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Benjamin Oakes

Photo of Ben Oakes

Hi, I'm Ben Oakes and this is my geek blog. Currently, I'm a Ruby/JavaScript Developer at Continuity Control. Previously, I was a Software Developer at Hedgeye, a Research Assistant in the Early Social Cognition Lab at Yale University and a student at the University of Iowa. I also organize ICRuby and OpenHack Iowa City, and previously organized NewHaven.rb. I have an amazing wife named Danielle Oakes.


YouTube says HTML5 video ready for primetime, makes it default

by Ben

YouTube says HTML5 video ready for primetime, makes it default | Ars Technica.

Finally. I’m glad to hear VP9 (an open source video codec) is still a big part of their HTML5 plans. I’m curious to see how the percentage of DRM content on YouTube changes with EME (Encrypted Media Extensions) becoming more widely supported in browsers. But hey, if having EME means we that we have official support for Netflix on Ubuntu, it’s not all bad news.

Convert bzr to git

by Ben

Convert bzr to git | AstroFloyd's blog.

I found a couple bzr repositories on my computer recently that I decided to convert to git. I found this nice writeup on how to convert.

On Ubuntu:

sudo apt-get install git bzr bzr-fastimport


cp -pr repo-dir ${repo}_backup
cd ${repo}
git init
bzr fast-export --plain . | git fast-import
git co -f master
rm -rf .bzr/

NBC Quietly Discontinuing Video Podcasts

by Ben

I’ve been watching the NBC Nightly News video podcast for a long time. Probably since 2006, and maybe even as early as 2005 (ten years ago!). It’s never been perfect — sometimes they skip a day without explanation, and they clearly cut out some content on occasion — but it’s been an important part of how I’ve gotten news over roughly the last 10 years.

My wife and I will often watch it while eating breakfast together. We were greeted with this notice today:

Soon, this podcast will be discontinued, but you'll still be able to watch NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, updated every evening, at and the Nightly News app in the iTunes or Google Play Store. Nightly's audio podcast  will still be available.

NBC is dropping all their video podcasts, without explanation. They’re also dropping Meet the Press and Today alongside NBC Nightly News. MSNBC video podcasts, like The Rachel Maddow Show don’t have this notice yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen. NBC isn’t the only one to drop their news video feeds; CBS and ABC seem to have dropped theirs a while ago. At the time of this writing, the last CBS Evening News video podcast is from early September 2014. I don’t know if others like PBS or BBC ever offered video podcasts, but I can’t find any remnant of them if they did exist.

All the audio podcasts remain. This move seems to be about video. That can be said for almost all major broadcasters, like ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and PBS. Seemingly no one is offering video podcasts.

So is NBC Nightly News stopping their video podcast really that big of a deal? Well, not specifically. My concern is really about the systematic reduction of the video podcast as a format.

Especially when I didn’t have a TV, I used to watch Nightly News on a laptop. Eventually, I added watching the podcast on a TV and my smartphone. It was (and is) great, because I could watch it whenever I wanted, often with breakfast the next morning. No waiting for downloading, no navigating extra menus. At one point, I even wrote a little Ruby script to automatically play it on my laptop in the morning. It was ready next to my coffee (which had also started automatically). There’s something nice about that.

That’s the thing about podcasts: they’re malleable. You can do so much with them. After all, a video podcast is just a file with a link to a DRM-free video file. There are very few restrictions to how a podcast consumer can use that file; you can play it on an old “unsupported” computer or your video game console. You can burn it to DVD. You can save segments you want to keep. You can use content in all sorts of interesting ways, moving it easily between devices. In the end, that’s probably exactly what NBC and other broadcasters don’t like about video podcasts.

The problem is, podcasts can’t really be replaced by websites and mobile apps. Those options force you to a specific interaction, a specific user experience. That’s much less interesting because those options are only useful to you if your usage happens to be one of the ones they considered and designed. To make it concrete, this means that you can’t watch this specific NBC content on your Apple TV, Roku, etc. anymore because NBC doesn’t want you to — although you could when it was a video podcast. Forcing the content through an app is a step backwards.

Marco Arment of Instapaper described this well when he wrote about RSS, the technology behind video podcasts:

This isn’t an issue of “openness”, per se — Twitter, for instance, has very good reasons to limit its API. You aren’t entitled to unrestricted access to someone else’s service. Those days are gone for good, and we’ll all be fine. We don’t need big web players to be completely open.

The bigger problem is that they’ve abandoned interoperability. RSS, semantic markup, microformats, and open APIs all enable interoperability, but the big players don’t want that — they want to lock you in.


RSS represents the antithesis of [vendor lock-in]: it’s completely open, decentralized, and owned by nobody, just like the web itself. It allows anyone, large or small, to build something new and disrupt anyone else they’d like because nobody has to fly six salespeople out first to work out a partnership with anyone else’s salespeople.

