19 May 2014 @ 5:41 AM 

Recently I got a new MP3 Player, a Sony Walkman NWZ-385. Most people have effectively replaced the MP3 Player with a Smartphone, since smartphones also have MP3 playback capabilities. I don’t have a smartphone (perhaps I will get one in the future. I was replacing my older NWZ-S616F MP3 Player, which has started to have problems, for example the volume rocker switch broke off, the volume up microswitch within snapped off (meaning I have to manually short the connection to raise the volume), the entire case has split and now has a piece of adhesive tape holding the front to the back, etc. The device works pretty much fine, though it does have problems where it actually crashes which requires a hard reset and is not exactly convenient when using the Player. At any rate, I replaced it, and while I was at it I got one four times the size, as well.

As my old one had given me trouble before, I am leery of adding or removing music from it. So it had been a while since I had transferred music; additionally, I had a much larger music library and it would be interesting that I would have a much larger device and thus less decisions to be made.

Unfortunately I found that the device does not support the .flac file format; and almost all of my music is in the .flac format. I could use Audacity or other audio tools to convert the format, but I wanted to convert a huge number of files- In the interest of disclosure I had all of Weird Al’s Albums in .flac format- quite a number of files. And I also had a few other artists with a large number of files that I converted to .flac format (or, rather, probably downloaded in .flac format originally). For some of them I could easily just re-download the file in the appropriate format. For example, I simply re-downloaded the recently released History Repeating: Red Album by The Megas in order to get the .MP3 Files to transfer to my MP3 Player. But the rest of them? Even if I could re-download them, that is a huge amount of data. Additionally, the .flac files are lossless, so I could re-encode to MP3 without many problems.

What better way to solve this problem than with a Program? I cannot think of any! And it makes an excellent code sample to discuss here on my Blog- the best of both worlds!

Audio and .NET

Audio and Audio Playback is somewhat lacking from .NET. There is some basic support for .WAV files, but there is no rich support for playback of compressed formats such as .ogg or .mp3. This is not really an oversight but rather one of those things you simply need an add-on library for. The question becomes- which Add-on library.

For me, there is no question about which Library I should use for this purpose- the only one I have any experience with and a good idea that this is possible. BASS.NET. Could I use it to convert FLAC to MP3? I believe so. I’d only used it for .ogg files so far but it is a versatile library.

What is BASS.NET?

BASS.NET is a .NET Library that wraps BASS itself, which is a cross-platform, multi-language Audio Library. It is not freeware, but rather a sort of ‘shareware’; it is free for personal use and for free projects, but requires licensing for commercial or corporate implementations.

Setting it up is fairly easy, though it requires a few things. First, we need of course BASS.NET itself. BASS.NET requires BASS itself in order to run. Since we will be encoding, we’ll need bassenc.dll, which is available on the un4seen page. Since we want to decode FLAC files (in this instance) we need to bassflac.dll file from there as well. And since we want to encode to MP3 files, we’ll need to find and download an applicable LAME binary (or, of course, build it ourselves). I downloaded a LAME Binary from here myself.

Setting up the project was a case of adding these libraries to the project and setting them to Copy to the output folder. I also changed the build configuration of the project to build an x86 program, rather than Any CPU. On my x64 CPU this would result in an x64 binary which will cause problems when it tries to load the x86 binaries. BASeBlock- my previous game which used BASS.NET for sound- implemented a method that allowed it to load the proper version of BASS and dependent libraries based on what it was running on, but that is not entirely trivial and is out of the scope of what I wanted to do here anyway. Also, I think I might have already written about it, though I’m not sure. (I’ll have to check that, if not, I will definitely make a post on it). With the project setup, And the References added, I could finally get to work writing the program. Thankfully, BASS and the encoding Libraries and in particular BASS.NET make this almost trivial. I thought it was going to be far more difficult than it ended up being.

You can find the full project here. Basically it accepts two folders on the command line. It will convert all .FLAC files in the Source Folder to .MP3 Files in the target folder, than it will recursively call itself on all subfolders that it finds. It then returns a ReencodeResults class instance holding information that is used for the display of information when the program completes. A lot of the code here could be customized and it could certainly be moulded into a Windows Forms Application; however as it is it serves the purpose I need it for. I haven’t made a new program available in some time though so this could be a reasonably simple program to fill that need, while also being quite useful.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 19 May 2014 @ 05:42 AM

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Categories: .NET, C/C++, Programming
 20 Jul 2012 @ 9:13 PM 

Gamers are an enterprisey bunch. You don’t give them enough X, so they go prodding around your game’s memory to try to give themselves more. Programs that have this purpose are called “Cheat engines”. Usually, how they work is a multi-step process.

