October 20, 2007
reCAPTCHA: Stop Spam. Read Books. Do Good.
Many sites use CAPTCHA mechanisms to secure comments and forums or access to certain features. Sadly necessary to prevent automated attacks and bot spamming, purportedly 60 million CAPTCHAS are solved daily. If we assume 10 seconds per, that represents 150,000 hours of human time wasted each day.
Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science realized they could reclaim that wasted time and put it to good use with reCAPTCHA, a free CAPTCHA web service that instead of presenting randomly selected letter/number sequences to solve, serves words from book scanning projects that failed OCR, thus lowering the cost of book digitization and preservation at the Internet Archive.
This is a brilliant leveraging of network effects for the common good.
I've implemented Josh Carter's reCAPTCHA plug-in for Movable Type -- take a look at the comments to see how it works. For this site I've chosen the 'blackglass' theme with some added CSS so that the input field uses my type style. You can also select from red and white themes, or elect to create your own styling on a 'clean' theme.
October 3, 2007
As I wrapped up my overdue post on the public beta of Adobe's Flash Player 9 Update 3 (a.k.a. Moviestar), Adobe was busy unveiling the capabilities of the next version of Flash Player at Chicago's MAX 2007 conference.
With Flash Player 10, codenamed Astro, Adobe keeps pushing the boundaries of what Flash will be able to do with features like 3D perspective transforms, an advanced multi-column bi-di text layout engine with enhanced html capabilities, and finally, custom bitmap filters using a new pixel shading scripting language called Hydra, the latter of which is available today from Adobe Labs.
This is exciting stuff...
A couple conference goers have already posted video; first up is Aral Balkan's must-see footage of the Astro sneak peek keynote where all these features are smartly demoed, and Adobe Evangelist Lee Brimelow posts a short interview with Senior Product Manger Justin Everett-Church, who speaks to how the new 3D transforms complement rather than compete with the Papervision3D project and how the Adobe Image Foundation toolkit allows us to build Hydra filters and even use them across Adobe applications.
Mr. Everett-Church doesn't give away clues as to when Astro will hit; perhaps someone will wear down the Adobe staff before the end of the conference?
October 2, 2007
Moviestar is the codename for the public beta of Flash Player Update 3 (now at version 126.96.36.199 | release notes). Where previous betas of Update 3 introduced multi-core vector rendering support, MSAA support for Netscape-style plug-ins on Windows, and hardware acceleration for full-screen display, this build introduces significant new functionality in the video/audio realm, removing lock-in of Adobe's FLV format by adding support for a flavor of MPEG-4 (H.264/AAC). It also raises questions about commercial use and licensing for video in the new format.
Probably the best technical overview of Moviestar can be found on Adobe engineer Tinic Uro's blog entry "What just happened to video on the web?", so I'll leave the nitty-gritty to the acknowledged expert. As usual for Mr. Uro, it's very good reading.
H.264/AAC support is enticing for clients that work with a lot of video because of the interoperability of the format. Encoding workflows that conclude with multiple formats can be simplified to a single, standard format consumable by many different players and audiences; iPod, audio and video podcasts, movie trailers, and Flash Player interfaces; encode once, play (almost/eventually?) anywhere.
However, while an open standard, the H.264 format comes with a somewhat tricky licensing requirement for web site owners. Note that I am not a lawyer; the following analysis is derived from my non-lawyerly reading of the AVC Terms Summary document [pdf], the AVC Patent Portfolio License and phone conversations with a representative of the MPEG LA.
For your clients who freely provide video content to their web site visitors, the Internet Broadcast qualification terms require the execution of a license agreement but is free from royalty fees until 2011.
Video behind a paywall may still be royalty free if under 12 minutes in length for title by title video (videos sold one at a time), or if a site's paid subscriber base is less than 100,000 users.
If your clients don't fit into any of the above categories, then licensing becomes a bit complicated with audience size factoring into variable annual rates and one-time fees; start by taking a look at the AVC Patent Portfolio License terms summary document, FAQ and talk to your lawyer. (I'm not a lawyer, remember?)
You may have noticed that after Dec. 31, 2010, the royalty-free Internet Broadcast qualification expires; from that point on things become a bit murky as to what the form of licensing may take. Talk to your lawyer, yada yada. But then, what will the state of video on the web look like as 2010 wraps up? Will we be on to newer and better, and importantly, less restrictive formats? Two years and change is a long stretch in Internet time...
If you're not interested in new video formats and have somehow made it to the end of this post -- I commend and encourage you to test your content with the beta Flash Player Update 3 and post any issues uncovered to the Adobe Flash Player 9 Feedback Form. Easier to help Adobe fix compatibility issues before release than for you to revisit your client's content to implement workarounds.