Category Archives: Web/Tech

Be careful — I almost got fooled by malware

I’ve been around long enough to recognize malware when I see it, and I still take lots of precautions to ensure that something doesn’t sneak by (I use OpenDNS, Web of Trust, NoScript, and Ghostery, for example) but a few moments ago, I was almost tricked by a malware site, and if it could happen to me, it could happen to someone who is less paranoid.

So I present this as a warning, a reminder, and a public service.

I thought I was going to youtube.com/geekandsundry to see if our Tabletop gag reel had been posted, yet. When I hit return, I saw this:

Bogus-flash-install-screen

I haven’t heard of Flash Player Pro, but it looked real, and maybe this was some new stupid thing that I was going to get mad about, with YouTube forcing me to download some new version of software that I didn’t already have.

So that should have been my first warning: YouTube is never going to make it harder for me to get to see the stuff I want to see, because that would make it harder for YouTube to show me ads.

But I’m still waking up, so I clicked “accept and install”, and saw this:

installation.exe screenshot

Ah-ha! Evil malware people use .exe files because it’s easier to infect Windows than it is to infect OS X, and I understand that it’s fairly common for people to tick off a box in Windows that allows pretty much anything to install itself. You know, for convenience.

Well, I clicked CANCEL, and tried to figure out how my browser had taken me to this site, and how it had even gotten past all of my defenses to load itself.

It turns out that I’d typed youtuve.com, not youtube.com, and the bad guys had done the rest.

So be careful out there, kids, because not everyone online is a good guy.

Edit: Here’s the gag reel!

the audacity of derivative works

Anne and Wil Wheaton 1920s outfits
Click to Embiggen

This weekend, my friends hosted a 1920s occult party. There were tarot readings, Ouija boards, and a seance. Everyone was encouraged to attend in appropriate attire, and we sipped absinthe while movies like The Golem and Fantomas were projected on the walls.

Anne and I got our clothes from Unique Vintage and Clockwork Couture. While we were getting dressed, Anne said, “I kind of love that I’m cosplaying with my husband,” and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

I had this idea to track down some 1920s music to play during the afternoon and evening, leading up to the party, so I started by looking on Amazon. I didn’t see anything that I liked, so I checked the Google Play store, and then iTunes. Again, I couldn’t find the original recordings that I was looking for, and as I was about to give up, a voice inside my head sort of kicked me behind the eyeballs and said, “Hey, stupid, music from the 1920s is in the public domain. Go look on the Internet Archive and I bet you’ll find more original recordings than you know what to do with.”

People, you should always listen to the voices in your head, because they know things. They know things that you don’t know. THEY KNOW THINGS THAT THE OTHERS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW AND GREAT CTHU–

Sorry. I got a little carried away, there.

So I went to the Internet Archive, and I found a treasure trove of incredible recordings.

Here are a few of them:

I grabbed them all, because that’s what you can legally and ethically do with the Internet Archive, and I made playlists that I shuffled through our Sonos to fill our house with the sounds of the Roaring Twenties. By the time we left for the party, I was ready to hop in a plane with Lucky Lindy and fly to New York to watch Murder’s Row in action.

So the party was fantastic, and everyone there looked incredible, but that’s not what I set out to write about this morning. What I wanted to write about was this thing I made, using free (as in speech and beer) tools, to create something where something wasn’t before.

Within one of the collections I downloaded, there was a jaunty little tune called JaDa.

I enjoyed it, and I had this idea to slow it down and completely transform it into something that sounds very, very different.

Longtime readers may remember that I freaking love the ambient music of the early 1990s. Well, I loaded JaDa into a free and open source audio editing program called Audacity, and I played around with some of audacity’s effects to turn this three minute jazz tune into nearly an hour of sinister dark ambient that was directly inspired by the occult party we attended. When I finished it, I was happy with what I’d made, and I wanted to share it with the world. So I put it on SoundCloud. While I was uploading it, I saw that I could add some sort of album art. Keeping with the theme of transforming existing public domain works, using open source tools, I went back to the Internet Archive, and found a page of a 1927 seed catalog that had some bright strawberries on it. I captured part of that image, loaded it into Gimp, and applied a bunch of filters to it, until I’d turned an image of luscious strawberries into something very different, that I thought matched the mood and tone of the audio I’d created.

Here’s what I made:

I’ve talked a lot in the past about how I believe this is a really great time to be a creative person, because the tools we need to make things, as well as the ability to get those things out into the world, are never farther away than our keyboards. I hope this inspires some of you to Get Excited and Make Things.

Bittorrent Bundles are awesome.

I’ve written before about how useful I believe the bittorrent protocol is, and today I wanted to share something with you guys that you may not have known about (I’m pretty with it, as the kids say, and I didn’t even know about this until a couple of weeks ago): Bittorrent Bundles. The BT Bundles are all legal, official, and released by artists to promote and share their work with their audience. Instead of paying for server space and bandwidth, artists seed files, and let the bittorrent community do the rest.

