NightScene and Simplicity

NightScene: Find Your Scene

This is a series on a brand new social website that myself and several other team members are getting ready to launch called NightScene, a social search engine that helps you discover new venues, events, and friends that suit your own tastes wherever you go. To see more posts about NightScene, just click here. And to visit the NightScene landing page to find out more and follow us, click here.

Simplicity is key to the internet — everyone is opening a million tabs in their browser trying to find a million different videos, keep tabs on their friends, and discover new content all at the same time. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention, especially now that all of this is happening not just on a laptop in someone’s house, but through such a large number of mobile devices such as cell phones like the iPhone or tablets such as the iPad. Everything is pretty much single serving content that is designed to be consumed in one brief view and then the user moves on to something else.

So how do you get this right? Well, I’m not an expert in traditional sense that I work for some multi-billion dollar advertising company. (On second thought, I suppose the Navy is one of those entities…) But, what I do know is that I consume a ridiculous amount of media, be it social or traditional media. Except newspapers; I live in 2010 not 1910, thank you. I also have had the fortunate experience of working for companies that produced social media as well as traditional marketing and advertising. I feel like this gives me grounds to say the following:

There, you don't even have to click the link. It's Google, not like you already didn't know what it looked like. Oh yeah, that reminds me that Thanksgiving is coming up. Thanks again Google!

Google got it right. So right. Go to their page right now. What do you see? A search bar. It’s so intuitive and simple; no one needs to know what the site is because it’s already so obvious. The thing that most users probably never realize is that there are so many features to Google that its depth and complexity is pretty much endless. Everything is presented in a simple way, but the information there is surprisingly complex. (I know that sometimes this can be overwhelming; Google’s “Wave” was an attempt to simplify sharing information and it turned out to be way too complicated to make it useful. For the most part though, Google has it down.)

The problem with emulating Google is that everyone understands a search engine. And in most cases, everyone understands, say, Facebook, a common social website. Where things start to get tricky is when you want to combine those two and you get a social search engine. What is that? No, really, I’m asking you to tell me because even I have a hard time grasping it — and I’m making it. NightScene, therefore, has to be both forgiving to the new user so that they can get into it and deep for the returning user who already is exploring their scene. It will take time to justify this concept as being the best thing since Al Gore invented the internet, but I’m actually pretty confident that it will be.

Wow, this looks kind of cool but what is any of this junk? Is it sorted? I don't get what any of this means or how it connects to me. It all seems like a big advertisement. (It is.)

In my mind, when I’m coming up with design ideas and general strategies, I want to keep this site simple enough that anyone can jump on and use it and feel familiar while still feeling fresh and socially relevant. It really needs to be accessible from anywhere easily and have the main features be right there, front and center. Honestly, we’re going to be dealing with a lot of bars and clubs, so this will mean that people who are feeling no pain need to be able to figure it out too! So, how do we accomplish this? Here is a list of thoughts in a bullet point form because I know you’re loading a YouTube video of someone falling off a skateboard right now and you’re running out of patience for all these words. (Why couldn’t I have just done this in 140 characters?!)

  • Make vital features take as few clicks as possible to access.
  • Make smart use of advanced coding to reveal more detailed information only when a person wants to see it.
  • Keep the pages as simple and clean as possible.
  • Help the user understand the site by guiding them through unfamiliar features.
  • Don’t post blatant ads on the site. Make them match your demographic when you do use them.
  • Allow the user to control the content that they interact with so they develop a connection to it.

I know these are really pretty general concepts, but you’d be surprised at how many sites completely ignore the user and just assume that the user is on the same level as the person running the show who is intimately familiar with everything aspect of the product. Similarly, many popular sites just try to push their sponsored content onto you without making a real connection as to why you should care about whatever is being promoted.

You too will cheer for joy like this awful corporate stock photo when you use NightScene.

There’s a real balance that needs to be achieved between showing a large amount of information to the user and keeping things simple. Keep it too simple and the user might get bored. Make it too deep and the user might be confused or turned off by all the content. NightScene is still in its infancy but the design is essentially finalized and I think we’ve done it right. There’s a lot of interesting information up front, the site is easy to use, and it offers depth to the user who wants to support the social aspects of it. But this is coming from me, the guy who is making the product and not the actual user. It’s really up to how the user actually interacts with the site to shape and evolve its future. What we’re doing now is laying the groundwork for something that can be huge, but it’s up to you to make it the site you want it to be. And I think that’s the freshest idea on the web right now.

Nightscene and Social Networks

NightScene: Find Your Scene

Although I’ve kept this idea a secret for almost a year now, it’s finally in its beta stages and we’ll be accepting users in the near future. I think site has it all, and what it is, I can only summarize from the brief page online. Nightscene will revolutionize how you find things to do at night in your area. Currently, we’re referring to it as NightsceneDC because it’s being tested in Washington D.C., a bastion of social networking users who are active in a huge amount of nightlife around the city

Essentially, this is a social website mixed with a review site, but how we’re approaching it is mostly unlike every other site out there. If you’re trying to find some booming nightlife, it really sucks trying to find a site that does it right, and we’re attempting to make it easy to find new places, share them with your friends, and make a social site where the user controls what they see and how venues are shown. The ideas are familiar, but doing it right, that’s the thing that matters.

