SITE UPDATES & EDITORIALS
This page contains non-news related material, such as site admin updates, my opinions and thoughts, tips & tweaks, etc. These aren't posted on the front page to keep it as objective and news-orientated as possible. See The rationale behind the Site Updates & Editorials page for details.
Time for a Change
27 October 2019
I got fired up and put renewed effort into the site over the last few months in the hopes of having some sort of "TweakGuides Renaissance" that could propel us in a new direction. However, when all's said and done, it doesn't appear to have achieved that. Aside from a very positive, but quite small, group of supporters (and thank you for that!), every other indicator seems to show that the new stuff isn't pleasing readers.
The only measure of unique visitation I have now is Alexa's guesstimates. In the past they've been a reasonably accurate indicator of the general direction and magnitude of site traffic, and they now show a steady decline in relative popularity, starting precisely in mid-August when I began implementing the recent changes. Donations have dropped to zero in the past few weeks; even then, a grand total of 12 very generous people have donated in the past two months, the bulk of whom did so in the early days of the changes. And feedback, never particularly overwhelming, has similarly been growing quieter and quieter, down to virtually nothing over the past week.
I could spend time trying to analyse this in detail, but Occam's Razor provides the most likely answer: what I'm writing is not what most people want to read. That's basically it, in a nutshell.
It could be argued for example that Alexa's traffic estimates show steady decline because I switched off trackers, referrers, ads and other methods by which a service like Alexa indirectly measures my Internet traffic. Or these changes reduce my Google search rankings, in turn reducing the site's prominence in search results, thus leading to lower traffic. But that doesn't explain the lack of donations, for example. Twelve people out of thousands of readers a day is a pretty clear indicator of the actual value most readers place on the material. Feedback, similarly, which costs nothing, whether by email, on Twitter, or even when I search to see what people are saying on forums and other sites, is virtually mute. This can only be due to a lack of interest.
Whatever supposed "new direction" I dreamed up for the site obviously isn't going to work. If my focus on returning to a more assertive, opinionated style doesn't do it, then writing blog posts promoting atheism and condemning fanboyism, as well as an article that doesn't look favourably on Linux or the free open source software model, for example, are a great way to hammer more nails into the coffin. Suffice it to say that I have no regrets; I translated my thoughts into writing as best I could, and my thoughts are a considered position on any topic I write about. If that isn't popular among readers, then that's too bad because I'm not going to change the way I think simply because it's unpopular.
Ultimately, it's not going to achieve much if I continue doing this. Running a website with no income and minimal traffic is a waste of time, much as I'd like to please the small group of supportive readers who may find what I write interesting. Clearly, much of what I'm interested in writing about is simply not appropriate to TweakGuides.com. Nor, indeed, is TweakGuides.com all that relevant these days to the way the Internet works. A text-heavy site in a world where most people try to avoid lengthy textual content; the mass migration of "content creators" towards platforms that pay a guaranteed income and make little demands on their readers' literacy and comprehension skills, such as YouTube and Twitch; and the generational difference between the way old-school tech enthusiasts like me think, and the modern approach to the tech world, result in few opportunities for the site to flourish.
What does all of this mean for this site in practical terms? For the immediate future - i.e, the next few weeks - news items will be posted on the front page as normal, Site Updates will only appear to address genuine site issues and/or tech crises, and of course, there will be no new articles or guides.
Longer term, I'm planning to implement a freeze on the site, so it will not have any new content of any kind, including a cessation of news posts. Existing content will be available, as is, for a few months more. I'll probably decide to just give it away to whoever wants to host it, on a similar basis as the creative commons licensing conditions I now apply to the TweakGuides Tweaking Companions. At some point after that, TweakGuides.com will be formally shut down and taken offline. It may occur earlier if EuroVPS doesn't want to keep hosting it for free for very long. Lastly, unless I get some fantastically generous offer from an appropriate party, I'm not going to sell the site assets, and I'll keep the domain name, to prevent abuse.