You can find tons of bundles at https://bundles.bittorrent.com/. Here’s Moby’s Innocents, De La Soul’s Smell the Da.I.S.Y, and Thom Yorke’s newest solo work, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes . Most of the artists release a couple tracks for free, with the option to pay them for the full album. These are incredibly fast torrents, too, because so many people seed them.

Whenever someone tries to argue that torrents are just for piracy, I show them the BT Bundles, because it’s such an effective way for artists to promote themselves and share their creations with their audience.

No, that’s not me on Instagram

Someone is impersonating me (or at least trying to mislead people into thinking he/she/it is me) on Instagram. This person is using my Twitter avatar, my bio, and generally causing a lot of confusion.

I tried to report the profile to Instagram, and Instagram told me that to complete the report, I would have to send a scan of my government-issued identification.

Fuck. That.

So: I can’t get the account taken down, but that’s not me on Instagram. Tell your friends. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you.

How Will They Bite It, plus some thoughts on ratings and cord cutters

One of my favorite bits from this week’s show is a silly game show we created called How Will They Bite It? It wasn’t until after we’d played the game that I realized it has the potential to actually be a legitimate game, that anyone can play at home while watching some of the magnificently craptacular Syfy Original Movies (and let’s be honest: magnificently craptacular original movies is probably the one area where the network formerly-known as sci-fi truly excels, and may actually set the standard by which all other magnificently craptacular movies should be measured.)

Take a look:

Although we’re only two episodes in, I think we have a possible recurring bit in How Will They Bite It?, one that I can play with just about anyone who we can trick into coming onto our show extend the tremendous privilege of appearing on The Wil Wheaton Project.

I got our ratings numbers yesterday afternoon. Surprisingly, they were slightly lower than our first episode, but I understand that the ratings across the entire network for the whole night were down, so that’s not necessarily a reflection of us, as much as it is something that just sort of seems to have happened. I wonder if there was a big sports thing, or maybe a finale in some other show? I heard that we kept more of our lead in than last week, which is actually really good, according to the people who care about that sort of thing. I also heard that a very important person at the network loved our second episode, which is also very good. Most importantly for me, though, is that I was completely happy with the show. I thought the jokes worked the way we wanted them to, and all the other stuff I mentioned yesterday.

Felicia and I talked last week when I was feeling pretty down about the ratings, and she pointed out to me that the only thing I can truly control is the creative side of things, so if I put out something that I’m happy with, I can let all the other stuff go. This week, I can let all the other stuff go.

Now, here’s something interesting that I’m probably going to get yelled at by the network goons for sharing, but it’s important and relevant. A lot of people have told me that I haven’t been able to watch our second episode online. I understand that if they try to watch it at Syfy.com, and they don’t have a cable or satellite provider, they can’t see it. I understand that it isn’t even on Hulu like our first episode was, and the show isn’t on Hulu+ at all.

With that in mind, look at this, from about an hour ago, from The Pirate Bay:

Wil Wheaton Project Torrent
Click to Embiggen

Last week, our first episode had a total of about 800 seeders and about half as many leechers. Math is hard, but I’m going to estimate over 2300 seeders and almost as many leechers, for our second episode alone. That’s pretty huge growth and interest from people who probably want to watch our show, but can’t, because they’re cord cutters, or they’re in a country that doesn’t carry the show. Yes, I know there are people who want everything for free and won’t pay for anything, but I don’t count them as “lost” viewers, because they were never going to be scored by advertisers or the network, anyway.

I think I mentioned that our ratings improved with every repeat last week, and our 11pm repeat on Friday even beat our premiere on Tuesday. This tells me that people clearly want to watch our show, and as more people hear about it, the more they tune in. I understand that this is the way it typically goes with shows like ours (I heard it took The Daily Show a year and a half to find its audience), so we’re expecting a slow but steady building of audience as the summer goes on. That will be awesome, but it can be even more awesome, if we can make it easier for people who want to watch us to find a legal way to do it.

I’ve heard from countless people who legally watched our first episode that they wanted to watch our second one, but discovered that they couldn’t watch it in a legal way. It’s out of my control, so I can’t do anything except point out over and over and over again that the show is losing potential viewers, and that’s really frustrating to me.