I can’t tell if video podcasts just didn’t get the traction in the market that they needed or if audio podcasts are just preferable because broadcasters really want to protect their video. The same could be said for terrestrial broadcasts (i.e., those you get for free over an antenna), which no longer seem to be a major priority for broadcasters either. I’ve considered getting a PVR to record video in lieu of video podcasts, but NBC isn’t available at our house (though several other stations are). Would we have been able to receive NBC here in the pre-cable era? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer were “yes.”

The entire television and online video industry is in a weird, transitory state right now. The number of options that used to be completely free and open are dwindling — even those that include advertisements. I don’t know if I’ll like how this transition ends, but in some ways, I can’t wait for the transition to be over.

MPW, Carbon and building Classic Mac OS apps in OS X

by Ben

High Caffeine Content — MPW, Carbon and building Classic Mac OS apps in OS X (via OSNews).


There has never been a good way to compile Classic Mac OS apps on modern OS X – for the most part, you were stuck using ancient tools, either Apple’s MPW or CodeWarrior, running in a VM of some sort. CodeWarrior, of course, is not free, and MPW only runs on Classic Mac OS, which is unstable at the best of times and downright nightmarish when trying to use it for development in an emulator like SheepShaver.

Enter ‘mpw’ (which I will refer to in lowercase throughout as something distinct from Apple’s MPW toolset).


With the same source file, and only a handful of #ifdefs, I could build the same app for 1984’s System 1.0 all the way up to the current release of OS X, Yosemite.

I really can’t think of a good reason to use this… except “because you can.” That said, it’s amazing that this works.

Android app: SMS Backup +

by Ben

SMS Backup + – Android Apps on Google Play.

Backup Android SMS, MMS and call log to Gmail / Gcal / IMAP

Easily one of the more interesting apps I’ve found recently. This makes your texts searchable and restorable, can use vanilla IMAP, and is even open source.

Dropbox Dropping Tiger and Leopard Support in May

by Ben

Dropbox Dropping Tiger and Leopard Support in May | Low End Mac.

It’s far from surprising that Dropbox is dropping support for these old versions of OSX. However, it does remind me of how surprised I was when Dropbox stopped making new versions for iOS 6 soon after iOS 7 was released, while still shipping new releases for OSX 10.4 on PowerPC. Who would expect better software support for an old iMac than a much newer iPhone?

I only occasionally use PowerPC Macs at this point — I mostly just have one to play with since it was offered to me for free, to be honest — but it does make me a bit sad to know that some very powerful PowerMac G5s are just that much less useful when May rolls around. I don’t expect hardware to be supported forever, but a G5 Mac has to be about the worst deal ever in terms of official support. (My mom still has no idea what a bullet she dodged after Apple replaced her failing iMac G5 with an Intel one for free. A $1000+ investment in a computer is expensive, but it’s nothing short of amazing that she hasn’t had to buy something new since 2005, given what the computer industry tends to expect as an upgrade cycle. Or you could consider AppleCare to have been a great choice in her case.)

In the end, I hope this drop of support doesn’t send too many old computers to the landfill. Always remember to recycle your electronics responsibly when upgrading, through resale or a recycling program at Best Buy, an Apple store, etc.

San Francisco on Track to Become Zero Waste City

by Ben

San Francisco on Track to Become Zero Waste City | PBS NewsHour.

San Francisco is trying to become the first city with zero waste. By requiring residents and businesses to separate compostable items such as food scraps, as well as recyclable items, NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports that the city has already reduced a huge amount of garbage from ending up in landfills.

So what does it take for Iowa City to become the second city with zero waste?

Microsoft unveils Project Spartan, the browser after Internet Explorer

by Ben

Microsoft unveils Project Spartan, the browser after Internet Explorer | Ars Technica.

I’m cautiously hopeful for this. It will probably take years to be used by the masses, but you have to start somewhere.

Meet KeySweeper, the $10 USB charger that steals MS keyboard strokes

by Ben

Meet KeySweeper, the $10 USB charger that steals MS keyboard strokes | Ars Technica.

I’m not a fan of wireless keyboards because of the number of batteries many people seem to go through, but if you really want to avoid wires, go for Bluetooth.

Obama in Cedar Falls, Municipal broadband in Iowa

by Ben

Big Cable, Obama spar over government-run broadband networks | Ars Technica.

We should have this available in Iowa City. It doesn’t need to be owned by the government; a cooperative or private organization would be fine too.

Obama spoke at Cedar Falls Utilities in Iowa, one day after calling for an end to laws in 19 states that make it difficult for cities and towns to create their own broadband networks. Cedar Falls, which is not in one of those states, offers 1Gbps fiber Internet service for $135 a month. Comcast’s fastest residential service tops out at 505Mbps and costs $400 a month.