Posts in category entertainment - page 3

Hiding secrets behind the law – DRM, AACS and the 16-byte key

It surprises and annoys me when I hear of individuals or companies trying to use the law to hide secrets. Surprise at the sheer stupidity and annoyance that tax payers money is used in the process.

The latest secret under suppression is a short 16-byte key which locks away the content on HD-DVD discs that only licensed software and hardware can play it back and prevent you from making copies.

This type of protection used to be called copy-protection but these days it goes under the equally unpopular name of “Digital Rights Management (DRM)”. It enforce the copyright holders rights whilst denying you yours and does it in such a way that in some countries re-asserting your legal rights means you end up breaking others.

The AACS Licensing Authority believe they can now protect by law what they failed to protect using technology. This is particularly amusing because their predecessor, the DVD-CCA, failed on both counts when the encryption on DVD was broken in 1999 by an enterprising trio. Apple gets it and is going down the DRM-free route and not treating their customers like criminals.

Basing an entire business model on keeping a sequence of characters secret defies belief and thinking you can wipe the secret off the face of the internet once it’s out is laughable especially when you consider the infinite number of ways you could represent it. The AACS are at it anyway with take down notices to the likes of Digg and others. Amusingly the take down notice itself includes the ‘magic key’.

Alternative 16-byte sequence where each byte is an offset on the previous one is “09 F0 18 F1 9B D7 6F 78 7D 69 15 6F 9E F3 32 38” which if run through the following program yields a certain magic key.

class Program {
  static void Main(string[] argv) {
    byte b = 0;
    string key = string.Empty;
    foreach(string a in argv) {
      b += byte.Parse(a, System.Globalization.NumberStyles.HexNumber);
      key += string.Format("{0:x2} ", b);


Taking on the role of a Guitar Hero

My friends and I have been very much enjoying Guitar Hero II on the Xbox 360 released earlier this month.

Despite reservations we’ve found ourselves jumping around performing a variety of silly stances, head bops and special moves whilst we attempt to strum ‘n chord in time to the tricky yet rewarding tracks available. Once we got a second guitar and hit the co-operative (one bass, one lead) and VS modes (turns each or both together) then out-performing the other player off-screen as well as on became an integral part of the game.

The line-up of songs is a little disappointing – when there is one “made famous” by a well known band then it tends to be one of their less famous song. I say “made famous” as the game clearly points it out they are, alas, cover versions bar a small handful.

Extra tracks are available on-line in packs of 3 for 500 MSP‘s each. These are again cover versions presumably due to the developer being unable to license the original audio mix to the songs so that they can cut out the guitar and bass lines when you fail to hit the right combination of colorful buttons and strum in time.

One pleasant surprise is that the guitar is just a normal USB device and can be used under Windows once the XInput common controller driver is installed or on the Mac using TattieBogle’s Xbox 360 OS X driver.

Why would you want to do that? To play the free cross-platform Guitar Hero clone Frets on Fire with all the fan-created songs of course!

Whilst there are plans for Guitar Hero: 80s Edition and Guitar Hero III the franchise is being handed over to Activision’s Neversoft team (Tony Hawks) as they bought the rights to the name when they snapped up Guitar Hero’s publisher Red Octane.

Original music-game-only developer Harmonix aren’t whining about it or heading to the courts, oh no. They are fighting back with Rock Band that throws drums and vocals on top of lead and bass guitars.



PS: Under no circumstances consider playing either game with a keyboard or a regular controller – the experience just isn’t the same.

Hot Fuzz – Pegg, Frost & Wright on form

I just got back from an advanced screening of Hot Fuzz – the new cop buddy comedy from the same trio behind Shaun of the Dead and three-quarters of Spaced.

Simon Pegg plays Nicholas Angel – one of the Metropolitan Police’s finest. The problem is he’s so good he’s making the rest of the force service look bad in comparison so he is quickly dispatched to the idyllic village of Sandford out in the countryside.

Angel soon meets the local constabulary who are used to dealing with the odd escaped goose or accident and have their own interpretation of alcohol and gun laws. Long-time friend and former flatmate Nick Frost stars as local officer Danny Butterman who images city policing to be much like Point Break and Bad Boys II.

Director Edgar Wright produces plenty of slick visuals much in the style of those found in Shaun of the Dead and Spaced albeit more action based yet finds time to slip in plenty of grisly deaths as the plot unfolds and the body count starts to rise as a bizarre series of ‘accidents’ befouls residents of this sleepy hamlet.

