browser kludge

firefox icon safari icon

Firefox’s newest update — version 64 is it? — has dropped support for what they call ‘live bookmarks’ — bookmarks which subscribe to RSS feeds that is. This was my favorite feature in Firefox, so now that it’s gone I am experimenting with using Safari as my main browser instead.

My biggest problem with Safari so far is it’s lame cookie management. I had configured Firefox to delete all cookies when I closed the browser session. Call me paranoid but I’m an old graybeard IT guy so whatever — it makes me feel safer. Needless to say Apple doesn’t have any such setting. You can manually delete all cookies but that’s a pain in the arse isn’t it?

Tonight my kluge was born: I used Automator to record a workflow which performs the manual steps of deleting all cookies and then quitting Safari. I then wrote a one-line bash script which runs the automator workflow from the command line. Since I always have a terminal window open, I now cmd-tab to that and run my little script to quit Safari. Slightly more annoying than hitting cmd-Q, but the tradeoff is worth it for now.

iPhone vs Android: the smackdown

It’s not actually a smackdown, that’s just to get your attention. But there are screenshots!

My smartphone — an LG G4 — is over 3 years old, so I started thinking about a replacement. The current generation LG G7 has received positive reviews, so I was tempted to get that one, as I have been mostly happy with my G4.

I have been bothered lately about how much data Google collects about me: droid network connections

Just one of many typical screens of mysterious Android and Google network connections (note: Google Play app is not open).

I figure one thing I could do to narrow Google’s firehose is to switch from an Android phone [which runs an OS owned and developed by Google] to an iPhone [which runs an OS owned and developed by Apple].

Apple’s new model XR is tempting, as the price is more affordable than their other new models, and it has [mostly] Apple’s latest tech. I’m not unfamiliar with iOS, having used an iPad for years. So I jumped.

The following comparison is based on a week of daily use of the iPhone [after 3.5 years of daily use of the G4].

Surprisingly, I cannot think of a single thing which the XR does better than the G4, other than it boots faster. Of course most 2018 phones would boot faster than a 2015 phone.

There are however numerous things which G4 does better. Herewith some details:

1. The keyboard. A basic part of the OS on a texting device, Apple’s keyboard layout only displays alphabetic characters plus backspace and spacebar — in order to type numbers or even basic punctuation, you have to switch to another keyboard. This switching back-and-forth quickly gets annoying when one is used to having all the alpha-numeric and punctuation characters on the same keyboard. Compare the following two screenshots:

apple keyboard android keyboard
iPhone keyboard G4 keyboard

2. SMS texting. Apple locks you into using their builtin messaging app for SMS. Android lets you choose an alternate — I used an app called Signal on Android because it encrypts text messages when both parties are using the app. If one side does not use Signal then it defaults to standard SMS. Perfectly reasonable, but while there is a Signal app for iPhone, Apple refuses to allow it to be the default SMS app. So I have to navigate between two texting apps — annoying!

3. Custom ringtones. Android lets you assign custom ringtones for notifications and incoming calls. Rather sensibly it lets you select any mp3 file you like. Apple makes it insanely difficult to add ringtones to their builtin list, and won’t allow changing ringtones at all for other notification apps [Signal for instance].

4. Calendar. The default G4 calendar shows you your appointments in month view; Apple’s month view does not show appointments — you have to switch to week or day view to see them. I had to search Apple’s app store for a 3rd-party app which displays appointments in month view.

5. MPD client. Android has two MPD client apps: MpDroid and M.A.L.P. Both have decent GUIs, and both are free. Apple has two MPD client apps: MPDluxe and Glider — both are paid apps. Glider is crippleware, which only works for 10 minutes before demanding a paid subscription. MPDluxe doesn’t require a subscription but has a very primitive GUI — you can only browse the file system, it doesn’t read tags to let you browse by artist or album or genre. Like both of the Android apps do. The file system shouldn’t matter; what I’m interested in is the contents and metadata.