And so, on this note, doing it right is what I want to speak on. I’m a graphic designer that has spent several years working both freelance and for firms, and I’ve worked with so many clients it’s hard to even count the amount of projects I’ve been a part of. This alone really doesn’t give me any credibility. Isn’t everyone a designer these days? It is a fun field to get into, and one of the most competitive, especially when the economy sucks and no one is buying advertising (welcome to my life).

Gotta go hard, gotta go in a black v

The urge to just rush this thing out the door has been there from the start. I like the idea, I want to use it, and I want other people to use it. And I wouldn’t mind getting a profit since my current job (working in the oil field) is a far cry from the comforts of a Wacom tablet and a water cooler. That said, everything in my gut is telling me to wait, to make this as polished and engaging to the end user as it can be. Without this, I feel like we’ll feel generic — like we’re ripping off other social sites and trying to make a buck. We can’t do that. Both myself and Sam, and the other contributors to NightScene, have such a love for this idea because it’s our idea, and it’s something that we’ve both experienced when trying to find the right nightlife. (Trust us, we wear black vnecks and pound drinks like the best of ’em.)

So, we’re at the stage where we can see the results: our developers and designers are delivering things that are close — but not quite there — and we can already taste what we want from the site. Personally, this idea has become one of the few creations that I absolutely love. It’s the culmination of everything social that I like and everything that I see on sites that I dislike, I made sure that we don’t repeat it. Fun, functional, and easy. We just have to make sure that we come together as a team to make the last push and then go from there.

Right now we’re all excited, nervous, and, hopefully, very happy with our progress. This started as an idea in Sam’s head, and then it spread to me, making mockups and coming up with functionality ideas, and now it’s about to have real life, be a real business. We should be taking a fair number of beta testers right after the new year, if all goes right. It’s actually already up in landing page form, if you want to find out more and follow us.

What I guess I’m saying is that if we do this right, this will be huge. If we do this wrong, we’ll be tossed aside. If we take too long, we could get muddled  and confused. Everything has to be perfect, but unfortunately I can’t tell the future. There’s not an app for that. (Actually, I checked and there is but it’s 2.99. Rude.)

Why iPhones Suck

iPhones are really cool. I like them as a phone because I can take such a degree of technology with me that I can manage so much of my life at one time I rarely need a computer. In theory, they are great devices and are leaps and bounds ahead of other smart phones, but in practice, the frustration that comes from using them makes them outright awful. So here’s a narrative story on why you should never get an iPhone. Because if you already use an iPhone, it’s too late to turn back.

It's not a bug, it's a feature.

The software (called the iOS and what runs the iPhone’s features) is an absolute bugged out mess. From the smallest annoyances to the greatest frustrations, the iOS has it all. Examples are plentiful and I’ve actually started an album on Facebook to chronicle my unfortunate problems. This is actually the main detractor from the phone because it’s the software that you end up dealing with all day. And yes, before you tell me to update, I am using (at the time of writing this) the most updated version of iOS.

Showcased to the left is myself trying to send an e-mail of a YouTube video to a friend. Astoundingly, it decided to bring up the keyboard while sending an e-mail and playing the video at the same time. I’m not sure how this happens, but it’s happened on more than one occasion. You have to exit YouTube, then stop YouTube from running, and then relaunch, find your video, and try again. It’s just a random added hassle that is more hilarious than it is harmful, but still an example of a bug that seems completely random.

The problem is that a lot of the bugs are completely infuriating. For example, the iPhone has a lag when locking and unlocking the phone (that button on the top right). This is not too big of a deal unless you’re trying to use it during two events: first, trying to lock the phone after you end a call may freeze the phone, or the end call button might be pressed and you lock the phone, and then it tries to lock the phone after the call AND by you locking it, and the phone freezes; second, and the most unbelievable, is when you have a password on your phone. When you unlock the phone you are prompted to enter your password and while the screen displays the digits for you to press, it is not fast enough to catch the first or second numbers you enter, making you re-enter your password immediately after. What a crazy place for lag to be, and one that drives me up the walls. Of course, why do you even have a password when people can still access your contact list, photos, and make calls?

Typing a message to my friends is so easy here

It doesn’t make sense to me how a phone can be so buggy and be so widely used… and everyone just loves them. And so do I, I guess, since I put up with it every single day. Believe it or not, today I got up at the wrong time because the iPhone, using its sophisticated future technology, was not able to correct my alarms for daylight savings time. But that’s okay, because they issued a warning on the internet. Thanks for the update that I never got. Oh well, it wasn’t too big of a deal, but you’d just imagine they could fix such a simple issue. Computers have been dealing with it since their inception, after all.

