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Numbers stations are radio stations dedicated to transmitting sequences of seemingly random and meaningless numbers or letters over the air. Not much is known about them, but it is generally agreed that these are encrypted one-way transmissions, designed to deliver a specific, time-sensitive message to one (and only one) person. However, this has never been confirmed or verified, as far as I know. They’ve been around for decades, dating back to the height of the Cold War, and the mind doesn’t have to stretch far to imagine where this might be used.

Usually a synthesized male or female voice gives out numbers repeatedly, though the stations don’t just transmit numbers and letters. Some intersperse music, tones, or singing, and naturally there are stations in various languages, adding to the mystique. If you’ve ever come across any of these over-the-air, I think you’ll agree they can sound spooky and downright creepy. Especially at night.

Here are a few strange ones, via the Internet Archive:

HTML5 and In-Browser Video

There is plenty of discussion and debate on the in-development and forthcoming (but partially already here) HTML5 standard. It’s much more than native video support, but a lot of the focus is on video codecs, Flash (or the necessity of it), and as with any standard update, the support from various tools, in this case web browsers.

There are many codecs available, with proponents, advantages, and disadvantages of each. I am no expert on codecs at all, but some quick research led me to H.264 and Theora.  H.264 is an ITU codec from the Video Coding Experts Group (remember the Joint Photographic Experts of JPEG?).  Theora was derived from a proprietary-but-then-freed codec and now developed by the Xiph.Org Foundation.

Of practical concern is the support for these codecs in desktop and mobile browsers.  H.264 is supported by Chrome, Safari, and IE9.  Theora is supported by Firefox and Chrome.  The iPhone supports H.264 (and I assume the iPad does the same) and Android also supports it.

Thus, here is a simple test.  Inserted below are both versions of one video in H.264 and Theora.  Your browser mileage will vary, of course.  I’ve made no attempt to add graceful degradation text for un-supported browsers. The Flash-based playback of the video is on Flickr. By the way, the pixelation and block (compression?) elements in the beginning frames are an artifact of the video itself, not the playback in the browser. I think I need a better transcoder to get from the iPhone video onto the desktop.