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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

[Aside] AdBlock Plus

Came across this report yesterday. Turns out AdBlock Plus (ABP) increases memory usage due to the way it works. Check out this post by a Mozilla developer for more info. The latter post also includes responses from the ABP developer. 

I disabled ABP on my browsers. Not because of these reports, but because I had been thinking of disabling it for a while but never got around to it. (I know it’s just a right click and disable away, but I never got around to it! :) Mainly coz I use the excellent Ghostery and Privacy Badger extensions, and these block most of the trackers and widgets I am interested in blocking, so I have never used ABP much. I had installed it a long time ago and it gets installed automatically on all my new Chrome/ Firefox installs thanks to sync, but I never configure or bother with it (except to whitelist a site if I feel ABP could be causing issues with it). Yesterday’s report seemed to be a good excuse to finally remove it. 

This Hacker News post is also worth a read. There are some alternatives like µBlock (seems to be Chrome only) (github link). It is based on HTTP Switchboard and is by the same developer. I have used HTTP Switchboard briefly in the past. Came across it as I was looking for a NoScript equivalent for Chrome and this was recommended. I didn’t use it much though as there was too much configuring and white-listing to do. (For that matter I stopped using NoScript too. It’s still installed but disabled except for its XSS features). Like I said, my favorites now are Ghostery and Privacy Badger – the latter is especially smart in that automatically starts blocking websites based on your browsing patterns (in fact Privacy Badger is based on ABP). 

Chromecast etc

Bought a Google Chromecast yesterday. I am travelling a bit recently and while I am independent of in-flight entertainment (thanks to me Nexus 7) I am still dependent on what the hotel TV for when in the hotel. Yes, I could connect my laptop to the TV with an HDMI cable (or connect the Cain to TV with a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable) but feels inelegant. I would prefer using the Nexus 7 if possible – much easier to carry around, charge, navigate etc.

I’ll need to use a SlimPort cable to connect the Nexus 7 to HDMI. I can’t get hold of that at short notice, moreover I am not keen on leaving the Nexus 7 hooked to the TV as there’ll be no way to navigate it then. A Chromecast seemed to be a convenient way of streaming wirelessly from the Nexus 7 to the TV.

The experience hasn’t been entirely pleasant though. For starters, Chromecast in hotel rooms are tricky. This is because (1) hotel WiFi usually requires a hotspot login for Internet access, and the Chromecast has no way of displaying this login page, resulting in it having no Internet access; and (2) hotel WiFi access points usually enable “AP isolation”, a useful security feature wherein devices connected to the access point can’t talk to each other (a good idea coz you wouldn’t want your neighbours laptop snooping onto yours). Since the Chromcast requires Internet access (at least for the initial setup, not sure about after that) and requires communication with your laptop, phone, or tablet to control it, you can’t use the Chromecast on most hotel WiFi.

Didn’t know this before I bought the Chromecast so day 1 of the purchase was spent trying to get it working, Googling, and thinking of solutions. Nothing helped. (Example solutions I tried include spoofing the Chromecast MAC address with the access point. Tried this from my laptop and Nexus 7 but it didn’t work. I could spoof the MAC address but I still couldn’t get the Chromecast to connect to the Internet).

So day 2 – today – involved purchasing a portable WiFi access point. Yeah, that’s a bit far-fetched I know! Getting an access point means you can connect that to the LAN point and hook create your own WiFi network. Connect the Chromecast and other devices to this WiFi network and they can all talk to each other. Moreover, the first device that authenticates with the hotspot is enough to get the access point’s MAC address whitelisted with the access point and thus let through all other devices connected to it without any authentication prompt. Did that today, and now I have a working Chromecast.

(This too wasn’t all straightforward. Initially the Chromecast said it wanted to update and got stuck at 29% update. Then I rebooted it and it wen’t up to 100% and got stuck. Rebooted again and this time it started from scratch and updated itself. Wasn’t sure whether unplugging it while updating will cause any issues. This seems to be a common problem according to the Internet. Many forum posts where the Chromecast is stuck on a reboot-update-reboot loop. Sometimes the update happens. Other times using the laptop app instead of a tablet/ phone app to setup the Chromecast helps. Yet other times casting to it while updating seems to give it a knock on the head and subsequently updates work. Weird, yes!)

Anyways, did all this and the next step is casting movies from the tab to the Chromecast. Isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure you can cast YouTube and Netflix easily. And there are many apps that support casting, but your mileage might wary. My favorite media player – MX Player – doesn’t have cast support yet. My second favorite player – Dice Player – seems to support, but I can’t find a way of enabling it. My favorite file manager – Solid Explorer – has a plugin that allows casting. That works well and it’s what I am using now, but the problem is that (a) I don’t know if my usual MX Player gestures will work here, and (b) not all audio-video formats are supported by the Chromecast so it’s quite possible you’ll have files that simply don’t cast to the Chromecast. Yeah, bummer! I had a few such, and various casting apps I tried (such as LocalCast, AllCast) failed to cast these. Finally I gave up. It works for the most part, but it isn’t something I can’t blindly depend on. It’s pretty likely some movies on the Nexus 7 that I want to watch simply wont play on the Chromecast.

In this respect the iPad/ iPhone might fare better. Since you have to encode the video for these devices, maybe the format is better supported. Not sure, I don’t have an iPad to try.

Things are better from the laptop. You can cast any Chrome tab to the Chromecast, so all I need to do is drag and drop a video into Chrome and that’s it! Chrome should be able to play all formats thanks to plugins like VLC which are installed if you have VLC Media Player on your system (who hasn’t!). Even more coolly, you can cast the entire screen to the Chromecast, so I could clone my laptop screen and audio to the TV. Wirelessly! With no performance lag. Now that’s super cool!

So that’s it. Been a mixed bag so far, let’s see how much I’ll be able to actually use this device. Maybe there are some cool apps that I haven’t stumbled across yet and which will enrich my experience. This issues with formats seems to be why MX Player doesn’t have support for casting yet. The creator of that app wants to be able to play all MX Player supported formats on the Chromecast, so this means the app should be able to transcode from a format not supported by Chromecast to a format supported by Chromecast – in real time – and that’s why support isn’t available yet. It should be available at some point (that’s what I read somewhere anyways).