  1. The obvious first step is for the cheater to decide what they want. Lives? More Gold? Maybe they want to up their players attack power?
  2. This is usually fairly easy, and you can usually tell the data type just by the amount of screen space reserved for a value. Though sometimes you just have to guess. Many cheat engines can search for values regardless of the actual data type, too.
  3. Now, the cheater looks for every value in the game’s memory that has the current value of the item they want to ‘hack’. The results will usually be collosal.
  4. In order to revise the search parameters, the gamer/cheater will now “change” that value somehow; by perhaps losing a life or getting a new one, getting more score, using a “attack upgrade” pill, or what-have-you. Armed with the new value, they can now tell the cheat engine program to show them all the values that were the old value before that have now taken on the new value. If they are lucky, this will be only one entry, and they can use the cheat engine and change it, and BAM they have the new value they hacked in.

The typical, and perhaps smartest way, to deal with this problem is to ignore it. A well architected game system will have any multiplayer values centralized on a server which means that a cheat engine will only mess around with a client of the game, and there are ways of checking for those hacked clients as well, (because they can give players a minor advantage). However it bears an interesting topic of discussion- how do you prevent this?

With some considerations, I have determined a method to do this- each time a value is assigned, generate a new random value, store that, and then only store a version of the original value that was encrypted. The idea being that the existence of the “actual” value- the value the cheater would be able to identify- is transient and only exists in limited scopes, making it nearly impossible to find the correct value to change, and even if they do find it, the method of encryption/hashing means they would need to know the corresponding algorithm and number in order to turn a new value they wanted and store it in memory so the Obfuscated class to which said value is associated will decode it properly.

The trouble with this method lies in the fact that it is anything but transparent, and requires copius code changes all over the place.

Enter Generics & Templates

Generics and Templates are the obvious solution to this problem. With C++, this sort of class nearly writes itself, actually; since templates are a compile time feature. you could then replace values that are int with something like Obfuscated and not have to change anything else.

Being that I work primarily in C#, however, this was the focus of my attentions. And it is not quite as simple, though thankfully the addition of dynamics to the language really helps make the code more concise for this sort of purpose.

Everything seems to work fine initially; you can create a generic class Obfuscated, then define operator methods that can cast a T to an Obfuscated and vice-versa without too many problems. problems start to arise as you realize that the original code is using operators and the implicit casts are not being performed (because there is no reason for the compiler to think that casting the two values from Obfuscated to the type T will make the operation valid). So you define operator overloads. The typical result in C# 3 was rather messy. Since there was no way to define a constraint that said to only allow arithmetic operators, nor is there an interface you could cast to to check if the Type T for which your generic instance was constructed supports arithmetic operators, you were left in the cold. For many types you could use the built-in operator methods themselves, op_Addition, op_Subtraction, etcetera. What you would end up with is a large else-if ladder that checked for all of the primitive types, with an else block that used reflection to call the appropriate operator method that way; and failing that throwing an InvalidOperationException.

Dynamics to the rescue, however. Thanks to C# 4.0’s addition of the dynamic keyword, which introduced late-bound variables, we can actually make the call relatively simple. we can perform operators on dynamic variables and the call will be resolved at run-time, and will be handled appropriately even for the primitive types.

With that out of the way, there was only one question left: the encoding. I decided on a simple interface that allowed to decode and encode a arbitrary set of bytes. I implemented a simple xor encryption and used that for my tests. The tricky portion is of course getting some arbitrary set of bytes representing a variable of your generic type; this isn’t something you can really force with constraints. You really need a Type T that is either a structure or a serializable value. For this purpose I created two general purpose generic methods:

First, the method to convert a given value of a Type P to a array of byte[]:

If it is a ValueType, we use the Marshaller to get the actual in-memory representation of the structure, copy it to a array of bytes of the appropriate size, and then return that. Otherwise, we try to save it to a MemoryStream using a BinaryFormatter, slurp out the contents of that memorystream, and return that array of bytes to the caller. The corresponding function that turns a given array back into the corresponding type is obviously just the reverse of this:

by replacing a variable of a given type T with an Obfuscated, you get almost completely transparent obfuscation of the in-memory representation of that type. Assignments result in the generation of a new random number, encrypt the passed value, and store the encrypted value, and retrieving the value or an implicit cast to the type will deobfuscate the value and return that.

