Digital media purchasing, still horrible in 2018

Lying in bed with iPad in tow, and not feeling like reading, I fired up Netflix thinking I could watch the new season of House of Cards. Unfortunately, in Germany, November 2 2018 means something completely different (i.e. Season 5 is the latest).

Kevin Spacey, irregardless of what you think of him, was a pretty good actor. I read on Wikipedia that he was in another movie called Billionaire Boys Club and how it grossed terribly. I hopped on over to Amazon and realised I could rent it (it wasn’t on Netflix). Then I remembered I had some Google Play credit, so I tried to rent it there.

I even then downloaded the app from the App Store. In Chrome, it kept on trying to get me to download a SetSID file. Urgh. The purchase basically would not complete.

All in, I spent a good 15–20 minutes before I gave up trying to watch Billionaire Boys Club. And I was willing to pay $3.99-$4.99 (with tax, the SD version is $4.39, $0.40 for taxes), in the hopes of watching it in my German hotel room. I failed.

I bet the (illegal) download from a torrent site would have been quicker.

Screen Time and less usage of social media

I have been trying an experiment — the use of less social media, thanks to Screen Time on iOS 12. The last item I uploaded on Instagram was on September 17 2018. My usual form has been to make a photo at every place I land up at, but since seeing that I spent 30-45 minutes of “dead time” daily on the app, I figured I needed to stop using it so regularly.

My thought there is quite simple: do I make money from Instagram? No. I should generally only be doing productive things with my iPhone, correct?

Consequently I haven’t uploaded photos from my trips to Tokyo, Singapore, London, Edinburgh, and apparently London again, where I’m penning this. OK, it will be November 1 2018 tomorrow, so I should maybe start posting again.

I find that I don’t use Facebook much but have the application for the 2-factor authentication (I will have to find a way to move this to Google Authenticator or 1Password so I could zap it). This leave Twitter, which I do spend a bit of time on (I have to work on reducing this).

WhatsApp, Telegram, etc. may be considered social media but the reality is I need to communicate with folk so I can’t stop using those apps.

Screen Time also helps tell me how much time I actually spend on the iPhone. I feel like it is too much. Here’s to more iPad and more MacBook Pro. And in general, more time around Productivity/Reading & Reference/Creativity/Other/Health & Fitness, going forward. And of course… Entertainment (Netflix has some good shows from time to time).

Anyway, measuring where I spend time clearly matters. I’m surprised we don’t see this on macOS yet (but for that I have RescueTime). I understand that Timings is another popular app to use. From a time management standpoint, I reckon reading: The Average User Checks Email 5.6 Hours Per Day and also The Mona Lisa Doesn’t Tweet. These are timely reminders that we should gain from social media, but not give in much more to it.

GPGTools Support Subscription – in-situ license change

Not brave enough to upgrade to macOS Mojave on my main workhorse yet, I did however click update on GPGTools which only required me restarting Apple Mail. I was very shocked when I saw the following pop-up:

GPGMail Popup

This was an in-situ upgrade from what was free/open source software, to a sudden pop-up nag telling me that I would need to get a license to continue to encrypt/decrypt my mail with ease. I checked out the support plan, which is USD$23.90, and might be something I have to pay for yearly, since a major version coincides with a macOS release according to the FAQ.

Being in the open source industry for 22 years (longer than the term has been around; so let’s call it free software), I’ve seen many license kerfuffles, and I think one of the worst ways to surprise someone is a license change in-situ. In a world where we do git pull’s and just move on, the license is sacrosanct. I’m glad that these developers didn’t focus on mucking with the license and if you choose not to pay USD$23.90 yearly, you can still compile the software yourself.

Am I still allowed to compile my own version of GPG Mail / GPG Suite removing any code regarding the trial or activation?

You absolutely are, the GPL enforces that. You will find the source code on this website and on Github.
We would kindly like to ask you not to use our names or icons if you plan to publish a binary for others to use.

Am I going to compile from source? If this was infrastructure software, definitely, yes. Am I going to pay these developers? I do not know, I still have 30 days to decide.

They clearly learned their lesson, do read the open letter to their users (yes, they’ve had this as a plan for a while, but maybe it wasn’t clear enough). These people aren’t a big evil corp neither did that raise venture capital from what I can tell. They’re independent developers, and if there is something a Mac user tends to do, is that they tend to support indie developers.

If I already pay an Apple tax, the question then becomes: do I pay for yet another app, that seems to basically be a subscription, or do I compile the software? Comes back to the old adage of, spend money to save time, or spend time to save money.