Our show costs a lot of money to make. It’s possible to make our show because Syfy licenses it from us, and then sells advertising on the show to cover their investment. If everything goes according to plan, it’s profitable. If it’s profitable, we get to keep making more episodes. The best way to help us be profitable, then, is to watch the show on Syfy when it airs during the week. I don’t fully understand the realities and nuances of licensing and all that, but I do know that the world is rapidly changing, and a lot of people don’t want to watch TV live. I know that lots of people don’t want cable because they can’t afford it, or because they hate cable companies. I know that a lot of those people would gladly pay for Amazon on demand, an iTunes subscription, whatever Google Play does, or watch some ads on Hulu or Hulu+. I’m doing everything I can to let the people who make those deals know this, but I’m a very small voice in a very loud room. If you want to help make that voice louder, you can write a polite email to Syfy and let them know that you want to watch the show in a way that supports us.

Maybe this is all a lot of hand-wringing for nothing, because we are only two episodes in, and because this is an entirely new type of show for Syfy, they’re just getting their legs under them the same way we are. Maybe this will all work itself out over the next couple of weeks, and everyone will be happy. That’s what I hope for, because I am having an insanely good time making this show.

Before I go, I just want to reiterate that I want you to watch our show, and I want you to like our show so much that you keep watching it. I’m trying my best to make it easy for you to watch our show in a way that helps us pay for it, so we can keep making more of it. I know for some of you it’s easier to just fire up a torrent client and go to down, and I’m sympathetic to that. But I’ll ask all of you, please, if you can watch the show in a way that counts for our network and our advertisers, please do.

Today, we fight back against mass surveillance

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
 
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
- Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution

But whatever our differences may have been in the past, we strongly agree that the dragnet collection of millions of Americans’ phone records every day — whether they have any connection at all to terrorism — goes far beyond what Congress envisioned or intended to authorize. 
More important, we agree it must stop.
 – Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.)  & Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Co-sponsors of the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R.3361, S. 1599),  The Case for NSA Reform

If I did the code right, you should be seeing a big old banner at the bottom of this page, encouraging you to contact your representatives in government and demand an end to the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance.

From EFF:

Since June, ongoing revelations about the NSA’s activities have shown us the expanding scope of government surveillance. Today is the day people around the world are demanding an end to mass spying.

A broad coalition of organizations, companies, and individuals are loudly voicing their stance against unwarranted mass spying—over 6,000 websites have joined together today to demand reform. EFF stands by millions of users—represented by groups like Demand Progress, ACLU, PEN, and Access as well as companies like Google, Twitter, Mozilla, and reddit—to reform governmental collection of innocent users’ information.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the Internet as a political force make waves in Washington. From our defeat of the Internet censorship bill SOPA to our battles over CISPA, TPP, and patent reform, history has shown that we can activate our networks to beat back legislation that threatens our ability to connect, as well as champion bills that will further our rights online.

We can win this. We can stop mass spying. With public opinion polls on our side, unprecedented pressure from presidential panels and oversight boards, and millions of people speaking out around the world, we’ve got a chance now to change surveillance policy for good.

Last year, we were presented with a new opportunity—an opportunity in the form of leaks that showed us the truth about deeply invasive surveillance programs around the world. This is the year we make good on that opportunity. Let’s ensure that sacrifices made by whistleblowers and risks taken by brave journalists were not done in vain.

Join us in fighting back. We’ve laid out below how you can speak out against mass spying.

Calling Congress takes just five minutes and is the most effective action you can take right now to let your elected officials know that mass surveillance must end.

Here’s what you should say:

I’d like Senator/Representative __ to support and co-sponsor H.R. 3361/S. 1599, the USA Freedom Act. I would also like you to oppose S. 1631, the so-called FISA Improvements Act. Moreover, I’d like you to work to prevent the NSA from undermining encryption standards and to protect the privacy rights of non-Americans.

Outside the US? Take action now.

Mass spying affects all of us worldwide. Demand an end to mass surveillance by signing the 13 Principles petition.

Please, take a few minutes and make a phone call. I’m sure that you, like me, feel cynical and disempowered (especially here in California, where our completely corrupt and useless senator Dianne Feinstein has become one of the NSA’s most vocal and ardent defenders, even though she’s supposed to be providing “oversight” in the senate), but this is not a fight that we’re going to win by sitting down and shutting up. Quoting EFF again: “We can win this. We can stop mass spying. With public opinion polls on our side, unprecedented pressure from presidential panels and oversight boards, and millions of people speaking out around the world, we’ve got a chance now to change surveillance policy for good.”

I encourage you to read more at the Reddit blog, where they’ve put together a comprehensive and easy to understand rundown of what’s at stake, and what we know about NSA spying. Talk to your friends and your family, and let’s do whatever we can to restore our fundamental rights to privacy.

 

Better to be out in front of the revolution than scrambling to keep up.

Yesterday, my friend Amy Berg wrote on Facebook:

People are turning off the TV and turning to the internet for entertainment. We may not like it, but it’s fact. Which is why I’m making digital series. Better to be out in front of the revolution than scrambling to keep up.

She linked to an article that says: TV is dying, and here are the stats to prove it.

The TV business is having its worst year ever.