Neat, always wanted a keyboard that was completely broken and stretched out

The next issue is one that I can’t personally attest to happening on my phone, but rather on my mom’s phone. She kept complaining to me that the battery life was awful and that she could never make calls. Both of these are true: the battery life on the 3G is abysmal, but is thankfully better on the 4; AT&T provides some of the worst service ever (at least in Midland, Texas) and having calls fail while being in the middle of the city at home are commonplace (I actually bitched about it on Twitter some time ago and a representative responded saying sorry… sorry about what, that you’re selling a busted service? You don’t fix anything by saying sorry. Give me a refund of a dollar for every call that’s dropped and you’d more than pay for my phone service! But I digress).

Anyway, today I finally told her to give me her phone so I could show her how she was doing it wrong, which she usually is. I tried to make a call and the phone just sat at the calling screen for about 5 minutes with full signal. I decided to restart the phone, and when it came back up the battery had went from full (she just had it plugged in when she gave it to me) to about 10% or so. How is this possible? I’m guessing something in the software isn’t reporting the battery percentage life. As well, I could now make calls. What a joke.

This next one is a combination of the software and the actual hardware of the phone. I can’t believe that this phone was made with so many blatant design flaws. The first of which is that I bought my 3GS in June of ’09, my first iPhone purchase. After using it for a little under a month’s time, I was texting someone and typing and the screen just cracked. You might be wondering how many times I had dropped the phone. None. Even then, it was in a case to prevent things like this happening. Apparently, my unit was defective because the screen should not be so weak that typing on it makes it break. Fine, whatever.

Another thing that probably no one besides myself a few others will ever see is the text message limit. Apparently after 75,000 texts, you go over a limit and the phone tells you to delete some. Well, I’m the kind of person who likes to have full logs with whoever I talk to, so I never delete messages and I can pick back up and remember what I told some girl whose number I got in a bar at 3 AM a year ago when she messages me asking how I’m doing randomly. (This is a real situation. I am prepared.) But, after this limit, you’re screwed. Why such a limit? My phone has 4 gigs of space still free on it. There should be no limit. It’s not like the phone is pulling up this information every time I text; it’s only used when I want it.

Uh, thanks for the cryptic message?

I put up with this for a while and shortly thereafter I kept getting strange messages popping up that didn’t make any sense to me. I literally had no idea what they meant and tried to ignore them. However, after they came up, I realized that I could no longer make a call and speak — that feature had been disabled somehow in the software. The error message in question is shown at the right. Essentially, this random message that seemed unrelated to me was that I had connected some mystery accessory to my phone that it did not approve it. That’s fine, only that it wasn’t connected to anything at all. It was just popping up every 15 minutes and letting me know this. At this point, I became absolutely infuriated: my awesome future technology was a busted piece of shit already and I had only had it a few months. Really Apple?

So I called these guys up and of course I was transferred to some Indian guy who could barely speak English as far as I could tell and he told me that first, I had gripped the screen “too firmly” (I will never forget this) and that caused the phone to crack. Too firmly? What the hell, should I hold it lightly like it is a magnificent baby kitten? No, this is a phone and I don’t want to drop it and break it. The irony. I also mentioned that I couldn’t make calls and this was making the phone a giant paperweight. He said that I could should remove the accessory (the one that I didn’t have) and that cracking the screen had probably caused this. I asked if he had ever heard of either of these problems, and he said no.

Thanks, love that YouTube feature

I was told that I could replace my phone no problem. It would be 130 dollars to get the screen fixed and it would take 3 to 4 weeks for this to happen, and that I would also be out shipping. I asked if there was any way that Apple or AT&T could give me a loner phone to use while mine was being fixed, and I was told there was a way. All I had to do was give them 650 dollars (a holding fee plus shipping) to get this phone. So, basically, Apple told me that I was shit out of luck. I called AT&T and they told me to use an old phone or to call Apple. They didn’t care about me either. I called Apple back to see if there was anything they could do to work the situation out and I was told I needed to pay 30 dollars to talk to a representative. Uh, what? I cursed loudly and hung up the phone (not my phone, mind you).

Texting someone(?) my candid thoughts

So, I did what anyone would do: look online for a fix. First, I found a number of other users complaining about their screens cracking in dubious ways and a ton of people who had the problem where it said there was an accessory plugged in (and a ton of people who called Apple and had them say they never heard of such a story!). So, the problem was the moisture in my pocket had created a bond between two connectors in the docking port, causing it to think something was plugged in. The solution was just a rub down of alcohol and it was fixed, but I wish I could have been told that over the phone instead of reading it on some forum. And why is that such a common problem? What a great design feature. I still don’t get why there aren’t rubber plugs that cover those areas that are common on pretty much every other phone ever made. Whatever.

Here's the screen I saw before my phone wiped all of my text messages away completely

I guess there is hope for the future, because Apple does release updates to fix all the bugs. Or introduce new ones. When I upgraded to the iOS 4, it had the awesome feature of turning my phone into a paperweight. Yeah, it actually managed to make my phone break by updating it. The phone got stuck at a screen showing a plug and the iTunes icon, meaning, to me, to plug it into iTunes. Well, nothing happened. So I tried again, restarted my computer, reinstalled iTunes, and nothing worked. I called Apple but this time couldn’t even get through to anyone who knew what I was talking about… much less anyone who could keep track of my data. They kept getting my name wrong and thinking I was someone else. Cool guys.

