Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously.

Apple. It just works.

vellumatlanta

“The software is functioning as intended,” said Amber.
“Wait,” I asked, “so it’s supposed to delete my personal files from my internal hard drive without asking my permission?”
“Yes,” she replied.

Angry man crashing laptop Maybe I’m Not Pressing the Keys Hard Enough.

I had just explained to Amber that 122 GB of music files were missing from my laptop. I’d already visited the online forum, I said, and they were no help. Although several people had described problems similar to mine, they were all dismissed by condescending “gurus” who simply said that we had mislocated our files (I had the free drive space to prove that wasn’t the case) or that we must have accidentally deleted the files ourselves (we hadn’t). Amber explained that I should blow off these dismissive “solutions” offered online because Apple employees don’t officially use the forums—evidently, that honor is reserved for lost, frustrated people like me, and (at…

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Stopping Autoplay Videos on News Websites with Adblock Plus

Like many Aussie and Kiwi ex-pats I know, checking in on the news in the old country is both a habit and an escape, but the constant attempts by the old print media to “reinvent” themselves as broadcast/video media had lead to an irritating and increasingly prevalent feature on news articles – the Autoplay video.

autoplay-facebook

For the many folks out there already using an AdBlocker, here’s how you can add a couple of custom rules you can add to AdBlock Plus to stop these videos from running.

  1. Click on AdBlock and choose “Options”.
  2. In the top menu bar, click on “Customize”.
  3. In the lower part, click on the “Edit” button next to the “Manually edit your filters” heading.

When you’re there, add the following two lines to the list of filters to block:

http://ffxapm-a.akamaihd.net/*videoId=
newsvidwsj.news.com.au
brightcove$domain=nzherald.co.nz

The first one will block videos from running on smh.com.au, theage.com.au and (probably AFR) as the videos themselves come down from Fairfax’s account with Akamai, a content delivery network. Note that it is just blocking requests with videoId= in them – so other stuff coming from Fairfax’s Akamai account will still work.

glorious-video-player-error

The second one will block videos on websites powered by News Limited (such as news.com.au, and if you’re one of *those* people, dailytelegraph.com.au). It means hard-blocking the video server used by news.com.au.

glorious-video-player-error-news.com.au

The third one blocks anything with Brightcove (the name of the vendor that provides the video tech) in the title on the New Zealand Herald – since the NZ Herald is still using Shockwave, you basically need to stop the Brightcove player from loading it all rather than blocking the content you don’t want to autoplay.

glorious-video-player-error-nzherald.co.nz

I’m well aware that this isn’t the most elegant solution – having a way to set the JS preference/cookie to respect the “Never Play” and have it work even when you’re using Incognito mode would be much nicer – but this gets the job done pretty quickly using an extension used by millions.

Hope this helps other people avoid this irritation, especially when you’re reading the news at your desk at work and you don’t want some shittly produced video screaming out of your computer speakers.

Oh, and if you’ve got your own examples to add for your fav news websites, please add them in the comments!

Watching ABC’s iView from outside Australia without a VPN

As an Aussie expat, it is a shame that all the awesome stuff on ABC’s iView site is locked away. Aside from wanting to keep across what’s going on back in Australia, there’s truly world-class content produced regularly for 4Corners, Foreign Correspondent and stacks of great documentaries too.

The good news is that it is actually really easy and inexpensive to get this content where-ever you are in the world using a service called Unotelly and either your web browser or a copy of their Android app.

Unotelly

Unotelly is an awesome and inexpensive service (can be as cheap as US$3/month) which uses some trickery around DNS (which is like the internet’s phone directory) to trick the ABC servers into thinking you’re in Australia when you’re not.

Unlike a VPN (which requires you to designate a destination and puts a bunch more stuff between you and the stream you’re trying to watch), the Unotelly service just tricks the providers at the point of authentication/connection, and then the actual stream (which you want to be fast) comes down without anything between the server and you watching the video.

After signing up for an account (which you can trial for free for 8 days) and getting the service set up (they have a handy wizard and how-to guides for many services), you simply use the “Dynamo” config screen and scroll down to find the reference to ABC iView. Check the “Australia” radio button, and then head on over to iview.abc.net.au and start watching.

unotelly-abc-iview

Note: if you’ve previously been to iView and gotten the “Sorry, you can’t watch this from outside Australia” message, you might need to clear your cookies or use an incognito/private window to get past the fact they’ve previously blocked your browser.

Watching iView on Android

If you’ve got an Android device, you can also get iView going on your phone, which then also allows you to use your Chromecast to watch iView programs on your big TV screen.

While anyone who’s in Australia can install ABC iView from the Play Store, if you’re outside Australia you’ll be told the app isn’t compatible with any of your devices. This isn’t actually true – it is a policy choice by the ABC, and has nothing to do with compatibility.

Thankfully, the folks over UKTVApps.com have provided the installer files for ABC iView (and SBS On Demand) you to download and install manually on Android. I downloaded and installed the iView app and because my phone is using my home WiFi (which is configured to use Unotelly for DNS now) I just had to fine up the app once installed and start watching!