There are plenty of laughs including physical slapstick, in-jokes and movie references though it has lost some of the magical charm Shaun of Spaced possess. Despite the setting being firmly English west-country it feels like the script was written with more of an international/American mainstream audience in mind with both the plot and the genre nods being spelled out so much as characters holding DVD’s of the film to the camera and reading the tag-lines.

Some moments playing up to the action genre cliche go on too long – like talking slowly at the end of a joke hoping for someone to get it an laugh. Shave that down a bit and slip in a few more jokes and it would have been perfect but nether less worth the wait and certainly recommended providing you don’t mind a bit of gore in with your comedy. Adam Buxton (half of the legendary Adam & Joe Show) goes out in the most horrific way I’ve seen in a while (but then I avoid horror films :D)

Overall highly enjoyable and probably the best film I’ve seen so far this year – although it is only February.

Alas given the likely success this and the prior success of Shaun there is almost zero chance of that elusive third series of Spaced.


Damo Awards 2006*

Hardware: Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 enjoyed its second year and titles continue to impress although the count is still a little on the weak side. The addition of 1080p output was a great bonus but one many people (myself included) can’t take advantage of without a HDMI cable and nobody seems entirely sure if the 360 can pump out a digital video signal (I doubt it).

On-line support is blooming although can get very expensive if you want all the extras for games you’ve already paid for – come on guys we put £40 down gives a few freebies!

The PlayStation 3 on the other hand is vapor ware here still in Europe and was notably absent from Japan’s premier Sony Building in Tokyo. Online the only people raving about it are those that were raving about it before it came out…

Nintendo’s Wii has been getting a lot of press for being fun (if tiring and occasionally dangerous to your environment) but with the console itself is effectively a re-boxed GameCube which didn’t impress 5 years ago and the graphics look very dated on the couple of titles I’ve been able to see. With rumors of a more powerful unit doing the rounds and nothing stopping anyone producing a similar controller for the 360 or PS3 can Nintendo stay a contender or will they go the way of Sega?

With consoles traditionally being loss-leaders for the first few years perhaps Nintendo would have been better off producing controllers and software for the 360 and PS3.

Game: Oblivion

People often rave about how open-ended Grand Theft Auto is but lets be honest here – it isn’t a patch on Oblivion.

Like the aforementioned title you can follow the story or run off and do what you like. The difference here is that Oblivion is truly massive and is filled with interesting people, their stories and ultimately their sub-quests.

The graphics look absolutely gorgeous and show off the Xbox 360 very well – demands on the PC side are beyond what my desktop can deliver.

Surprise: Microsoft Office 2007

Microsoft took a brave step in reinventing the menu/tool bar that has been established for the last 10 years. Sure, the result isn’t a giant leap in terms of innovation but it is a joy to use and a big improvement over the older technology.

Importantly it shows a beacon of hope that there are people at Microsoft prepared to fundamentally change how people use their software for the better and not just deliver to developers (.NET, XML-HTTP).

Web site: YouTube

We were told repeatedly that this would be the year of high-definition yet despite large sales of HD ready equipment the content is still a bit thin on the ground (Sky HD, Xbox 360 and a smattering of HD titles). Sony hit another strike this year as another of their proprietary formats bombed – UMD video for the PSP – although sales of TV shows on Apple’s iTunes seem to indicate there is a market for tiny distinctly non-HD video.

The real winner on the video front has to be YouTube which goes on to show that whilst content is king there’s no reason you need to pay for it to be successful. Grainy, out of focus and copyright infringement seem the orders of the day but nobody cared – at least until a company worth suing brought them out (Google).

Communications: HTC

HTC phones and their branded variants have been popping up all over the web and in techies hands everywhere. Reviews are generally positive although I’m finding my TyTn sluggish in a couple of areas – something I hope the latest firmware will address.

Motorola meantime has been getting bad press over it’s Rokr variants.

Apple’s vaporware mobile phone continues to get insane coverage despite nobody having anything but speculation and rumors to go on. Cisco/LinkSys released an iPhone to which they own the trademark so I guess iChat Mobile is an option.

Web application: Google Reader

Google finally put it’s arse in gear and upgraded Google Reader to something not only usable but actually enjoyable to use. Now if only they could stream out the next 20 articles BEFORE I hit them so I don’t have to wait…

Rojo on the other hand deployed a screwed update and continually failed to pick up feeds complaining they were invalid or couldn’t be contacted despite other on-line tools were working just great. Bye.

With RSS becoming increasingly more popular something has to give and it’s news aggregation sites such as Slashdot and Digg which often reveal to you news you read several days ago and have already commented about at the original source.


* Yeah okay, not a proper award ceremony but a useful ploy to group otherwise unrelated content into a single post.