So what did I have to do? Well, skip this paragraph if you don’t want to read a lot of nerdery.
Uninstall iTunes 10 after putting the iPhone in DFU mode
Delete all the old files in the iTunes directory
Install iTunes 9, but find out your library is now incompatible
…So rename your old library files
Then iTunes 9 will start and see the phone
Then recover it
Then copy the iPod directory from Program Files for iTunes 9
Then uninstall iTunes 9
Then install iTunes 10, and ignore the error messages when installing
Then rename your library files to the originals
Then cut and paste the iTunes 9 iPod directory over the iTunes 10 directory
Then start iTunes 10 and it will see the phone, the music, and the iPod service will work
Then restore your last back up and wait a few hours

RIP 3GS

Neat, so after you follow those steps your phone will work again. Glad that Apple told me how to do that. Oh wait, I had to spend my night on forums hating life. Either way, the phone has lasted me a good while and over time my time crack became another crack and another. I wasn’t going to put it in a case after it already had a crack — what’s the point? But just a few days ago, I dropped the phone from about 4 feet onto the dirt (the most extreme diamond covered dirt in the world, apparently) and my phone just lost it completely. That’s fine, whatever. I was out in the oil field and people kept trying to call me and I couldn’t slide to unlock it so they just assumed I had electrocuted myself and died somewhere. That or assumed I didn’t have service because I have AT&T, the nation’s fastest worst 3G network.

So what did I do? Well, I debated either switching to Verizon and paying the fee to break up from AT&T so I could get the Droid which everyone I know that has it seems to love it (and the customer service is excellent: my brother dropped his and it broke, so he sent it in and they fixed it for free, and gave him a free loner phone), or I could just get a new iPhone. Admittedly, there’s not much different between the 3GS and the 4, but after using the 4, I find that it’s actually a better device overall. That screen really takes away from the strain on my eyes. Why would I get a new iPhone when I just spent the better part of an hour bitching about them? Well, I realized that Apple owns my life. I have so much stuff saved on this phone that I can’t switch. I don’t care, just give me the new iPhone. I’m screwed for life. All of my music is through iTunes (at least in the last couple of years), so I’m locked to devices that can sync my tracks that are purchased content. (That also means I have to use iPods when I go for runs, sly bastards.) Finally, the iPhone backs up all of your content into some magical file that will restore most of what you have, making it easy to transition to a new iPhone. This isn’t a complaint really because it makes it simple and convenient for people to change their iPhones. However, it also means that I don’t want the hassle of learning a new phone, trying to migrate all my content manually, and then being upset with the lack of all the apps that I’ve accumulated over my iPhone ownership period.

How meta.

I’m stuck. I will always buy the iPhone. I don’t care how much AT&T and Apple piss me off, don’t care about me, and in general, treat me like I’m a clueless fool who isn’t entitled to decent treatment. This is the worst abusive relationship I have ever been in; I wonder what iPhone user needs sex when they get screwed every day?

The Definitive Guide to Warez

Author’s note in 2015: I published this guide ten years ago (wow!), so it is no longer definitive, but it certainly is informative. The internet has changed so much that now everyone knows what Bittorrent is. We live in a time when it’s easier to purchase things than it is to steal them. You can watch movies online, download games through Steam, and have Amazon Prime deliver the hard copy two days later. But, back in 2005, this was one of the few options to get content that wasn’t a huge pain in the ass. To bring this into the present, I’ve included my comments, annotated in bold, from 2015 to show you the evolution of “the scene”.

Just What Is “Warez”?

I. Introduction to the Scene

“The scene” is an all encompassing term meaning “the warez scene”. Warez is the copy and distribution of copyrighted material through digital mediums. If you just wanted a definition, here you go. In the next few minutes of reading, I’ll show you what warez is, where it all started, how it evolved, and where it is today. Then, if you care to keep reading, you’ll find out how to get warez and how to use it.

a. History
Basically, warez just means, well, wares. (Apparently, the ‘z’ was much cooler than the ‘s’.) Warez can be software, videos, or music. You’ve may have participated in a low-level form of warez with commercial music sharing programs like Napster before it was a service that you had to pay for.

Warez all started on something called “BBS” or Bulletin Board System. This system has been widely used since the 1980’s in order to share information. Basically, if you’ve ever been to a forum [message board] on the internet, BBS was the first type of the forum. During the 1980’s, the internet was very slow and computer space was limited. However, as the BBS grew with the rapidly evolving hardware market, people were able to distribute whole disks to other users. The core concept of warez is founded in the idea that if somebody has something, why not let them give you a copy? Since data is something that can be duplicated without quality loss, sharing data to friends and coworkers sounds like a great idea. In reality, many of you will know that it does hurt the software publishers and developers. Groups like the BSA or Business Software Alliance, try to spread the word about the harm that “piracy” is bringing to the technology industry as a whole. Ironically, piracy is a non-profit activity for almost 95% of the population.