Audience ratings have collapsed: Aside from a brief respite during the Olympics, there has been only negative ratings growth on broadcast and cable TV since September 2011, according to Citi Research.

Media stock analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson recently noted, “The pay-TV industry has reported its worst 12-month stretch ever.” All the major TV providers lost a collective 113,000 subscribers in Q3 2013. That doesn’t sound like a huge deal — but it includes internet subscribers, too.

Broadband internet was supposed to benefit from the end of cable TV, but it hasn’t.

In all, about 5 million people ended their cable and broadband subs between the beginning of 2010 and the end of this year.

It’s a fascinating article, and worth reading if you care about this sort of thing like I do. Setting aside the reality that you never hear someone declare: “Oh man, I fucking LOVE my cable company! They are the BEST! Their customer service is, like, UNBELIEVABLE, and I REALLY get my money’s worth for my subscription fees. I love my cable company so much, and they’ve totally earned my business and loyalty!” and so it’s likely that younger customers are fleeing cable because the experience — not necessarily just the content — sucks, I want to talk briefly about creating original content for online distribution.

I remember a time, in the not too distant past, when we’d feel like we had to justify ourselves for making a webseries, like it wasn’t real TV or film. It was like we were creating for online because we couldn’t make it in the big leagues, and had to seek out an alternative. In some ways, that was true, because in the traditional way of doing things, we had to appeal to gatekeepers at networks and mid-level development executives who were more afraid of losing their jobs than they were excited to make something new. That makes sense: there’s a shitload of money at stake for most productions, and it’s only logical that the people in charge of spending that money would be risk-averse — But what’s the point of being in a creative industry if you’re not willing to take some creative risks? That’s where the Internet came in, and fundamentally changed everything for creators. We could take risks, we could make content that maybe wouldn’t appeal to tens of millions of people, but would appeal to hundreds of thousands. We didn’t need to compete with other creators for ratings during a narrow broadcast window, because we understood that our audiences would watch our stuff on their terms, when and where and how they wanted to. We understood that the world was changing, and people would be watching programming on smartphones and tablets, frequently time shifted for their convenience. We knew that because we were those people.

Being those people, and creating for those people, has let us who are the tip of the spear in online distribution continue to just destroy the legacy media companies: we don’t want to control how our audiences get to watch and enjoy and share the things we make. We understand that attempting to control the experience people have when they watch our stuff just makes them find ways around that control, usually in a way that hurts our bottom line and our ability to support ourselves.

Around the second season I did of The Guild, I stopped feeling like I had to apologize for or justify creating original content for Internet instead of television. I stopped feeling like we were playing in the minor leagues, or engaging in a long and expensive audition for “real” work. I recognized that were were ahead of the curve, and the rest of the entertainment industry was going to have to catch up with us. It was so liberating, and it’s been so exciting for me as a producer and consumer to watch new talent emerge online that would never get a chance if TV was the only option.

The successes and failures in Google’s You Tube thing that made Geek and Sundry possible provide a great example of those who get it and don’t: the channels that the major networks and studios used to dump existing content failed, and the channels that made original content thrived. I think it’s safe to say that the legacy content producers and networks just don’t understand the online audience in the way they think they do. I think they’re afraid of online in a lot of ways, because a lot of the older executives who make decisions about digital are still fighting Napster in their heads. I understand their fear, but they’re going to have to come and join us here in the future, or they’re going to wither and die.

We who make webserieses (is that a word? It is now) have been in the future for a few years now, and I’m very interested to see what happens as people who are used to being the king of the mountain without really trying are forced to compete — or at least share space — with those of us who have worked very hard to earn whatever we have online.

Broadcast, cable, satellite, and movies will always be there, and they’ll always have fantastic and lousy content (just like the internet), and I hope that I’ll continue to work across all mediums as an actor and producer. But looking to the real future (the one that is ahead of us, as opposed to the one we live in now): I’ve believed for years that the next generation of creators will go online and play by their own rules. The next Joss Whedon will never have to deal with an evil FOX executive who ruins the next Firefly because of reasons, andI hope that I get to work with him or her someday, because that person is going to make something wonderful.

Login issues: resolved

14.8.14 1342 EDT: With some help from Mysterious Kevin, we tracked down the source of the commenting sign-in woes, and everything should be working once again. If you’re still having trouble, clear your browser’s cache (or login using porn private mode) and you should be all set. Thanks for your patience, and thank you for participating in conversations here at my blog.

commenting sign-in trouble

1421 CDT 13/8/13 We’re aware of the problem, and we’re trying to figure out why Facebook stopped working as a login. I suspect it has something to do with Facebook changing the API to require a photo ID, hair sample, DNA swab, and your deepest fear, notarized. I’m also looking at an alternative solution to making an account here that doesn’t require a password that looks like line noise.