Friday, April 23, 2004

Latest piracy crackdown ...continued

Further details of yesterday's busts have now emerged making it abundantly clear that the scale of the operation had until now been vastly underestimated. Operation Fastlink (yes, 'the feds' are just as nerdy as the people they spend their coffee breaks snickering at) was brought into effect through the cooperation of anti-piracy organizations and intellectual property guardians in the United States, Singapore, Israel, Great Britain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Sweden. Marauding forces conducted 120 sweeps resulting in the seizure of 200 computer and 30 computer servers housing an estimated $50m worth of software booty.

Amongst the individuals detained for questioning are the leaders, members and affiliates of the release groups FairLight, APC, Kalisto, Echelon, Class and ProjectX, some of which occupy roles in more than a single group. APC are influential players in the MP3 scene while Echelon, Kalisto and ProjectX specialise in the cracking and release of console games. Class and FairLight are renowned, idolised even, for releasing cut-down (ripped) and full CD image PC games respectively.

Note that rip group, Class, actually opted to hang up their mice of their own accord back in January of this year, and likewise, the FairLight of old willingly disbanded in June 2003. Consequently the direct impact of these actions is unlikely to be devastating for the PC ISO scene. Still, the reverberations could well ruffle a few feathers.

One of the more immediate effects I imagine will be the disappearance of defiant bluster such as "the feds have no jurisdiction outside the US" or "I'm untouchable because I live in country x where no-one cares about piracy".

You can pick over the remaining grisly details included in the official DoJ statement here.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The piracy 'scene' takes another hit

This morning Dutch anti-piracy group FIOD-ECD (Fiscal and Economic Crime Service), in cooperation with US customs agents, raided twenty university premises within the Netherlands thought to be cornerstones for the release group FairLight and a number of their affiliates. Two topsites were shutdown and speculation suggests that a major Kalisto archive site is now under the control of the authorities. An assortment of computer equipment has also been seized and several arrests have been made.

News of the coup spread like wildfire throughout the internet resulting in a 'scene-wide' blackout. This has blurred the distinction between captured sites and those which have been enshrouded as a precautionary measure.

Rumour has it that moments before 'politie' officers swooped on the university dorms, FairLight were readying the release of the eagerly awaited titles Manhunt and Hitman 3. Conversely, scene insiders largely believe this to be wishful thinking - since FairLight announced last year that they were gracefully bowing out of the scene, the remnants of the group have mostly been churning out low-key offerings. The rationale for the departure of the core members of the group is thought to be evidence that federal agents were getting too close for comfort - the seizure of a crucial German affiliate site attests to this theory.

If you happen to speak Dutch or even Babelised Dutch-English you might like to peruse this article for further information.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

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All quiet on the anti-trust front

If there's one thing Microsoft excel at, it's using anti-competitive measures to muscle rival software vendors out of the market. Despite finding themselves up in court facing anti-trust charges on numerous occasions, Bill and his cronies still get away with bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, and this is the only reason it is the most widely used web browser in the world. It breaks W3C conventions, draws malicious web bugs, spyware and adware like a magnet and leaves itself wide open to hackers hoping to exploit its many security flaws. News flash just in: there's nothing to say you have to use IE even if it is difficult (yet not impossible) to eradicate from your system.

Luckily there are far more advanced, faster and secure browsers available. Opera greatly enhances the web surfing experience through the implementation of mouse gestures, and boasts a very sprightly rendering engine and a small footprint. My personal favourite, however, is Firefox, not least because I admire its free and open source roots.

Firefox is especially attractive to impatient people like me since it supports tabbed browsing. Rather than opening a single browser window and waiting for each new page to load inside it, I'll open 10 at once and flit back and forth between them. While one page loads in the background I'll be reading another one that has already finished downloading. Firefox opens them all within a single interface, differentiating between them using tabs, keeping your taskbar free from clutter. These tabs are neatly lined up along the top of the browser and can be stabbed with your pointer at any time to frantically hop from one page to the next.

In effect you can simultaneously browse as many web pages as your trusty PC can handle - umpteen times more than IE could cope with considering how slender and robust Firefox is. An added bonus is that since all your web pages are safely caged inside a single window, should your boss walk into your office at an inopportune moment, you only have one minimize button to push instead of ten or twenty - in effect you can quickly hide all your windows in one swift lunge. Not that I would encourage you to use company time irresponsibly - that would be wrong on so many levels.

It's your computer and your web browser so don't let self-serving web masters bully you into viewing something you don't want to see. Firefox helps you claw back control through the use of its highly polished 'Annoyance Eliminator' features. You can prevent web sites from changing your status bar text, moving or resizing windows without your permission and most importantly of all, opening pop-ups!

What are you waiting for? Dare to be different!

Friday, April 09, 2004


Dead Prophets Society

Good Friday greetings Kookites everywhere. While some people claim that the true meaning of Easter has been lost amidst a smorgasbord of chocolately delights, I for one have spent today paying tribute to the greatest hippie of them all. Never let it be forgotten that He died on the cross to give us all a day off work at a time when Christmas is but a distant memory and summer still seems an eternity away. Monday will be the cherry on the cake. Thanks dude, you da man, J. ;)

Sorry for the interruption to your festivities. You may now resume your hair vest wearing penitence shenanigans and self flagellation. You kinky Christians have all the fun!

Thursday, April 01, 2004

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How can I convert MPEG movies to other formats?

If you want minimal hassle and a small, free download, the best software to use is Flask MPEG.
Unzip it to a folder of your choice, run the program and open the file you wish to convert by selecting it from the 'file' menu. Open the 'options' menu and click on 'output format options' to choose which video and audio codecs you would like to use to convert your movie. The final step is to press the 'run' button and poke 'start conversion'.

The vital ingredient at this stage is patience. Add five tablespoons full and mix well. ;)