more accessible — e.g. Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg.

I thank you. Future generations will thank us too, for whatever little we can do for them today.

Dear Interweb: Watching YouTube in H.264 *without* paying the Apple Tax?

Dear Interweb,

I’ve heard this great news [apple.com] that Google is transcoding its videos to high-quality MP4 format for AppleTV and iPhone users. To my surprise (and disappointment), however, there are no instructions on how to use it from non-Apple devices (or even a non-appliance Mac).

I have been to YouTube Mobile, and as reported by jukkaeklund [allaboutsymbian.com] the video available to other mobile users (or PC users who use the URL) are still H.263, though in a saner container than those horrible FLVs. Not all the videos are there too.

Is Google giving Apple preferential treatment? Is Google becoming like the IBM of the past, with balkanized teams not coordinating with each other? (Hope not). Funny thing is, the video that motivated this question was a Linus Torvalds tech talk at Google, on distributed SCM. Unlike earlier Tech Talk videos hosted on Google Video, this one is on YouTube only — meaning no decent-quality downloads!

I can imagine even ordinary Mac users (as opposed to those on the consumer appliances) getting disappointed at this. They have paid the Apple Tax already, after all.

HP, HP, lama sabachthani?

There was a Slashdot story a few weeks ago, on HP voiding your warranty if you install Linux. Linux geeks responded with an outrage, predictably, claiming that ever since CRT monitors come with safeguards that prevent the screen being fried through out-of-range settings, there is no way that a piece of software could destroy a hardware, and even if that’s the case, then it’s a bug in the hardware design itself.

In the case of the woman mentioned in the story, Linux is clearly not at fault — the keyboard was just broken, and the tech support person was too clueless (or the support regulations structured in such a way) to notice. However, there could be valid cases where the combination of crappy hardware and running Linux *would* ruin your hardware. I know, because it just happened to me.

The recipe is as such:

  1. Broken ACPI implementation (hello, HP! To be fair, the most recent dv2000, dv6000 and equivalent Compaq lines are probably fixed; by the lack of complaints), so that Linux’s ACPI subsystem cannot control the fan and CPU voltage properly
  2. A CPU that runs hot (first-generation “mobile” Turion 64)
  3. 2 years of frequent use, tolerating occasional crashes due to overheating
  4. OMG!!! LINUKS KILLZ ME PC!!

I guess the writing is on the wall when I had to remove my second memory module to keep the laptop running at all. The poor fans must be getting to their end of life. And today, after a freeze while the laptop was on battery power (previously almost unheard-of, it’s normally stable if running at 800 MHz, which it does when unplugged), it just never woke up again. The power indicators would be on, the optical drive would operate properly, and the AC indicator too, but apart from that, zilch. Nothing displayed to the screen, no error beep, nothing.

One begins to wonder whether the buggy Microsoft ACPI AML compiler was actually intentionally buggy. After all, if you load Windows onto your machine “as it is intended”, you’ll be using a Microsoft-written AML interpreter, and everything would be just fine. If you use the Intel reference AML interpreter, well, … Very disturbing indeed. The same way Microsoft abused its IE market share by intentionally not making it standards-compliant, making life a nightmare for web designers and thus the easy way out is to only support IE ..

RIP, HP L2000 “Lance Armstrong special edition”. It’s ironic that a record winner of an endurance cycling race, who also happens to be a cancer survivor, would lend his name to a buggy laptop with poor noise insulation and heat issues that didn’t even last two years. I was planning to replace it with an HP dv2000t once the Santa Rosa models are out (late April — early May), but after this, I wonder. I’ve never had a laptop dying on me before; my previous write-offs are either due to inexpert disassembly (Vaio C1) or drop damage (Vaio C140). Perhaps I’ll get a Macbook after all, though my Apple purchasing track record is notoriously bad (I’d buy just before a new model is launched — I barely managed to cancel a Dell laptop purchase when the Powerbook G4 12″ was released, and I jumped the gun and bought the Sony C140 — now with a broken LCD — and before it even arrived, the Core 2 Macbooks came out).

Could I wait this time for the don’t-know-when Santa Rosa? Come on, Apple, update the line before Leopard comes out!

Update2007/04/16 – OSnews has an article on a Bill Gates memo showing Microsoft’s intention to cripple ACPI. You’re not paranoid if people really are out to get you! And shame on that abusive monopolist — this is straight out of The Corporate, folks. It figures that after screwing over DR-DOS in a very similar way, they’d try the same trick again.

Of Nokia and Apple: it must be Tuesday…

The Tuesday after E3 Expo, we get not one but two much-awaited announcements. Nokia finally demonstrated the OS 2006 upgrade for the Nokia 770 tablet, and Apple came out with the MacBook (sorry, Mac OS Rumors).