This isn't a cry for attention or another way of trying to get donations. The decision has already been made, so any new donations will not change the outcome. The decision is one I didn't make lightly, and may seem abrupt and at odds with my earlier enthusiasm, but it's the only logical decision. I threw all I had into one last try over the past few months, but I can see that it just won't work. Coincidentally, news of the recent Sale of Ghacks.net to Softonic cemented my thoughts. Ghacks founder and owner Martin Brinkmann, whom I respect, had sadly reached the point where traditional ad income and donations just couldn't cut it anymore. The end result is that his site is now run by Softonic, a company I (and many others) rate as highly untrustworthy at best. That's not how I want to go out.
Anyway, there it is. I'll move on to doing whatever I feel is the most productive use of my capabilities, that also aligns with my interests, and hopefully gives me some form of income. Realistically, Parkinson's doesn't give me much time before I steadily lose full functionality, so I want to spend it as effectively as possible doing something of value to others, and for myself. Who knows what that might be... right now, I'm toying with the notion of writing a work of fiction. Either way, it's not quite "goodbye" just yet; as I said I'll keep the wheels turning with regards to regular front page news updates for a bit longer until everything is sorted out, then I'll have a "Twexit" of sorts as TweakGuides.com leaves the mainstream Internet. It's been a very interesting experience running the site over the past 15 years, and perhaps you may see me pop up again doing something else. But as they say, "It's better to burn out than fade away", and that's probably advice that's well past due for TweakGuides.com. Cheers guys.
Who Secures the Security Providers?
22 October 2019
As the latest news updates on the main page show, the security of two commonly-used software/services - namely, the CCleaner utility, and NordVPN - were the subject of security breaches. There's one major reason why this makes the news on TweakGuides' front page: there are many Windows users who have CCleaner installed, and/or may use NordVPN. I don't normally report security issues unless their implications are far-reaching for many, if not most, Windows users.
A fairly good, less sensationalised, take on the NordVPN breach is in this Arstechnica article. Meanwhile, this ZDNet article isn't too bad in succinctly covering the Avast incident. I won't rehash what they've said. The bottom line, as far as I can tell, is that CCleaner is still relatively safe to use, while NordVPN, as well as TorGuard and VikingVPN, have a cloud cast over them. Not so much that the general traffic that travelled through any fake server(s) could be decrypted, as only targeted attacks could work that way, moreso that the keys, and any other data on that server which was stolen, could be used for broader decryption of secure traffic in the future.
I'm not a security expert, but people who are say they're concerned. If you think about it, of course they would, because they make money off the increased concern over security issues. But in this case, I agree: this isn't so much about the leaking of keys, or the possibility of CCleaner being "weaponised" (which has happened before), it's more the head-scratching fact that two security providers had attackers compromise their internal network. This isn't something to be taken lightly. If a security firm, a company that specialises in the provision of security advice and services, and establishing best practice, is breached due to lack of observance of strict security protocol, and their service is compromised, and then doesn't inform the public of the breaches when they could be affected (in the case of NordVPN), what does that say about the so-called "security industry"? These weren't one-in-a-million longshot breaches, they were a fairly straightforward case of oversight for both companies. In Avast's case, an employee/contractor's credentials were used to log into their network, and although this was detected, it was initially dismissed as a false positive. In NordVPN's case, they blame the issue on the datacenter having an insecure remote management system, but NordVPN failed to detect it.
Nothing and nobody is perfect. What one person builds, another person can tear down, given the right skills and motivation. Therefore, no method of security humans devise can ever be foolproof. But to my mind, the security industry is a big worry, in and of itself. It's an opaque and frequently self-serving field of endeavour, whereby the greater the threat (real or otherwise), the more business the industry gets, whereas if they do their job correctly, security issues would fade into the background, thus ultimately reducing their business opportunities. This isn't conspiracy theory stuff, I'm not necessarily saying security companies manufacture threats; it's more that they have less incentive to drastically reduce, or accurately portray, threats, and greater incentive to play them up. This cannot be a good thing for us as consumers.