In BBS, warez was served in small spanned parts of larger files. In order to make downloading easier and to better make sure that if you do have a corrupt file, you can download just one part again instead of having to download the whole, huge file. The small parts were uploaded by users of a BBS server which had massive storage capabilities at the time in both bandwidth (downloading speed) and hard disk space. In fact, the spanned chunks of larger files are still used today despite the advent of reliable broadband connections; this is most likely because of the strict adherence to the original BBS regulations that have since evolved. First, there were 512 kilobyte pieces of files. Soon, 1.44 megabyte (3.5 inch floppy size), 2.88 megabyte, 15 megabyte, and even special releases in packs of 40 megabytes or more. Just as high-speed internet keeps getting faster, the amounts of data that can be easily transferred just get bigger. (2015: These days you can expect to find releases in just one big file, often as a DVD or Blu-Ray disc image. Clients such as Bittorrent handle the splitting of files on the fly.)

While the BBS system is still around (though more commonly referred to as Newsgroups, mentioned later in part two of the guide), it’s not as widely used as newer alternatives. As the internet continued to advance, new forms of storage became available. The first main type was the FTP, short for File Transfer Protocol. If you download things from the internet, you’ve probably used an FTP server. These FTPs are the side-kick for HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). Basically, in simple terms, the HTTP shows the website and the FTP stores the files. Since users had more hard drive space than ever, sharing really started to become prominent through FTPs by the start of the late-90s. Users can host their own files, set quotas for downloading and uploading files, and establish a large collection of files. Rather than having to sort through posts on the BBS, users were free to get things directly. The other prime branch of piracy was HTTP warez. Starting in the late ’90s as free online companies such as Angelfire and Fortunecity started offering hosting, warez was adapted to be placed on HTTP servers. This means that files were hosted and linked on web sites specially for warez which a user could go to download later. This new form of warez gave to the rise and fall of one of the greatest HTTP-based revolutions of the time: Freegamez4all. The concept was simple: everyone wanted free software, but in the past, it was hard to get. This site gave a simple, direct way to log on and grab the latest and greatest of computer games and applications.

However, the free services which the warez was being hosted off of started to take notice, and, by 1999, all of the major providers were able to scan and delete accounts which were being “abused” in this aspect. Soon, almost all of the files were being put on different servers to lower down the suspicious nature of so many users downloading from a new account. This created a huge hassle for the end user to obtain the files because he or she would have to check several different websites in order to find files. Unfortunately, groups of files would be deleted while others still existed, making the situation even more confusing. Still, even small groups of files on different accounts wasn’t enough, and almost all servers were protected except for emerging foreign companies located in Europe and Asia. Crippled by the low speed of file transfers from Europe, these services were rarely even used (however, South American services were). Yet by the year 2000, HTTP warez was in a significant decline after the hundreds of sites like Freegamez4all shut down due to the lack of ability to find hosts. Also, since the business wasn’t cheap, and it didn’t provide income, about the only way to generate any income at all was by getting more and more people to come to their site and to click through a ton of ads and rating procedures for topsites (sites that rank other sites by their amount of visitors). And since the only companies who wanted to advertise on a warez site were usually seedy (pornographic sites), users were bombarded with things they don’t want. In fact, as I recall, I saw my first popup advertisements on a warez site. Warez has, and always will, be tied to malicious, annoying ways to show users things they don’t want to see.

Among all of this advertisement scheming, Freegamez4all remained free from the ads and grew incredibly popular among anybody who knew about it. And in 2001, Napster was an infant child priding itself on the easy sharing of .MP3 compressed audio files to users around the world. In the case of HTTP piracy, all good things must come to an end. After the total decline of hosting by HTTP, Freegamez4all turned into a private forum for FTP server postings and the occasional legacy HTTP post. By 2003, almost all of the piracy was a very secretive, contained affair on groups of forums. These were largely based on the recently exploited principle of FXP, or File Exchange Protocol; in short, this meant that server to server file transfers were possible, speeding up the sending of files to other FTP sources and greatly improving the spread of warez.

Also around the end of 2003, file sharing software like Kazaa was becoming a household name for getting music and movies in a fast and easy manner. Warez was finally starting to become more accessible to common people. Fearing the massive spread of music piracy, a group of large, over-paid recording executives decided to end it once and for all: the RIAA, or Recording Industry Association of America, was put into service to launch an outright attack on users and the companies that offered the software to the users via an intense series of legal battles. And, while they were able to stop Napster, they were not able to stop other file-sharing services. The RIAA’s campaign was basically just a waste of money which could have been better spent buying modern art work for the poor executives’ extravagant houses or maybe even paying their licensed artists. Today in 2005, their campaign focuses on just causing the user a headache; you may have noticed that if you download a popular song under any of the RIAA’s recording labels, it may just be some really loud white noise or beeping sounds. (2015: They’re still out there and they’re still trying to sue you into oblivion.)