Watching NBA without Blackouts or a VPN (and much more!)

As a big fan of the NBA (and particularly my adopted home town team, the Golden State Warriors) I was pretty excited to get into this year’s season. While previous seasons have been aided by borrowing the Comcast credentials from a friend and streaming games via the CSN Bay Area channel (laptop to HDMI to TV), the friend in question has now moved away and cancelled their account, and I was stuck trying to work out the best way to watch games. After a bunch of trial and error, I think this is the best way for cord cutters to stream the NBA without being jammed with an extra $400 a year in cable fees.

The awesome NBA League Pass – and its massive flaw

The League Pass service from the NBA is awesome. You can choose to buy a season-long package for a single team or the whole NBA, and you can stream games from lots of different devices – pretty much perfect.

Except for its massive flaw.

I don’t have a lot of spare time, so I tend to just watch the games of the team I follow: the Warriors. Buying a team-pass for $120 comes out to a bit under $20/month (given the length of the regular season), which seems like a fair deal.

As you’d expect, the team play half their games at home, and half their games away through the season. Unfortunately, though, the club (or the NBA?) has done a deal where Comcast (the monopoly Cable TV provider in San Francisco and most of the Bay Area) is the only provider allowed to show games in the San Francisco Bay Area, via their CSN Bay Area channel. This means, after buying the NBA League Pass, 50% of the games I want to watch aren’t available to me – the League Pass service applies a blackout.

I called Comcast (because the NBA League Pass can be provided through your cable provider too) to see whether buying it through them would unlock the blackout, but unfortunately it doesn’t; buying through the cable company is just a reseller billing thing with all the same restrictions. The only way to get all of the games would be to upgrade by package costs by 50% to get the one channel I need, at a cost of around $400 per year. This is only 50% more than buying League Pass, but like most people forced to buy from a monopoly, I’ll do almost anything I can to avoid giving that pack of arseholes any more money on principle alone.

Overcoming the Blackout without a VPN

Now, like any techie out there knows, the strongest solution to this problem is the same solution to ham-fisted online censorship or security/privacy overreach by bone-headed sovereign governments – a VPN.

The effect of a VPN is to take your internet connection here in, say, San Francisco, and tunnel or connect to another country. When your data pops out of that other location, you’ll look like you’re actually in that location, so if you want to get around things like these League Pass blackouts you can use a VPN to appear to be somewhere else.

Unfortunately, there’s a few issues with VPNs, mainly around hassle and performance. The ability to tunnel is cool conceptually, but when you’re trying to stream a real time game in high quality video, having to have all that data go via another country to get into the tunnel (as well as the overhead in encrypting/decrypting it) isn’t ideal. Additionally, most VPN implementations are “all or nothing” affairs, where every bit of traffic going out from your network goes into the tunnel. (Note: while it is possible to define just some traffic to use the VPN via routing tables, the idea of having to keep track of all of the NBA League Pass server addresses to make sure I’m routing the traffic right is more hassle than I’m prepared to put up with).

So, ideally, I was looking to overcome the backout without needing to implement a full VPN if I could help it.

The great news is there is a solution out there, and it can actually save you money too!

Unotelly – overcoming geoblocking/blackouts without a VPN

Unotelly is an inexpensive online service designed specifically to help regular people get around the headaches of this sort of geo-bullshit with a minimum of effort. The way is works is that you update the DNS settings of your device (usually you do this at the router – the thing which connects you to the internet) so that the act of going to a website like watch.nba.com gets tweaked and fools the NBA servers into thinking you’re somewhere else in the world.

The folks at Unotelly have put together a handy guide, and the good news is that it really works well! Basically, once you’ve got the Unotelly service active, you turn on the “South Africa” option in the Dynamo section of their control panel, and then you can go to the NBA League Pass website and sign up for an account.

When you’re signing up to league pass you’ll need to have a postal code for South Africa when getting your account – I used a part of Cape Town (postcode 8001) and it worked fine. It also allowed me to change the billing address on my credit card to be my address here in the US, and while the signup on the NBA site was frankly slow and clunky, it did work in the end.

With Unotelly, I’ve now got the ability to fire up a game in my Chrome browser and then hit the Chromecast option and have it stream in super high quality to my TV. Because I’m not using a VPN, the delivery of the video stream does not go via South Africa – this is just used for the account sign in and auth piece, which means I can watch my Warriors games without any blackout restrictions at all.

Oh, and the saving money bit? Because of the end of the commodities boom and the incompetence/corruption of Jacob Zuma’s government in South Africa, their currency has plummeted around 25% this year. This, combined with the NBA’s choices about what each country can afford to pay means the price of a single-team league pass right now (middle of the season) is less than US$60! So, with 4 months to go I’m spending $15/month with the NBA and $3.50 a month for Unotelly to watch any Warriors game without blackouts.

And there’s more!!!

The great thing about the Unotelly service is that your subscription with it unlocks more than just NBA League Pass – check out my other post on how you can also stream free content from ABC’s iView app (normally restricted just to Australians) using the same Unotelly account.

