Embedded content sucks and GoogleWhacker

Tips and tricks for getting around plugins and HTML madness

I hate plugins. The worst thing ever is when you’re browing to a site then your computer grinds to a halt for 20 seconds while loading Java just so a 20 by 200 pixel scrolling text bar can display on the page, showing you useless content that you didn’t really need.

But what pisses me off even more are the lengths that some people go to trying to hide their embedded media from you. You go to Apple’s Quicktime site to view the newest movie trailers and you really want to save it to your hard drive, but you can’t. Or you watch a really cool flash cartoon but you can’t send the link to your friends because it opened in some popup window and took away the address bar.

Embedded content sucks. I can save web pages but I can’t save that Windows media clip of O.J. in the white Bronco speeding down the highway because someone else doesn’t want me to. My greatest Internet fear is that the walls of content protection will get too high, forbidding users from even copying text off of web pages.

Until then, I offer you the following tips I use to get around embedded content madness. Joe got me thinking about this with his complaints about how Google may be tracking your search habits. Below you’ll find my Google hack and much more.

The software that makes all of this possible

Before you try any of the following, download and install Mozilla Firefox. It’s a fantastic browser and makes all of the following possible. Once you install Firefox, you’ll probably want to change some of the popup settings too. I set my blocker to stop all popups, then add exceptions for the sites that I want to allow popups. You’ll see a little window-shaped icon with an X through it indicating that Firefox has blocked a popup on your current site. Click that box and you can change the site’s popup settings.

Let’s start blocking!

The main tool of my embeddedd-content-breaking is Adblock, a Firefox extension that will block any content you want to block. Install it by going to the website and following the instructions. You’ll also want to download a handy text file like this to import into Adblock as your initial filter list.

In a browser window, type control-shift-p to open the Adblock options window. Click “Adblock Options” near the top right and make sure “Obj-tags” has a check next to it. This will cause all embedded objects like Flash, Windows Media, Quicktime, Real Player, and anything else to have a handy little “Adblock” tag on them. This tab is the key.

Now go to your favorite web site that uses embedded content, like Apple Movie Trailers, and try to view some embedded content. Click the “Adblock” tab on the movie and a window will pop up. Copy this link (control-c), paste it into your browser’s address bar. and hit enter. You’ve now got a direct link to the content and you didn’t have to sift through any HTML code to get it. Now you can save the content by hitting Control-S or going to the file menu and choosing “Save.” Wait a bit and it will be on your hard drive, free of any embedded protection for your consuming freedom.

But that won’t always work

Sometimes you’ll save a Quicktime, Real Player, or Windows Media link and get a 1kb file. Welcome to the next level. People use these kinds of files to redirect your media player to the real content — a further layer of protection to stop you from saving it to your hard drive. Don’t worry though; you can still get the real movies, but it will take a little more effort.

Open the downloaded 1kb file in a text editor. A simple way to do this is rename it with a .txt extension. In that text file (somewhere, you may have to search a bit), you’ll find one of three things…

  1. An http:// url. This one is easy. Copy the URL, paste it back into your browser’s address bar, and keep repeating this process (open as a text file, find the link, paste in address bar) until you get the full movie.
  2. An rtsp:// url. This is easy too, but you’ll have to download some software to do it. I use Net Transport for rtsp links, but with some searching, you can find a free program that will save rtsp streams to your hard drive.
  3. A filename (ending in .mov, .rm, .asf, .wmv, or something like that — it’s easy to find the ‘.’ with a search function). Copy the file name and go to the browser window where you last copied a URL to the address bar. Remove everything after the last ‘/’ and paste in the file name you copied from the text file. Hit enter, save, and enjoy.

There ya go. Embedded content breaking 101. And don’t worry — it’s all legal. There’s no DMCA protection for this because no ‘technical protection measures’ are used; you only read the text of some file on your computer.

iFilm sucks too

The biggest whore of them all in the embedded content world is iFilm. They pull every stop they can to prevent you from getting their content links — popups, redirects, javascript. Have no fear, I’ve got your solution. This iFilm bookmarklet will let you skip all that BS. Save that link as a bookmark. Then go to the iFilm page where it lets you select the format and resolution of the movie (the first page after the full-screen advertisement) and click that saved bookmark. Booyah – the film opens in a new window for your instant, uncluttered, save-able consumption. FYI, the link is for the medium quality Quicktime link. You can probably fiddle with it to get other formats, but it works for me, and I don’t feel like going through their hellish HTML and javascript again.

Greasemonkey Google whacking

As linked to earlier, Joe complained about Google stealthily adding a redirect to google.com in some search results. I call this “evil,” as opposed to their motto “do no evil.” Adding those redirects alone isn’t evil; adding those redirects and not telling users about them is. (Extra evil points to Google because the redirects only show when you click down on the link, not when you simply put the mouse over the link.) I should add that these redirections apparently don’t show in everyone’s results — just some people and for a short time, a kind of sampling.

Enter Greasemonkey. Greasemonkey is an extension for Firefox that lets you do pretty much anything you want on any web pages you want if you know Javascript. Want to make any http:// style text appear as a link even if there is no link in the HTML? Greasemonkey can do that. Want to prevent sites from opening links in a new window? Greasemonkey can do that.

Want to nip Google’s search result redirection in the bud? Greasemonkey can do that too. I whipped up this little script to do exactly that, removing all ‘onmousedown’ events from google.com pages. Now the warning: I don’t know if this will have any bad side effects, so use with caution. Having said that, you can get the GoogleWhacker (after installing Greasemonkey) by right-clicking on this link and selecting “Install User Script.” Booyah, Google is prevented from knowing what search results you used. This will only stop them from knowing which individual search results you clicked, not how many search result pages you looked through or what your search terms were. I guess a little privacy is better than none.

That’s all the tips I have for now. More as I stumble upon them…