Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some Google Tools & Services and Other Annoyances

You know how it is… the small annoyances are the ones that bother us the most, especially if you have to deal with the same thing all the time on an almost daily basis. I am going to show you a few of those annoyances that drive me nuts at the moment.

List of Annoyances Covered by this Post

  • Annoyance #1 – Google YouTube Tag Subscriptions
  • Annoyance #2 – Google YouTube Comments Notification
  • Annoyance #3 – Google YouTube Friend Invites Processing
  • Annoyance #4 – Google Chrome Pop-Up Blocker
  • Annoyance #5 - 4CC Codec Value Case Sensitivity by VirtualDubMod

If you know me, then you know that I usually not simply complain about something, but also provide suggestions and recommendations for solutions to the problem. Maybe you had one or the other issue as well. In that case it would show you that you are not the only person with this issue. If you don’t, then you know about them now. I do this public so maybe we are lucky that somebody reads this, who is actually in the position to do something about one or more of the problems illustrated or somebody reads this who knows somebody who SHOULD read it, because that other person is one of the people who could solve one or more of those problems.

All but one are related to Google products or services and all but one of those related to Google are about their video sharing site YouTube, which I use pretty much daily … rather extensively (having four different accounts there myself, go figure).

Annoyance #1 – Google YouTube Tag Subscriptions

Let me start light with something that I only encountered recently. I never had that issue in the past that it would have been an annoyance, but as you see, things can change over time.

You have the ability in YouTube to subscribe to video updates of other YouTube accounts/channels (I have 4 of those, CirqueDuSoleilGuru would be the most popular one I guess, SACReleases is the second most popular and the remaining two are TurnbeutelvergesserB and CumbrowskiCom) . You also have the ability to subscribe to a certain keyword phrase or word, to get notified, if somebody uploads a video to the site and uses this phrase or word to tag the video. This can be a very effective way to discover video content about things you are interested in and may be not would have found out about yourself otherwise… by coincidence maybe, if you are  lucky.

It works well, as long as the keyword or phrase is unique and highly descriptive of what you are looking for. If the phrase is ambiguous to begin with, it’s already a problem from the get go, but it also happens that previously unique keywords get “poisoned”. Such poisoning happened to the phrase “Circus” to which I subscribed to.

Everything was alright until Britney Spears decided that she had to release a new single with the title “Circus”. Guess what kind of videos I get now for the term “Circus”… right.., Britney Spears videos “ohne Ende”, but that’s not what I am caring about. I am interested in the ancient performing arts involving breathtaking acrobatics and maybe some mindboggling magic and/or amusing clowns.

It would be nice, if I could at least remove the unwanted videos rather quickly. There is no option today. In order to get rid of them in my Subscription/Alert “Inbox” I have to start watching each video first.. one by one. That is really annoying.  In addition to a way to remove videos that I can identify as “not interested in” without watching quickly from the video listing, would it be helpful to be able to configure negative keywords or stop words and/or using advanced search query parameters like AND & OR & NOT to filter results and/or exclude known ambiguous versions of the same keyword phrase,


Annoyance #2 – Google YouTube Comments Notification

Getting a notification about any comment posted to any of your uploaded videos is great, especially if you open up and let people comment and publish those comments without moderating them first (YouTube’s Spam detection routines are actually doing a great job).

Notifications are not only available at your YouTube account, but you also can enable email notification to your primary email address as well.

The problem with this notifications is that you cannot really do much with them as you would probably want to in the one or other case. You can select the notifications and delete them from your inbox (which does not do anything to the actual comment itself). The link to “see all comments” takes you to the same page where the comment that you are looking at can actually be found, if you are lucky. It won’t take you to the comment though and often to a page where this particular comment can nowhere be found. Getting to the actual comment for options usually involves the use of the on-page keyword search (CTRL-F) and clicking of one or more links to get to the page with the comment at all.

There you will finally find all the things that you might want to do with the comment, such as reply to it, mark as spam, remove it all together and maybe even block the whole user, if he frequently posts comments that you manually delete for some reason time and again.

Would it be so hard to make those things already available from the notification message in your inbox? Is it? C’mon, you must be kidding me! :)


Annoyance #3 – Google YouTube Friend Invites Processing

Especially one of my YouTube accounts gets friend invites all the time. Hey, who doesn’t want to be popular and befriended by everybody, right? Well, yeah, but only if that other person really means it and not just tries to befriend you for pure selfish reasons (aka Spam and Attention Whoring).

It takes more time than it should to find out what the real intentions of that other user are, because you don’t have much information about any person who decides to click the “Add to Friends” button on your channel home page. Information that would help with pre-processing the majority of the requests right from the friend invites list screen.

Is the other user a subscriber to your channel? If he is, chances are much better that this person actually cares about what I am doing on YouTube. Did the person add any of my videos to his favorites or any other playlist?

Did the user ever comment on any of my videos, send a video response or personal message? Just a simple YES/NO would be enough. Counts would be even better, but I don’t want to get too demanding here.

Also helpful is the info how many friends that user already has and where he is from. Yes, you can get those two information if you click on the name and visit his channel homepage, but that takes time too and if you do that and press the back button, you won’t get back were you left off, not even to the same section, which makes things twice as bad and even more time consuming.

In my example below you can see how it could look like, if those suggestions would be implemented. Guess which friend request I’d ignore right from that screen without even checking further? Right, the fourth one. Not a subscriber, never fav’ed or bookmarked any of my stuff, never posted a comment or contacted me, but has more friends than I know real people. That user does not care about me and only wants to promote himself. He clicked on “Add as Friend” to as many people he could, maybe even in an automated fashion via a spam tool or script.