In terms of security advice, I am definitely old school. That sounds terrible when it comes to the high-tech world of security, but I think you'll see what I mean. The two underlying principles behind everything I do is to reduce the number of variables that can go wrong, and to exercise caution at all times. That means I try to simplify everything I set up, in every aspect of my life, so that there are less potentially weak links in the chain that can break. This is why you might be confused at first when you see me recommend a simpler method of doing something, at the expense of the loss of some customisability or performance, versus the more complex method. The classic example which long-time readers would know about is overclocking. I rarely, if ever, push my systems to the max because I value a rock-solid system over one that performs a few percent better, but takes numerous tweaks, additional hardware, and/or software, to achieve.
Furthermore, I always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. I think to myself before doing anything: "What could go wrong?" Then I make sure I cover myself for every contingency I can think of. Again, referring to overclocking, I don't watercool. Why? Because having a moving liquid in a case full of electronic, electrified, components is just asking for disaster in my opinion. Sure, sure, everybody does it, it's totally safe now. Until one day, just one incident, and it's not. This is what I mean by old school: keep it simple, always be cautious. We used to call this "common sense", but that's a misnomer these days, because it's anything but common. Not having a go at people who watercool by the way, that's your call. Just saying I wouldn't do it ;)
Let's see how this applies to VPNs in today's example.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are extremely popular these days, because in an age when everything we do online is being tracked by multiple parties (Governments, ISPs, corporations, hackers) people want to be rid of any spying, of the feeling that someone is looking over their shoulder. VPNs achieve this by masking your Internet traffic, first by encrypting it, and second, by passing it through another network, so it appears to be coming from somewhere and someone else. A VPN can be used for good or bad purposes, but almost everyone has need of them now. I use one for at least two legitimate reasons: I live in Australia, and often, major content providers will use a rather antiquated model of regional distribution rights to try to maximise profits. This means delaying or blocking content like streaming TV shows and movies, even things like Saturday Night Live comedy clips on YouTube, just so they can sell the rights to display that content to local providers at a premium. As an Economist, I can tell you this is a stupid, short-sighted, 1980s approach to a 21st century interconnected online world. Consumers will not tolerate artificial segmentation like this anymore. In any case, it is not explicitly illegal in Australia to use a VPN to bypass this form of geo-blocking; even our (now former) Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball said so! So I've used a VPN to watch shows on Netflix US, UK or Mexico for example, that aren't available on Australian Netflix. A more important use, for me at least, is that if I wish to research security-related issues, such as for this article, I use a VPN when doing so, that way I'm not automatically flagged and unfairly targeted by law enforcement as being someone who is "looking into hacking techniques". Bottom line, it's good to have a VPN handy.
However, I do not put all of my traffic through a VPN, as some people do. That's absurd. What you're basically doing is entrusting all of your personal data to a third party entity that typically promotes the very fact that it tries to stay outside the reaches of law enforcement. Only use a VPN when absolutely necessary. So if you use it for pirating multimedia for example, which is a common scenario for VPNs, then just use it when your torrents are running, and don't do anything else while it's on, like checking your mail or logging into bank accounts. Even if you don't fear your credentials being stolen, and the data is encrypted end-to-end, it defeats the purpose of using a VPN for anonymity purposes if you then do something that might allow computer forensics experts to identify you. Furthermore, the precise times you connect to and disconnect from a VPN, as well as how long you use it, are logged by your local ISP like any other traffic. A combination of this data, even just the fact that you may be using a VPN all the time, can cast suspicion on you. The NordVPN example highlights that despite all of the technical promises to the contrary, NordVPN's systems were penetrated and their encryption was and possibly still is at risk.