MPDluxe browser MPDroid browser
MPDluxe browser on iPhone MPDroid browser on G4

MPDluxe artist listing MPDroid artist listing
MPDluxe artist’s listing on iPhone MPDroid artist’s listing on G4

6. Quick settings. Android has a quick pull-down menu which lets you toggle on/off services such as wifi, location, bluetooth, airplane mode and more. What’s more, it lets you edit the services in this list. Apple’s similar pull-down is Control Center, but it has a shorter list of services which you can add. Sadly, location is not one — you need to open Settings, then click Privacy, then from there you can toggle Location. Oh well, at least you can do it.

7. File transfer. Android’s file transfer app lets you select files using a standard detail view file listing, and lets you drag and drop them to the destination folder on your computer. Apple does let you select multiple files — at least, in the photos app — but there’s no way to see a detail view…so you are forced to select each photo one-by-one. And you can’t choose the destination — transfers go to your Downloads folder, period. Android’s listing is way faster and more flexible.

In summary, Apple’s phone covers all the basics — as expected since it invented the smartphone category. But it seems inferior in so many ways — I am surprised that it doesn’t hold up better in comparison.

As a long-time Android user it’s expected that I will be used to the Android way of doing things. Hopefully I will discover more to like about the iPhone the more that I use it. And I am also hoping that Apple doesn’t collect as much information about me from their phone as Google seems to from theirs. But I can’t tell because so far I haven’t found an iPhone app equivalent to Android’s ‘Network Connections’ app. So sad!

Is privacy possible?

Lately I have been thinking about trying to minimize my exposure to Google. I’m considering switching from Android to Apple phones, and from gmail to other email providers.

But will that really make a difference? Many transactions [e.g. purchasing airline tickets] require you to divulge your phone number. And of course your credit card number. How much sharing of these identifying numbers goes on behind the scenes?

I’m wondering if slowing Google’s firehose of data which can be tagged as mine is enough to matter anymore. Is it too late? Will records of my personal transactions continue accumulating and being shared by invisible behemoths [love that phrase] as the march of marketing machines moves ever forward?

Wish I could ask a security professional about this.

32-bit OSX apps: the clock is ticking

Apple recently released the latest new version of OSX [10.14 ‘Mojave’]. Reading Ars Technica’s review I was particularly struck by how this is the last version to support 32-bit apps.

A quick scan of my Mac mini turned up six 32-bit apps that I still use:

Android file transfer agent 1.0
Audacity v 2.2.2
Burn v 2.5.1
GoPanda 2 v 2.4
Max v 0.9.1
LWS [logitech webcam software]

I use Android file xfer mainly to copy photos from my phone to my file server. Bluetooth doesn’t work between android and mac [thanks, Apple!]. And Google hasn’t updated their file transfer agent software since version 1.0 [thanks, Google!]. I’ll need to find a replacement for this one.

I use Audacity for ripping vinyl to digital, and occasionally editing audio files. It’s old but still popular so maybe their developers will be motivated to roll out a 64-bit build?

I use Burn to burn CDs [duh]. I asked about 64-bit plans on their sourceforge forum.

GoPanda 2 is a client for playing and viewing go games on the Pandanet internet go server.

I use Max to rip CDs. This is another oldie, no surprise, you can almost guarantee any 32-bit apps are old. Will need a replacement for this too.

Logitech webcam — I’ll have to see if it’s the driver or just some front-end stuff. If it’s the driver, it will need to be updated or replaced. It’s a shame to discard perfectly good hardware because the manufacturer won’t upgrade the driver… can you say ‘planned obsolescence’?

These are the main ones I’ve found so far, I will add to this list if necessary. If anyone has recommendations for replacements for any of these, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

wordpress dev baby steps

OK I admit it upfront: while I’ve authored a few web pages in my day, I was never a fulltime webmaster. I never learned jQuery [or AJAX for that matter]. So now that I’m adding a custom page to a WordPress site, my lack of experience is causing some delays [aka ‘biting me’].

Today I discovered that the page I had so happily completed yesterday was broken. WTH? I tried reverting the backend PHP; no joy. I tried switching to an older template; no joy. I tried enabling debug messages inside my PHP; no joy.

It turns out that the last thing I did after finishing my wonderful page was changing it’s visibility from public to private. To keep away from prying eyes who don’t need to be messing with it etc.

Of course that’s what broke my page. It wasn’t my code, in any of it’s locations. WordPress in it’s wisdom breaks this page when it’s made private. I need to research why this happens, but the easy fix is to just keep the darn page public for now.