The next big revolution that is just starting now is the Bittorrent revolution. This is a software which creates a fair, equal way of downloading and uploading files to groups of people. Chances are high that you may have already heard of it. This moderately new form of warez is highly accessible and easy to use and therefore is widely known at this point in time. Yet another group of corporate executives fearing loss of consumers in their industry, the MPAA, or Motion Picture Association of America, started an aggressive campaign to stop sites linking to torrent files and even directly targeting the end user. As it stands today, Bittorrent is still alive and thriving as is Kazaa, and the combined campaigns of the MPAA and RIAA have done little to stop the unstoppable. Groups like the EFF or Electronic Frontier Foundation, are fighting for our basic rights to share information across the internet and are currently opposing the harsh attacks that both the RIAA and MPAA are creating. Ironically, the attacks on Kazaa have forced many users to switch to Bittorrent where they must download a full album instead of one song at a time (2015: Modern clients let you choose any of the files you want; thanks technology!). On a side note, other services that I’ll be mentioning later such as WASTE (encrypted file sharing developed by Nullsoft, the makers of WinAMP), are still alive and thriving as well. (2015: I haven’t heard a peep from this project or anything similar in years, sadly.)

Though, behind the curtain, the “scene” is losing its character. Groups of pirates are competing with each other for software releases; they can lie about releases and even steal them to try to win support. I suppose all is fair in love and war, but this type of behavior is really killing off what I remember as a kid. Some say that in 1996 or 1997 it was dying, but I can honestly say it wasn’t until 1999 or 2000 that things headed downward. Warez is just way too easy to obtain and the close-knit societies are falling apart because of this. Not only this, increased legal pressures have made the big talents in the industry go into hiding — or into jail. Personally, I just feel that it is natural evolution, but others have different views on the subject. It can best be summed up in NFO for the release of “Elite Warriors Vietnam” by the group Elegance:

Wake the hell up. Does the scene need a new alarm clock? Looks like it’s running low on batteries. Short circuit. Somewhere between the electrical outlet and the gears churning time inside, something is dead wrong. We’ve been trying to place our fingers on the source of the scene’s problems for months. Years. What’s to blame, or who? Why does it seem that the new generation of sceners has the wrong fundamentals? The wrong virtues, goals, integrity? Where are the role models for these guys? Nowhere to be found, because the few sceners that built the frame and structure of our beloved hobby, the benchmark, the ones that set the standards of it all, have had their sweat turn into tears. Before the true oldschool’s very eyes, the scene has degraded into nothingness. There’s no substance.

A Canadian Warrant
Above: A Canadian Warrant

Currently in 2005, some major developments are being made. As to be expected, the FBI launched a large attack against copy protection specialists (known as crackers). While the reports are still debated, over 15 people went to jail in the US and Canada alone; in Germany and the rest of Europe, almost 30 people were picked up. Here is the official FBI press release. However, I have included some of the messages left in release NFO’s and related files:

This is by far the hardest nfo to write to date 1999-2005. PHXiSO has been here like our best friend, and addiction for far to many of these FBI bullshit shakedowns. For fucks sake as if George Lucas, or Autodesk needs more money? Get fucked you know yer doing this so they pad your pockets you fucken cunts! ANYWAY we have seen to many good groups come and go. And for us
its time to pull the plug. To the haters Fuck you. To the people who have helped us We have much love and respect for you.

A simple goodbye, and be safe from your friends at PHXiSO..

Now on a personal note to my BROTHERS in PHX, All I can personally say is thank you, and I hope you had as much fun as I did. There was NEVER, and will NEVER be a better group of people to work with. You will be in my thoughts and reflections. Just remember the times and dun forget we will meet again!

Another excerpt:

These groups were attacked in the recent raids and/or busts. I recently found out that POT [a moderately sized release group] is done. Groups are taking off left and right, and its up to us smaller groups to step up to the plate and try and compensate for the loss of the groups. Not all the attacked groups are taking off, but some are. Not that POT is a huge loss to the scene but even so we need to keep the scene running despite the raids that occurred.

As you can see, the sense of community really is still alive, even if the FBI tries to kill it.

b. The Warez Stork
Warez just doesn’t appear out of nowhere. As I originally stated, warez started as friends sharing copies of their favorite game across BBS systems. However, it didn’t take long for the community to evolve. Groups came about which did three things:
1.) Obtained the software (at least by its retail release date)
2.) Packaged the software (explained in detail below)
3.) Distributed the software (usually to a private FTP called a “distro” or a “pub” [to note, “pub” stands for “public” but they rarely are public these days])
Make no mistake, warez is a highly organized syndicate. It takes a lot of manpower to do what they do. Some of the more prominent groups are/have been Razor911, Class, Myth, Deviance, Fairlight, and Reloaded.