Enough of YouTube. There is certainly more than those things that I pointed out, but those are the things that I hate to deal with on a nearly day to day basis. It’s getting old and not necessary really.

Annoyance #4 – Google Chrome Pop-Up Blocker

It is already sad enough that tools like AI Roboform and others do not (cannot?) support the somewhat new Google Chrome web browser. It’s fast, I can attest to that. Yeah, faster than IE (dough) and also faster than FireFox (especially of fully loaded with plug-ins). Google added some tools and features themselves to the browser, such as the Pop-Up blocker, but the bad thing is that this feature fell victim to the wide spread Google syndrome of “smart” (or not) automation with little to no ways for humans to interfere and control the behavior of the feature.

Google’s engineers are often too self-confident that they are able to create a model or algorithm that is capable of predicting the users intentions, needs and goals in every case and at every time, under any possible real life condition and situation. I don’t want to downplay the intelligence of any Google engineer or something like that, but sorry, they should have learned by now that this is simply impossible to do. You can make a good guess and be right most of the time, but you will never be able to get it 100% right every single time.

If you combine this with the disability to manually overwrite unwanted and miss-guessed behavior, you got yourself a classic example of an annoyance on your hands. If you had to use a site that generates legitimate pop-ups that are needed to use that web site properly and each and every one of those pop-ups gets blocked by the browser, requiring additional steps to get to the pop-up window and worse, have close to that action also the option to block all pop-ups entirely and irreversible without the ability to manually get it back, than you will understand what I am so annoyed about.

I hope that my little illustration below shows what I am mean by that. I also added my suggestions to solve those problems to that illustration as well. The simple and short answer is: WHITE LIST option please! Thanks.


Annoyance #5 - 4CC Codec Value Case Sensitivity by VirtualDubMod

Update: I found a solution for this annoyance, but I am not really happy about it. Anyway, the problem goes away, if you install FFDSHOW, an open source video decoding/codecs/filters  package/utility(ies). You can download the latest version of FFDSHOW at I wish I would understand what FFDSHOW does to make it work to be able to fix this problem without the need to install the whole FFDSHOW package. :( 

Okay, Google is now of the hook for the time being. Others create annoyances as well. It’s not an exclusive right that Google has bunked for their products and services. VirtualDub is a nice little (and entirely free) tool for the manipulation and conversation of video files. It has many filters and plug-ins to be able to read various video source formats and to enhance or manipulate those videos. At the end you always get out an AVI file, but you have can have a wide variety of AUDIO and VIDEO encoder options that you can use. AVI is only a very broad and widely supported container, unlike some other video formats, such as Adobe Flash (FLV) or Apple Quick Time (MOV) that are limited in which video and/or audio encoding algorithm can be used.

A popular video codec that I prefer to use for my AVI files is XVID, which is a freeware Mpeg-4 based video codec, like the popular commercial codec Div/X, but IMO better (compression). The codec that was used for the audio and video in an AVI file is noted in the header section of the file that other tools, such as video players like Windows Media Player are able to open that video file and to use the proper decoders to render the video and audio data on to your screen. I use more than one video converter in addition to VirtualDub, such as MP4Converter by 4Media for most video sources and Moyea FLV Converter for Flash Video (FLV) to AVI conversions only. I wrote a special post about the subject of video tools and converters last year, if you are interested in this subject and would like to learn more about it.

Those converters are capable of generating AVI files using the XVID video codec. For whatever reason, those tools write the name (4CC Code) of the codec in lower-case letters into the AVI file header.

For another unknown reason, VirtualDub is case-sensitive when it comes to codec settings in the video file, although “xvid”, “XVID” or “XVid” or “Xvid” always mean the same thing… The 4CC specifications are not case-sensitive. “xvid” and “XVID” therefore cannot be two different video codec variations that could be meant.

VirtualDub does not care. If the codec name in the AVI is “xvid” instead of “XVID”, VirtualDub plays stupid and claims that it does not support the used codec. BS. Of course it does. If I use another free tool to manually change/set the 4CC codec name in the AVI header and change “xvid” to “XVID”, VirtualDub reads and processes that video file without any problems. The video data themselves remained unchanged, only the info in the header was changed. This is a pain in the butt, especially if I want to do batch processing, because I have not found a tool yet that lets me change the 4CC value in an AVI file in a batch process, e.g. via command line options or something like that. I also don’t know how to get the other tools to write XVID in upper-case instead of lower-case into the AVI file headers that they produce.

I did manage somehow on my previous system (before I re-installed everything from scratch) to convince VirtualDub that it can read XVID and also xvid files to then generate new AVI files with XVID used in the header.

I cannot remember how I did that. I tried a number of things with no success so far. If you happen to know the answer to this, please let me know in the comments below. I’d really appreciate it. Until then, why this BS to begin with? Is it so hard for the folks from the VirtualDub open source project to make the tool non-case sensitive when it comes to the 4CC value in the headers of AVI video files? Gee!


Enough Annoyances! I don’t think that anybody in his right mind would have read this whole post, but as I said at the beginning of this post, I felt like having to do this, in the secret hope that somebody will read it, who is in the position to remedy one or more of the mentioned annoyances.

If you had similar or the same problems I had, feel free to tell me and anybody else who reads this post about it. You and me are not alone. Trust me on this one!


Carsten aka Roy/SAC

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