I also find it incredible that people frequently ask for "the best cheap VPN" or use free VPN services. No, that's madness! There is no such thing as a genuinely free service, or free software. Someone is paying for it somehow. In the case of free or cheap VPNs, think: who is paying for this bandwidth, and the server infrastructure you're accessing? What would someone have to gain by having you put your often sensitive traffic through their network? Use your imagination. Everything from tracking you and serving you ads, spam and building an online profile of you to sell to the highest bidder, through to far more malicious intents, is possible. If you want a good service, you need to pay a reasonable price for it. It's true to say that expensive is not always best, but cheapest is almost always the worst when it comes to anything.
When I did the research, I found ExpressVPN to be quite highly rated and easy to use, and although they're expensive it's not exorbitant at roughly $10US a month on a plan. The big attraction for me to stay with them once I tried them is that they have a hassle-free app that automates the whole process, given it can be complex to set up, say, an OpenVPN-based VPN in Windows. The ExpressVPN app takes literally three clicks to launch, select a server and enable, speeds are almost always near my maximum possible, the app has a kill switch that automatically cuts the Internet connection if the VPN drops out, and it allows internal network traffic through as normal (e.g., network drives are unaffected by it). It works in circumventing geo-blocking for most content I've tried, and checking a range of sites designed to reveal your info, such as DNSLeak, IP Location, DNS Leak Test and IP Leak for example, shows it's protecting my identity as advertised. Their logging policy seems OK, but they may not be James Bond 007-level secure for those who want bulletproof protection of their identity at all costs. In which case, you need to raise your budget and look for something more specialised. For me, it's the right balance of cost, convenience, and security based on a range of reviews.
Note that I have no association with ExpressVPN, nor am I providing any links to them, so that you can be sure there's no referral or affiliate benefits accruing to me. Funnily enough, three months ago I got an email from NordVPN asking me for "content advertising opportunities" and "collaboration methods" on TweakGuides.com! I'm feeling fairly good today about not accepting. Aside from the fact that I was already thinking of moving to an ad-free site, I told them it would be hypocritical of me to use ExpressVPN and advertise NordVPN. I kinda feel sorry for NordVPN, as I doubt they're the only big player to have security issues - heck, ExpressVPN could be breached as we speak for all I know.
In closing, if you can't be bothered using a VPN and just want to do a bit of quick browsing with relative anonymity, the quickest, easiest solution is to download and use the free Tor Browser. The main downside of Tor, which is reflected in its price, is that there have been claims that some of the Tor exit nodes have been compromised, so it may not be 100% secure; and more noticeably, it is often almost painfully slow to browse anything on Tor.
Life, the Universe, and Some Other Stuff
19 October 2019
Once again, thank you for the feedback and kind words over the past few days. If you have any more comments or suggestions, email me or reply to/tag me on Twitter (@GhaziKoroush) and I'll see it. I can't get into detailed discussions or debates on Twitter due to its limited nature, and I certainly can't offer any tech support in any form, no matter how nicely you ask me. Similarly, I saw a few suggestions that implied an expectation that this Site Updates section will become an ongoing source of technical investigations or mini-articles/guides. Nope. Those require a lot of research and effort so I save them for the main site, and again, to be blunt, they are contingent on donations.
This page is essentially a blog. It's largely put together on the fly, and published as often as I feel the need to commit in writing the many disparate thoughts running through my head, ranging from commentary and further details on recent tech issues through to today's piece, which covers my thoughts on human nature, religion, and a bunch of other things. Just like the main site, my aim is to give you some food for thought, and to be as interesting as possible. I don't expect you to agree with everything I say here, some of which may be challenging or even insulting to some readers. But it's an outlet for my thoughts, and I need to be true to myself, while being reasonably entertaining.