Obtaining the software is no easy deed. It takes planning, connections, and maybe a little bit of under-the-table work. I’ll let you figure this much out. When it comes to packaging the software, there are different forms of warez:
1.) Improper releases (these are made by just some guys and don’t conform to standards — they are often considered “nuked” which means they are unsuitable for propagation)
2.) Legacy releases (these are releases that are not in ISO [CD or DVD image] format; such as rips of games which leave out movies and soundtracks to decrease release size)
3.) ISO releases (CD or DVD image releases of games, applications, DVD movies and music, or music CDs with their content unaltered)
4.) DVD-Rip releases (different from legacy releases because of their “new” format)
5.) Non-ISO releases (while conforming to the standards, these are not in ISO format because they are small enough to be on their own (such as repacked legacy releases and application releases under 150 meg)
6.) ISO Movie releases (SVCD [super video cd, mpeg2] and VCD images of a video, burnable to CD and playable on a DVD player)
7.) Compressed Movie releases (AVI [movie format] files that cannot be played on a DVD player, and are compressed to either one or two CD sized volumes without large quality loss as in SVCD and VCD images due to compression by third party codecs, explained further in the rest of the guide.) (2015: These days compression codecs have become amazing and size restraints are no longer a problem. It’s standard to see 1080p Blu-Ray rips with 5.1 DTS audio.(
8.) Compressed Music releases (.MP3 or the occasional .OGG format of a release; usually under 100 Meg and compressed at 128kbps or 192kbps)

Myth's Porsche 2000 Instailler
ABOVE: Myth’s Installer for Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed

Also as mentioned, these releases are subject to certain standards. They must be a certain size, use a certain format, and be compressed correctly. Failure to do so will label important releases as “Nuked”, which means they are tagged as being bad releases not to be used by anyone. Since the groups compete with each other, adherence to the standards is a very important part of maintaining integrity of their work.

Another important aspect of warez is the creativity involved with creating custom installers for games. While this is largely non-existent with modern ISO releases, Ripped legacy releases used these custom installers quite frequently. Above is an example from Myth’s release of Electronic Art’s Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed.

Each installer was custom made by a skilled programmer and artist. Not only do these include original music, but these installers also have code built in to display a text file called an “NFO” (short for info). These aspects are another touch of artistic flare to a legacy release as well as a key component to being able to use the software you downloaded. NFO files contain key information about the release, how to use it, and information about possible security protection on the CD.

Legacy installers such as this one use a set of spanned 2.88 megabyte files using .ACE compression, similar to the very common WinZIP. Accordingly, the .ACE file format is made by WinACE; this format is highly more compressed than that of WinZIP, and in the year 2000, was the best alternative for compressing files into sets of small files. To be noted are the main forms of compression used in releases. (In Unix-based releases, TAR.GZ or GZIP is used.)

1. PKZIP (1994 – 1997)
2. WinZIP (1997 – 1999)
3. WinACE (1999 – 2002)
4. WinRAR (2003 – Present)

Each type of compression was more and more effective at compressing the large amounts of data of a release in a faster amount of time. In legacy releases, after uncompressing and installing a release, you would also have to run a Setup.BAT (instruction set file), which would launch UHARC, an incredibly compressed set of files that takes a very long time to uncompress, but was better than any other commercial compression available at that time (or even this time, for that matter).

Myth's Porsche 2000 NFO
ABOVE: The artistic header for Myth’s game releases

As I said, the NFO is a very stylish, interesting piece of art work used with ASCII/ANSI based editors. In short, you’ll actually need a text reader that will support ASCII/ANSI to view an NFO file like DAMN NFO. While you can use notepad to open these, you just won’t see what you were meant to see (and it’s often quite confusing to locate basic information).

“We and a certain other group have been in talks over new rules for a long time now. We felt it was time to come to a decision and there could be no better way to introduce new rules than doing it with the best racing game of the year, NFS Porsche 2000 !”

This introduction is then followed by basic game notes and stating the ripped parts:
“Ripped: movies, music and unnecessary chronical slides.”

The install notes follow:
“Unzip and unace either manually or with our installer. Run SETUP.BAT to unpack the gfx files and run Setupreg.exe to set up your registry. Run the 3DSetup\3DSetup.exe to select your gfx card. You can start the game then with Porsche.exe. NFS5 has problems with some types of drivers for graphics cards, we suggest you try a few out and complain to EA. TNT2/GeForce drivers 3.78 for example seem to be problematic, so you should reinstall the 3.68 drivers.”

As you can see, the NFO file is a core piece of information that can’t be skipped if you actually plan on using the software you just downloaded. Specifically in this release, the modern day ripping regulations were decided upon in a very lengthy list detailing ALL of the standards that are still used today. Also notice if you don’t know what type of file you are getting from the name of the file, you can just open the NFO file to see detailed information about the file format, the number of compressed files in the set, the date of release, the groups who contributed to it, the CD protection that the game uses, and the genre of the actual game. There are a lot more facts inside the actual content of the NFO, so I suggest you check out all of the things listed, included news from the release group and other group-specific information. Also, if you get lucky, a group will attack another group about their quality of release or make a huge news brief about a current group event. Because of this, NFO’s cannot be disregarded. If you ever need to find a specific NFO, I suggest you look at iSONEWS, a site which records all of the recent releases and their NFO’s.

c. Will I Get Caught
I think everybody asks this question. The answer: maybe. First off, you shouldn’t be downloading software illegally anyway; this should be for backup purposes. But, let me clear up a few things: The RIAA and the MPAA have no affiliation with the government of your country.

