Friday, February 13, 2015

The most reliable way to download YouTube videos on an Android phone

Friday, February 13, 2015 0
There are a plethora of Android apps that claim to be able to 'manage' your YouTube downloads. I must have tried the vast majority of them, and all they've managed to do for me so far is slice decades off my lifespan!

Google, who - news flash! - own YouTube, don't approve of you snagging their videos for offline playback, which is why you won't find any apps in their store that are specifically engaged with expediting this. Sure there are generic video-grabbing tools that allegedly work with YouTube, but they don't make a big song and dance about it so sail by under the radar. To install the likes of TubeMate or YouTube Downloader from Dentex you have to go rogue; by downloading an .apk file from a 'scary', non-Google source and installing it - eek! - manually using an app-installing gizmo (which, ironically, you can find in the Google store).

I wouldn't waste your time. TubeMate comes bundled with the infuriating 'MP3 Video Converter', and won't function without it. Every time a video finishes being transferred, it undergoes a mandatory conversion process via said 'helper' app and throws an FYI dialogue message in your face to inform you of its progress. Rather than work silently in the background, it rudely interrupts whatever you happen to be doing at the time, forcing you to revert back to your running-tasks screen to pick up where you left off. It's like an attention-seeking RADA brat desperately trying to justify its own existence. Why it's even necessary in the first place I can't fathom because other apps of this ilk don't insist on it; they appear to download files from Google's servers 'as-is'. Their goal is to bypass the obfuscation of the YouTube interface, allowing you to access the contents directly, nothing more.

The next best (or least worst!) alternative to TubeMate is the app from Dentex. In comparison, it comes equipped with a sleek, user-friendly and much more polite interface. Problem is, it doesn't friggin' work! It tells you downloads are queued, and then doesn't bother starting them once the previous transfer has finished. It pauses downloads and then won't awaken them even if you beg and plead with it. It flounders when asked to re-download failed videos that have stalled. There's a 'clear dashboard' option, that supposedly wipes the slate clean if items have become stuck in the queue. Guess what? That doesn't achieve anything either. Completely waste of bytes.

My solution? Forget the apps-for-apps'-sake detritus and copy URLs into a YouTube video-raiding web service like SaveFrom or KeepVid instead. It's all a bit manual of course, but it does get the job done simply and efficiently without all the false status-reporting.

If you want to make use of the resume feature should your downloads be interrupted, try pairing your URL-forager site with a reputable download manager like ADM Downloader. Either copy and paste the links into the app manually, or open your web sites in the integrated browser rather than Chrome, enabling ADM to capture the movie or audio files from your clipboard.

Reinventing the wheel is pointless if it ends up square!

Friday, January 23, 2015

YouTube in Spectro-vision

Friday, January 23, 2015 0
I appreciate this is all a bit 'first-world problems', but what is it with the recent trend for people to upload to YouTube full episodes of TV shows and have them play back in a diminished rectangle, making space for a perennial title surrounded by a worthless vacuum? It's like playing a Spectrum game where the coders had to compromise on the size of the game-play window because the little 8-bit computers didn't have the processing muscle to interpret and re-draw a full screen array of animation. All that's missing here is a status console/HUD displaying our high score, remaining lives and energy bar.

The finale of ZX Spectrum game, Shadow Warriors. Look Ma, no 'colour clash'!

Take Channel 4's The Undateables, pictured below, for instance. This is exactly what you see if you maximise the screen. It's painful to watch on a decent-sized LCD monitor, so imagine what an endurance test it is on a 4 inch phone screen.

It's not entirely clear if this is being done by the programme's producers, or third parties, though as these are the only episodes to survive Google's copyright infringement cull, it suggests the owners of the channel also own the rights to rebroadcast the show on YouTube.

Either way, what precisely does it achieve? Is it to deter people from inserting shows into their own web sites, pretending they're called 'Differently-abled Dudes Struggle to Find Love' and claiming they produced them? Maybe it's a disability-inclusion, box-ticking exercise catering for viewers with Alzeimer's. I know I often forget entirely what I'm watching so this kind of perpetual reminder is really helpful, and surely it must save carers up and down the country countless minutes of elucidation.

But wait, it gets worse! The screen shot below is taken from the BBC 1 show, 'Waterloo Road'; an overly sanitised, politically correct school drama in the Grange Hill mould, only with all the edgy bits sanded off and wrapped in cotton wool.

Instead of the title of the show, we now have a static image of some of its 'stars', which takes up even more screen real estate. If perma-titles are for viewers with Alzeimer's, this abortion of a YouTube presentation must be for those of us who are illiterate as well as having Alzeimer's.

I'd be fascinated to know what went through the mind of whoever thought this would be a good idea. Answers on a dinner ticket to....

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is that a thing?