Alas, the Nokia announcement is still vaporware (I’d happily beta test the new firmware, since the latest update actually broke timezone support, and the full-screen virtual keyboard sounds like a nice improvement over the half-sized version one has to carefully peck with a stylus right now). And to make matter worse my tablet’s wireless actually died yesterday! Thankfully it’s still under warranty, and Nokia didn’t actually announce a hardware upgrade, as was speculated.

The Apple announcement, on the other hand, is welcome. There are concerns about the integrated video (can’t be worse than the also-integrated, 700-fps-in-glxgears ATi in my HP right now), and the price premium charged for the black case, but so far it’s looking good. I’ll let the early adopters work out all the issues with this and get the next model with OS X 10.5 and 64-bit Merom CPUs..

Dusk of an age: Apple WWDC post-keynote predictions

Well, the Jobs reality-distortion field was in full swing again. The presentation was actually quite impressive, and the slightly ironic touch “this announcement should be news to almost all of you.. unless you read the Wall Street Journal” was amusing.

The performance of Rosetta JIT-ing PPC code was quite impressive, and the fact that it just works – running MS Office 2004 and Adobe Photoshop – was astounding (Jobs made another ironic gesture by tapping impatiently waiting for Photoshop to load its plugins). We don’t know how many times the two applications have been run, and how much instructions have been pre-cached, but I guess this is what Digital’s FX! 32 must have looked like. Now that’s one company that was the Xerox PARC of the ’80s-’90s: brilliant engineers, terrible management.

So, with the impending transition of Apple to Intel processors, what does it mean for other players in both the PPC and x86 camps? Here are some thoughts:

  • Sayonara, Yellow Dog Linux.Terra Soft, the parent company, might survive as a High Performance Computing vendor specializing in IBM PPC64 solutions, but seeing as Red Hat already partners with IBM, and with their engineers working on the GCC compiler for PPC64, there’s stiff competition there.
  • Is Intel really planning something big? Jobs tellingly focused on projected mid-2006 performance-per-watt figures, and Intel’s Paul Otellini made a self-effacing presentation showing Apple’s 1996 TV ad showing the Intel bunny man on fire, and interpreting it as a message from Apple that Intel CPUs need to run cooler. Since I can’t see Pentium 4s running efficiently anytime soon – and that dual core Pentium D is just a kludgy hack, forcing Intel to price their fastest non-EE Pentium D below AMD’s cheapest Athlon 64 X2 – that means.. dual-core Pentium M chips with x86-64 extensions? If the Israeli team works on it, it might actually end up looking good. They might want to redesign the FSB, though – copy AMD by integrating the memory controller on-die, and letting the two cores talk to each other without going through the FSB and back? They already pay AMD to license the 64-bit extensions anyway.
  • Why Intel? Power usage, assuming they are going to use Pentium Ms, and production capabilities. Though Intel chips are still not using SoI, so in that respect IBM (PowerPC) and AMD (Opteron, Athlon 64) arguably have a leg up. But it’s jarring to see Jobs comparing the two architectures as PowerPC vs Intel .. guys, let’s call an apple an apple (umm..) and acknowledge AMD’s contribution there. Debian actually calls the platform AMD64, and even Linus was known to be annoyed when Intel launched their “IA-32e” platform. You’re talking to your developers, it’s not like they’d get confused or anything. Guess the chance of us seeing some AMD-Apple collaboration is pretty low here, considering their focus on the Intel branding. Intel executives must be quite happy, after IBM’s PR wins in the console market.
  • Who wrote Rosetta? Presumably Transitive, and their low-key behind the scene approach probably explains why they were not named directly. Considering Rosetta was pretty much the coolest part of the keynote, probably as well for Jobs. It is interesting that the blurb on the site includes

    “Transitive expects to announce that a second computer OEM will deploy products enabled by its technology during the 1st half of 2005 and that others will deploy QuickTransit before the end of the year. Unfortunately, strict confidentiality obligations prevent us from discussing these relationships in any detail.”

    Timing sounds about right..

  • People speculating on running OS X on generic hardware are probably (slightly) deluded. I can see the technical possibility of running OS X on a suitably modified virtualizer, like VMware – the changes required might be as little as having a suitable ID reported by the BIOS – but a commercial solution will never be made available. The PearPC team’s job has just been made much simpler though.
  • Universal Binaries. Guess fat binaries don’t sound as cool. Oh well. Not a new feature, guys – NEXTSTEP did it (though of course NEXTSTEP is OS X’s older brother). Even Mac OS did it. And, if you’re on a Unix/X11 platform, ROX does it too.

The transition being stretched to several years is good news though. I’ll probably ditch my iBook – Linux desktops are looking pretty much almost there (wireless configuration, hardware management), and I like the feeling of helping out push a free solution rather than selfishly buying into the advance guard. And trying out Gtk#/Mono and Java-Gnome apps are much less convenient on a Mac!

So if anyone wants an iBook G4 1GHz, 768 MB RAM, in pristine condition around August 2004, let me know. If you want to wait for the eBay auction, that’s cool too.

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