Thumb drive data recovery

I haven’t done any data recovery or data rescue work in sometime (the last time was on Linux, with a combination of dd, ddrescue, and some throwaway code to parse JPGs – it was a Compact Flash card that needed saving). This time, all I had was macOS, a 16GB thumb drive, and the files were someone’s life’s work, which were more than just JPGs but also AI (adobe illustrator), DOC, XLS, PDF, TTF, etc. files.

So via Homebrew, I installed ddrescue again. A command like ddrescue -v -n -c 4096 /dev/disk2 helena.dmg helena.log seemed to work. On macOS, fdisk totally couldn’t get me anything useful and if I ran diskutil list the output would be as follows:

/dev/disk2 (external, physical):
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:                                                   *15.5 GB    disk2

For good measure I wanted to also make an image via dd, dd if=/dev/disk2 conv=sync,noerror bs=4096 of=helena.img. It was clearly throwing many errors, an example of which:

13399375872 bytes transferred in 1263.864380 secs (10601910 bytes/sec)
dd: /dev/disk2: Input/output error
dd: /dev/disk2: Input/output error

The real problem was mounting either the DMG or the IMG. On Linux you have this option to loopback mount a file; on macOS this isn’t quite there. There is hdiutil but frankly, this doesn’t work if there is no partition record. I tried to mount it using hdiutil attach -noverify -nomount helena.img but that didn’t work to then do a diskutil mountDisk.

Then… I found a tool: PhotoRec. I wouldn’t have to write something to parse the magic numbers and extract files. PhotoRec just works. It parsed the IMG file, and spat out plenty of files to look at. Recovery was generally full.

For reference, on Linux, there are some good resources: Mounting a raw partition file made with dd or dd_rescue in Linux, and Guide to Using DDRescue to Recover Data. From a forensic standpoint, Disk-Arbitrator looks like a good tool as well.

Twitter Promote Mode – save your $99

I like Twitter. It is the social media that I use the most. Maybe followed by Instagram, since I’ve always liked photography. I don’t spend time on Facebook/LinkedIn like one would expect. So my energy seems to be Twitter-centric if I’m going to use social media. On my iPhone, Twitter is on the main screen, which tells you I consider it useful :)

Before the social media apocalypse on the stock market recently, I thought I’d try to pay $99 for Promote Mode. I had been invited for many months but summer seemed like an ideal time to try it. Long story short? Save your $99/month.

I started with 4,660 followers. Today I have 4,547 followers. Less, how? Why? There was a recent purge of bots and fake followers, and I lost 2.64% of followers.

In the end, Twitter said I gained 19 new followers, with 185 promoted tweets, and I had 35% more reach (+107,274). 19 new followers for $99 seems like daylight robbery. I was targeting USA based folk.

When I asked their support if I could switch to the UK, they said it was not possible. The only other option was Japan, and I didn’t realise I had to choose so wisely at the start. And now you can only reactivate the subscription when promote mode gets out of beta (but with such poor performance I am unlikely to do that).

I wasn’t the only one how has had such a poor experience. Ahsan Anis writes, Is Twitter’s promote mode worth the $99 monthly subscription? (disappointed), Buffer writes How Effective is Twitter Promote Mode? We Tested It for 30 Days. (did not renew due to performance, limitations and ease).

Guess they’ll have to find a better way to make me pay to use the service so that the stock price can go up! (I am not an investor in Twitter stock, but really do like the product and want to see them survive in the long term).

Television & Movie consumption July 2018

I have no idea how I missed Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, but they are both on Netflix, and you can take them offline, so in between all the flying I did this past month, I caught up on the entire two shows! They are both excellent shows, and I can’t wait for the next season of Better Call Saul! The TV shows are definitely binge worthy.

500 Days of Summer is surprisingly a good movie, starring both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. It is a break up movie, maybe a bit of a dark comedy, but it is also a movie about self-realisation. It is not your typical love story or romantic comedy. It has a lot of dialogue, reminding me of the Richard Linklater series, Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset/Before Midnight. Like those shows, this was relatively cheap to produce but grossed wonders ($7.5 million budget, $60.7 million at the box office – 709% return!).

One memorable quote, since a lot of people talk about their dream partners. (paraphrased) Why look for the girl of your dreams, when it is better to have X, as she’s real? Gives one a lot to ponder about.

Midnight In Paris was also a good watch – one where the main character, Gil, finds himself throughout the show. Sometimes you miss things right in front of our eyes, don’t we? Memorable quote? Nostalgia is living in denial; denial of the painful present. (full quote on Wikipedia). Another movie with $17m budget, bringing in outsized returns at $151.1m – 789%!

These movies so far have been recommended by the Netflix algorithm, which so far is giving me way over 90% match rates, which suggest that the algorithm for July 2018, at least, is working! I suspect these movies do speak to me to some extent, and that’s what makes them successful in my eye.


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