Advice for folks “putting my feelers out to find opportunities” in SF/Silicon Valley

From time to time someone will email (or be introduced via email) who’s exploring career opportunities in San Francisco or Silicon Valley. Here’s a variation of an email I recently wrote to answer this question – hopefully by putting this somewhere Google can find it I can help more people who are wondering how to have a look at the epicenter of the tech boom for themselves.

To start with, pick a conference or event that is here in a field you’re into and come. Plan to spend 2 weeks or so – aim for an AirBNB or some other form of non-hotel short term rental.

Do a lot of networking upfront – LinkedIn is very well used here.

The main conferences will have plenty of opportunities for Meetups – using Meetup.com and Eventbrite is the best way to find them; they’re often free and sponsors often pay for the hospitality/drinks so they’re great on multiple levels.

Make sure you time your run between the start of September and the middle of November, or then between February and the middle of June. These are the main conference and business seasons – the “holidays” (which is the last 6 weeks of the year from before Thanksgiving until January) and the summer break up these two seasons, and everything you’re looking for – networking, connections, insights – slows down a lot.

The other comment to make is that the Bay area is absolutely inundated with folks – from great schools with great resumes and networks – who want to get into opportunities in the tech space coming out of business schools etc. For 20 years all these folks went to New York and tried their hand at consulting or investment banking or something else that pays smart people very well.

This decade so far, the Bay Area is the new “New York” where smart people come to make their mark, even if they aren’t naturally tech folks or with tech skills – lots of smart folks want in even if they don’t quite know what it is they want into (or have any specific skills or backgrounds to help them stand out other than being smart and going to good schools etc).

I’m just telling you this to set expectations that an email or intro from someone who is “exploring opportunities” isn’t going to get you far – this place is insanely competitive, but if you say “I’m an engineer who helped define the MPEG standard for variable bandwidth video streaming in 10 years ago with a focus on low-power decompression and I’m looking for a new project in the VR space” you’ll get much more of a hearing.

Americans (at least on the west coast) are also very polite, will rarely tell you no (partly because they want to have the option to re-engage if it turns out you do have something special to offer) and a lot of the non-operators in the industry (VCs, lawyers, advisers, marketing people etc) make their money harnessing smart ideas from smart people (operators) so they rarely turn down a chance to chat with someone just in case they’re the next big thing. So, keep that in mind as you evaluate the connections you form (and whether they’ll progress from a genuinely polite conversation and a promise to ‘keep in touch’) while you’re here.

Best of luck – this place isn’t easy, but then being the commercial center of the industry that’s reshaping the world probably shouldn’t be easy anyway😉

Geoff

Why Uber (and Lyft) Win (over taxis): Public support 500x more than cabs

Got an email from Change.org inviting me to sign two competing petitions. One of them is to ban “illegal” Uber in one state of Australia, and the other is to change the rules to allow Uber in another state.

taxi-vs-uber-petitions

On face value, the numbers are pretty clearly running in Uber’s direction (at time of writing).

So, on this basis people are 4:1 in favour of Uber – which is why in pretty much all democracies the rules are changing to support what people want over the interests of a cartel.

Then I had a look at how long these petitions have been published and promoted. The Taxi protecting petition has been running for 8 months, but the Uber supporting petition has been running for 2 days.

This means, in time adjusted terms, the ratio of support for Uber vs Taxis is around 500:1 (i.e, the average number of signatures in the taxi-protection camp is 7.3 per day, but Uber-support is seeing 3354 per day).

Obviously these are two change.org petitions so these statistics are not in any way mathematically rigorous and the people who sign change.org petitions tend to be younger and more tech savvy, but 500:1 is a massive tilt – enough to tell you why any country where the citizens expect their governments to not run a protection racket at the expense of the populous Uber (and Lyft etc) win.

Avoiding chavs/bogans/white-trash while on vacation in Majorca

Port de SollerThis summer my fiancee and I took a vacation to Europe, and we decided to go to Majorca (also spelled Mallorca) for our “relax by the Med” part of our trip.

One of the hardest things to work out what was how to avoid the hordes of chavs (also known as bogans or white trash) who I’d heard take cheap flights from all over the UK to Majorca. Having been stuck in the past in hotels with the loud, obnoxious and proudly ignorant folks (we’ve got plenty of them in Australia too, where they ruin Bali) I was hoping to find a review or some advice on how to avoid them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck – the tourist industry in Majorca needs their money as much as anyone else’s, and the only reviews in Tripadvisor forums were clearly clever and funny spoofs – so no use there😦

Thankfully, we took a chance on Port de Soller, figuring it would be further from the airport in Palma and chavs are as lazy as they are ignorant (unless there’s an all you can drink inclusion in the package deal, in which case they’ll go anywhere).

Turns out we got lucky – Port de Soller was a great choice, a super lovely place on the coast with amazing mountains around it and a really nice feel. It had a great cross-section of visitors, including couples, young families, grown up families and elderly folks too. Everyone was friendly and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending the place if you’re looking for a truly beautiful part of Majorca without hordes of chavs, bogans or white trash.