Some suggestions pointed to the need for greater interactivity on the site. I love the fact that TweakGuides readers seem to be from all walks of life, from all over the globe, and are generally quite intelligent. I genuinely enjoy conversing with you whenever I can. However, please don't take this the wrong way when I say that I have no plans to add any interactive components to the site, especially a forum or comments section. Why? When dealing with people on a one-to-one, and especially face-to-face, basis, they're typically lovely, considerate and seem rational. But let a group of people congregate, and worse still, be able to comment anonymously from a distance, and things change dramatically for the worse. To borrow a quote from the movie The Mist:
As a species we're fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?
I've been on a range of forums over the past 25 years dating all the way back to the old Usenet bulletin boards and Newsgroups. I've read countless comments on thousands of articles while researching guides. With few exceptions, most of them conform to the quote above. The majority of people have a set, typically self-serving, point of view. On a forum they quickly team up with others who share that opinion to shout down or browbeat anyone else, refusing to yield to any other point of view, irrespective of the facts. So most anonymous online interactions eventually devolve into an exercise in childish point scoring, posturing and the need to appear superior. A quick Google search on "removing comments section" demonstrates that many sites have had to remove them because they become highly toxic places. Even that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as YouTube, notorious for its ignorance-fuelled garbage dump of a comments section, reduced the prominence of the comments by putting them way, way down below numerous related videos, not to mention removing the comment section entirely from some types of videos (e.g. those involving children).
Wasn't there a TweakGuides Forums once? Yes, but I try not to remember it. We had some great, knowledgeable, members, some of whom are still regular readers. But the forum as a whole became a time-consuming anger-inducing daily grind for me, and brought out the worst in me. I had a naive dream of creating a special place where we could hold intelligent respectful discussions, isolated from the worst aspects of the Internet. I was arrogant enough to believe that I could achieve that, despite human nature being what it is. I was proven wrong, no matter what I tried. Aside from the tribalism touched on above, people are fundamentally lazy. So most people joined the forums simply to bypass having to read the guides on the main site and get answers to their "urgent" questions ASAP. It's a seemingly efficient solution: by asking someone else, you achieve the most with the least amount of effort. In practice it's not efficient, because while you may exert minimal effort if you're spoonfed an answer instead of taking the time to research and learn about it for yourself, in the long run, you will cumulatively exert much more effort by having to constantly ask someone about every little thing. That's if you can even find the right experts these days. Hence the old adage: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime".
Thinking about forums makes me suddenly think of veganism. What? How is veganism relevant here? Because just like forums, as well as other topics we've recently discussed, such as Linux and free open source software, veganism has noble goals but flies in the face of human nature. Suffice it to say, it's taken me decades of interaction with other humans to finally come to terms with the fact that we are merely pretentious animals. This doesn't mean we have to give in to our base instincts at all times, we have the intelligence to fight them. But neither can we pretend they don't or won't exist, if we just ignore them or wish it to be so. We need to be pragmatic, not blindly idealistic.
That, in turn, diverts my thoughts to religion. Yes, my mind is like a pinball machine, but there is method to my seeming madness. I raise religion partly because in asking people to check my Twitter feed to get a real-time update on Site Update posts, I've received some feedback regarding the bio text on my Twitter profile. In particular, the bit which says "don't waste [time] praying to a fictional God...". I need to clarify this. I don't believe in God, and haven't since I was around 23, roughly 25 years ago. This is known as Atheism. Logically, the term "atheism" should not exist. It was originally used by the ancient Greeks to refer to people who rejected the Gods - yes Gods plural. It was later adapted by modern monotheistic religions to ridicule and apply negative connotations to those who rejected religious belief. But it makes absolutely no sense at all. What do you call a person who doesn't play tennis? Is there a word for someone who doesn't believe in vampires? So why do we call people who don't believe in God atheists, instead of just referring to people who do as theists?