The Full source to my test project which contains and uses this class is attached:
Memory Obfuscation Class

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 20 Jul 2012 @ 09:13 PM

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Categories: .NET, C#, C/C++, Programming
 03 Jul 2012 @ 6:32 PM 

What is a Pointer?

To understand a pointer, one must better understand variables. In a statically typed language such as C, a variable has three properties- it has a type, it has a name, and it has a value.

In the above example, int is the type of this variable, variable is the name, and 400 is it’s value. A Pointer is essentially a variable that has a type and a name, but get’s it’s value from elsewhere. For example, in the following C program:

a has a type, name, and a value. b and c, however, are declared as pointers. This is done by placing a asterisk between the type and the variable name. For the most part, a pointer is just a memory pointer, usually a long integer. in this example we set b to point to the address of a, and then set c to be the same as b. When we change a, the “values” of the other variables change to.

Since pointers are fundamentally integers of some description, all operations assume you are dealing with the pointer value (as in, the integer pointing into memory) as opposed to the value stored at that location. In order to get the value stored at the location a pointer points, you need to dereference the pointer. In C, this is accomplished by prefixing the variable name with a asterisk, as shown in the above printf()’s for b and c. dereferencing a pointer returns a non-pointer value of the type of that pointer, in this case, while b is a int*, *b is a int. Without the dereference, printf() will print out the numeric value of the pointer, which is not desired.

Why are Pointers important?

Pointers are important simply because they are used for a vast number of implementations of algorithms. Pointers form the basis of References, which are used in other languages like C# and Java. Pointers are essentially what a number of algorithms are built on; Sorting algorithms deal with pointers within a larger structure, Linked Lists deal obviously with a set of elements linked via pointers, and so on.

The Dangers

The Dangers of pointers are pretty easy to understand. In order to dereference a pointer, the memory it points at has to be valid. The most common problem stemming from this is dereferencing a NULL Pointer. (NULL being 0). in C and C++, doing this will either crash the program (without an error message, unless special care is taken), or cause undefined results. C++ has a number of library classes and templates (such as auto_ptr and smart pointers) designed to make these problems easier to identify by using C++ capabilities such as operator overloading. C#, Java, and other higher level languages are of course not exempt from the problems with pointers, because Pointers are references and both are accosted by the same set of problems. These come about in the form of NullReferenceExceptions. These managed languages do mitigate some common problems such as creating a pointer but making it point to the wrong location, or faulty pointer arithmetic, and so forth, by making those unnecessary (C# makes it possible using unsafe{} code blocks, though). The Core capability of Pointers is aliasing- that is, being able to refer to one thing in multiple locations by different names. in C, if you pass a pointer to a function, that function can change the contents of what pointer is pointing at, but it cannot change where the pointer points.

Function Pointers

Before we talk about Function pointers, one needs to understand Functions themselves. a function is in a programming sense very much the same as a function in the scientific sense; it takes one or more inputs and returns a result. For example, in C:

This C code actually does a lot “under the covers” within the assembly:

Functions in low-level Assembly language consist of three parts: a prolog, an epilog, and the body. the prolog does the task of “housekeeping” and setting up the stack frame for the function. The epilog tears it down. Without getting into to many details, sometimes these parts of code need to be done before calling the function, or from within the called function. Either way, it boils down to a Assembly “CALL” instruction. The CALL Instruction (again, without going to in depth because if I do that I’m bound to make numerous factual errors, assuming I haven’t already) essentially moves the instruction pointer (which indicates the current location of program execution) to a new location. It also saves the return location for the subsequent RET instruction that is usually the last instruction executed in a function. the CALL instruction takes one thing: a Pointer.

Of course, we don’t usually work in assembly, do we? So how does this work in higher level languages, such as C? C actually does the work for you in many respects. In the above program, for example, we didn’t have to know about epilog, prolog, the stack frame, or any of that sort of stuff. We simply defined functions and used them. A Function pointer is a pointer which points at a function, rather than a storage location. Because of the Prolog and Epilog code needed to handle parameters and return values and stack frames, the Function pointer type needs to include information about Function parameters. a Function Pointer is defined in C this way:

This creates a function Pointer ptFunction which is made to point at a function accepting two int arguments and returning an int, and that Pointer is initialized to NULL. In order to use it, it needs to have a value, this is done by making the pointer actually point to something:

Obviously, the real power in Function Pointers comes from being able to change what they point at. Add to this you can have functions that return other functions, and you have the beginnings of Functional Programming style.

In my next entry on this subject, we will move into C# and explore what C# delegates add to this and how they differ from your standard Function Pointer.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 04 Jul 2012 @ 06:57 AM

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