Thursday, December 11, 2014 1

I really wish it wasn't!

All of a sudden, everywhere I go I keep hearing the trying-too-hard-to-be-droll phrase, "is that even a thing?" or "apparently that's a thing now". In grown-up, human-talk it equates to, "I didn't know that existed" or "is that real?".

I Googled it and learnt that this irritating memes' earliest outing is thought to date back to a 2001 episode of the American sitcom, 'That '70s Show'. In which case, why has it taken so long for this Valley Girl argot to cross the pond and infect our UK shores? Where's it been hiding all this time, and can it be shipped back on the next boat please?

Friday, November 21, 2014

You have received a secure message

Friday, November 21, 2014 0
One of the most efficient and logical ways of getting a message through to someone has to be to send them a quick email. Now that we've all mastered the art of sending and receiving email, where do we go from here? Tell you what, let's make it ridiculously long-winded and complicated so as to cause maximum frustration for the recipient. Why the hell not?

The worst offender in my opinion has to be National Savings and Investments, a government-run organisation already notorious for their bureaucratic bungling. These are the people responsible for administrating the management of Premium Bonds, which in the UK is a kind of safe lottery where you enter a monthly prize draw without ever risking the loss of your stake money.

If you choose to do this online you'll be notified of any prizes you've won by email, only they won't simply tell you, "congratulations you're a millionaire". Of course not, that would be too easy; instead they'll send you a message to inform you that you've received a secure message you can read by logging into the Premium Bonds web site and checking your Premium Bonds inbox. Whenever this happens I sense the announcement should be ushered in with a fanfare of trumpets to mark this magnanimous occasion... and each time I'm disappointed.

Just a quick matter of entering an easy to remember username and password then? Not a chance! You first need to know your eleven character long NS&I ID number (not your 'holder's number', that's something different again), which can be found on a paper document you received in the post however many years ago you first started investing in Premium Bonds. Then you need to find the randomly generated password they chose for you when you signed up (and can no longer remember), and select certain characters included in it from a drop down box rather than just typing it into a text field.

If you forget any of these details, don't worry, you can download a form, print it out, complete it and snail mail it to NS&I, and they'll send this information to you, also by snail mail (because phone or email isn't secure)... no doubt using an address you vacated five years ago despite filling in your current one on the form. What about the terrorists hiding under your bed? They could pounce on the letter and steal your life savings, identity and soul before you've even wiped the sebum out of your eyes. Didn't think of that one did you NS&I?

If the web site doesn't then time-out, insisting you start again from the beginning, you can then navigate to your Top Secret, Super-Special Premium Bonds Inbox. Yes, the one you only use for receiving Premium Bonds related correspondence with roughly the same frequency as we witness a solar eclipse on each Friday the 13th during a leap year.

You persevere with this rigmarole merely because there's the faintest prospect that you might have won a cash prize, only to realise that when you've jumped through all these hoops, they're actually getting in touch to tell you that line 63 of page 717 of their Terms and Conditions tome has been updated. The chances are an i has been crossed or a t dotted somewhere, though obviously nothing has changed that actually makes a difference to anyone's life, other than the fact you're now older and have less time left to enjoy on this planet.

Are there any worse examples? Feel free to share them below.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

GamesMaster the Database

Thursday, August 21, 2014 0
Can you imagine what sort of sad individual would take the time to catalogue every single review, preview, Consoletation Zone plea, news item, feature, and contestant that constituted each of GamesMaster's 126 episodes, spanning 7 series and 6 years? To transcribe every game played, every game platform, every winner and loser and proud Golden GamesMaster Joystick recipient? Surely they'd be locked up for even contemplating it?

You've watched the TV show, you've read the magazine and got the t-shirt. Now tinker with the database! Mark my words, GMDb will be more huge-er-er-er than IMDb... albeit on a much, much smaller scale and quite a bit less Hollywoody.

What's so nifty about having all this data in a searchable and filterable format is that you can produce fascinating (pretty too!) tables of figures showing the number of joysticks won by celebrities and non-celebrities, the number won by series, and the overall total.

The same goes for game platforms. Come on, you must at some point have wondered how many Amiga games were featured in GamesMaster challenges throughout its run, and desperately craved to have that information at your fingertips and broken down series by series? Haven't you dreamed of a time when you'd be able to see at a glimpse the popularity of platforms through the evolutionary gaming epoch that was the 90s? Their emergence, and eventual demise? No? Just me then. Can you tell I work in finance?

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I'd appreciate it if you could have a play with it, make sure everything works, and report any inaccuracies so I can fix them. I'm also open to suggestions for improvement.

I've already uploaded a church-load of screen grabs, but wasn't planing on capturing every single moment for posterity. If you would like to suggest any others you think should be included, I can arrange that.
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