Sheesh.

license politics

Driver's license

Back in the day, my father was the director of a mental health center in a small midwestern city. One of the staff’s duties was helping patients who were discharged from state hospitals to reintegrate back into the community. The agency worked with the discharged patient’s family and employer to ease the transition. One patient lamented to my father; family relations were fine, but when he returned to his job as delivery driver, upon entering his vehicle his boss ran down a checklist:

“Gasoline?” “Check”
“Packages?” “Check”
“Paperwork?” “Check”
“Drivers license?” “… uh … uh-oh…”

It seems that the drivers licenses of patients were confiscated upon admission to state mental hospitals, but not returned when they were discharged. This caused problems for the discharged patients, such as this guy who could no longer drive a delivery truck.

My father decided to research what it would take to return patients’ licenses when they were discharged. He was told that it was state policy and could not be changed by the local clinic.

A few years later, my father was recommended for the position of assistant director for the state mental health department. He got the job, and eventually realized that now he was in a position to do something about the drivers license issue.

He asked his assistant about the policy. “It’s a state statute,” was the reply. He requested a copy of the statute so he could start the process of trying to repeal it.

A week passed with no statute delivered, so he reminded his assistant of it. “Oh, it’s actually not a statute, it’s a department regulation” was the reply. Again, my father asked his assistant to please bring him a copy of the official regulation, thinking this would be easier to change than a state statute.

Another week went by and no policy did he see. Upon asking his assistant yet again, his assistant said “Well it turns out there’s no official policy. We do it because the Secretary of State requested it.”

My father made an appointment to see the SOS.

“Why do you keep the drivers licenses for all discharged mental patients in the state?” my father asked.
“We can’t let these crazy people loose on the streets!” was his reply.
“But they aren’t crazy when we discharge them, they are cured!” my father said.
“No, no, can’t be trusted” said SOS.
My father said “I can show you proof that these people are no longer crazy — not only will their families and employers vouch for that, but data reveals fewer traffic arrests for former patients than for people who were never admitted.”

At this the SOS got angry. He opened a desk drawer, drew out a gun and said “If you try to return their licenses I will send the armed State Patrol onto your hospital grounds to stop you!”
My father, flustered, stood his ground and said “OK then we will arm all the security guards at our hospitals, and have a shoot-out, and I will invite the investigative reporter from the big-city newspaper to watch.”

The SOS stormed out of his office.

The policy got changed. Unfortunately, the incoming Governor and SOS were not so enlightened and the policy was eventually changed back.

just be: 2 examples

Reading the introduction to An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki brings a couple of things to mind:

1. When I was a lad I went to summer band camp at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign. One day during practice, the director angrily waved the band to stop in mid-performance. Someone had come in out of place. “That was the wrong place!” he said to the performer.

The performer replied “Sorry, I thought that…”

“DON’T THINK!” yelled the director.

At the time I thought the director’s instruction was both rude and stupid. My opinion of him went down. But reading about Zen makes me understand what he was trying to say. Thinking can screw you up.

2. When I was a college student I was turned onto a rock band called Talking Heads by my friend Keith. One of their songs [Girlfriend Is Better] contains the lyric “stop making sense”. Well there you go, another Zen allusion.

hi, Bob!

Once upon a time I was invited to join a band called Sass. It was a short-lived affair; the leader [Bill, who played keyboard] got disgusted and broke up the band after our first gig.

I thought our drummer [Perry] was excellent and wanted to continue playing with him, but he wasn’t so keen on me. However it turned out that a few months later our bass player — Bob Barker — invited me to sit in with his new band, Ativan [led by singer/guitar player Kendall].

My tenure with that group lasted a good bit longer than the ill-fated Sass — in fact it was the most actively-gigging band I was ever in. And I am ever grateful to Bob for inviting me to join them.

I lost touch with Bob many years ago, he seems to have dropped off the edge of the Earth. But I was just reminded of him when I realized that two tunes which I play on guitar can be conjoined seamlessly — they’re both in A minor. Bob used to do this in Ativan, he called them “medley”s. I thought it was kind of corny at the time, but now here I am doing it shamelessly.

So hey Bob! I just created a medley!