Right. I know people will still think that regardless. The RIAA and MPAA are corporate entities trying to protect their investments. Hell, they are shady guys themselves. The RIAA was once quoted as saying they are trying to release a virus that will disable a user’s computer if he opens a copyrighted MP3 or WMA (Windows Media Audio) file. Technically, that’s illegal too. (Recently, Sony-BMG released a rootkit device on a CD that would potentially allow hackers to infiltrate users’ PCs.) So, I guess everybody is skirting around the law these days.

Time Warner's Notice
ABOVE: Time Warner’s Warning Notice

In general, no, you’re not going to get caught. I’d reckon it to shoplifting: you could get caught, but it depends on how big of a coat you’re wearing, how big of the item you’re stealing, how skilled you are, and chance. Governments go for the source, as in the release groups. They don’t focus on little peons downloading things. That said, they have and still do arrange special FTP’s to snare hapless victims downloading things. Federally in the US, downloading a copyrighted movie is a 250,000 USD fine with up to five years in prison. However, they go after people reselling media, not the kind downloaded for personal use.

The RIAA and MPAA pose one of the bigger threats: they often track your computer’s IP number (Internet Protocol [internet address]) and then report it to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). In this case, your ISP will temporarily disable your account and you’ll have to make an embarrassing call to the technical support to listen to why your service was cut. Most ISP’s run on a “three strike” form of policy. But, I’d stay low if you actually do get a mark. The MPAA and RIAA sometimes choose to randomly summon people to court in a lawsuit in which their goal is scaring you to settling out of court. Basically, you may settle for around 2,000 to 7,000 USD; in turn, this money helps fund the companies to sue other people. Cruel cycle, no?

Another fun warning you’ll get is in the mail as shown from a 2001 warning letter. Honestly, you should be smart enough to make your own decisions. Theft is theft.

d. My Background
I started in “the scene” when I was very little because I had internet access, a desire to learn, and limited ability to get physical items due to my location. I helped write NFOs and test installers for a group called CLASS, and from there, I started my own server in the early 2000s. At some point in time, I had three 160GB hard drives completed full (a feat in those days.)

There was much more to this guide, namely finding it, downloading it, and installing it, but this part was probably somewhat illegal and it is completely out of date. None of the sites referenced here works. In fact, these days all you need to do is get Bittorrent and search Google for “Whatever torrent” and you’re set.

29 July 2004

I’ll be turning 16 on July 31. I already bought my present, a computer upgrade, in June before memory went up in price. I think the only thing I really want is a prints account, but I dunno, no big deal I guess. I will officially be driving my 1977 Porsche 924 Martini Edition without parents. Although, I still blow at driving. I should probably wait a bit.

30 July 2003

This graphics card made me really popular, cool, and successful in life.

I will be celebrating my birthday tommorrow, July 31st. I have purchased a GeForce FX 5900 Ultra already so my present is no surprise. I don’t like surprises — but, I do like rack of lamb, which I will be eating tommorrow for my birthday dinner. Mmmm, I love baby animals’ ribs grilled to perfection on my plate.

12 April 2003

Hey folks. My hard drive just EXPLODED! Now, I have to buy a new one… Man, it was only a year old… I was warned though

But, I lost my 100 plus or so vector projects, and all my ideas and everything that was who I am. All of that in a piece of metal! Amazing, eh? I’ll just buy a 120 or 160 gig… I already have one 160 and now a dead 80… I dunno what to do now… I should have listened to a friend. He said, “Dude, that IBM deskstar is gonna die in a year or less.” And I was like, “no!” and NOW?!! Arrgh…. I’m only buying quality maxtor now… only maxtor… the best brand of harddrive IN THE WORLD.

Oh, I’m ranting… either way, down with computers and technology, it always mucks up. I’m typing from an old brick once known as a “TOP OF THE LINE HP W/ 733 MHZ Processor”. This blows… crappy monitor… no gaming… no anything… Ahhh, I think I may give up on art and stuff for a while and just say 😦 to computers. Hell, I lost EVERYTHING. I didn’t think it meant that much to me, but my life and my soul are being killed.. my life … my soul… my metal box with a spinning disk… all gone.

May be able to get some back… Of course like something now rattles in the harddrive… So seriously doubt it. Hey, it’s kinda funny… but just not very funny. Good god, 800×600 res sucks  .

So anybody care to listen to one thing and one thing only? IBM DESKSTARS BLOW. It should be called IBM DEATHSTAR

Worst harddrive I’ve ever seen. I’m gonna keep it in the PC and just sector off the bad parts one day… But I’m pretty lazy… may just trash it. Hmm, well if only my 160 gig was awesome and wasn’t full of illegal warez and things of that sort… and if only it would SHOW UP IN THE WINDOWS HARD DRIVE MENU! Ahh…