Religious people frequently say that "Atheists believe in nothing!" as some sort of moral condemnation. Firstly, the correct summation is "Atheists don't believe in anything". The difference is this: the dictionary defines belief as: "an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof". As a so-called atheist, I reject the concept of "belief" with regards to anything, not just God. So it's true that I don't believe in anything; I only accept something if there is actual proof. For example, I don't believe that if I carry a rabbit's foot around with me, it will bring me good luck. But I do accept the fact that if I wear a seatbelt while driving a car, it can prevent me from being killed or as seriously injured as, say, the guy next to me who was just relying on his lucky rabbit's foot to save him. This is because the objective evidence supports one proposition (seatbelts save lives) and not the other (rabbit's feet bring good luck).
Secondly, as part of the claim that atheists believe in nothing, the assertion is that without the moral rules and restrictions of religion, people would do whatever they felt like, and society would descend into chaos. This is also incorrect. Aside from psychopaths, and other people with damaged thought processes, the rest of the sentient beings on this planet, human and animals alike, are imbued with empathy and self preservation instincts. It's the combination of these two that stops us from indiscriminately killing, raping and stealing, not fear of God. Animals and humans alike understand that needlessly causing pain and misery is not only unpleasant, it is likely to occur to us if we do it to others. So animals live in general harmony with their own kind, and with other animals, and only harm others if necessary. We humans have created laws to govern ourselves, and we generally abide by them not necessarily because we want to, but because we realise it is best for our self-preservation, and the protection of those who we love.
With regards to morality, frankly, I would trust another human who obeys man-made laws out of logic (self-preservation) and empathy much more than one who follows an arbitrary and at times illogical set of supposedly divine laws out of fear of Hell or the desire to enter Heaven. It's far easier to trick otherwise rational, decent people into doing heinous things when you subvert their logic with religion. To quote Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg:
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion
I want you to understand that as a so-called atheist, I don't claim to know for sure that God, or Gods, don't exist. From what we already know, the Universe is near-infinite, and with billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars like our Sun, anything is possible. It follows then that I cannot deny with absolutely certainty the existence of any being, no matter how fantastic, like vampires or dragons, somewhere in this Universe. But logically, in the absence of conclusive, verifiable, evidence, I go about my daily life with the practical assumption that vampires and dragons do not exist, until proven otherwise, and it's the same with God. As someone who tries to be as logical as possible, I can't imagine any other way to live. If you can reconcile being logical and rational with your religious beliefs, I'm impressed. I can't tell you what to think, but I do encourage you to read the entire Bible and/or the Koran, as I did when I was much younger, without getting anyone else to "interpret" it for you. Just read it from cover to cover, and think about what it says, that's all I ask.
And from there, we jump to the movie Amadeus. How did I make that astonishing leap? Because a reader by the first name Jean-Yves emailed me recently, and our discussion turned to classical music, and the piece Dies Irae in particular by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It's one of my favourites, as is the movie Amadeus, and that in itself presents several layers of irony.
I say I like facts, yet I like a movie that is a near-complete fabrication of the story of Mozart's life. What gives? In reality Mozart was a freemason, who, while brilliant, worked hard, made mistakes, was quite responsible, and was friends with the composer Antonio Salieri; in the movie, he is portrayed as a foppish, almost idiot savant-like genius blessed with a flawless talent, which he squanders away due to a lack of responsibility, and winds up being killed by the jealous Salieri. Why do I like the movie? It's a wonderful work of fiction, beautifully executed in terms of the acting, and the use of Mozart's music.
Of greatest relevance here is that it demonstrates what I was talking about earlier with respect to the irreconcilable tension between logic and theism. The central theme of the movie is that Salieri is driven to insanity because he can't work out why God would bestow such talent on a boorish child and brazen sinner, yet deny him his desire to please God with his own music, despite his devoutness, chastity and industry. A logical person can solve this dilemma in an instant; it's only when trying to use a logical mind to translate religious beliefs into reality that insanity may ensue.
There's also a bit of irony that one of my favourite classical pieces is essentially about Judgment Day, and God's wrath (Dies Irae = Day of Wrath in latin). The translation of the words sung through the piece include:
Wrath day, This day, Everything will be ashes, Like David and Sybil announced, What a terror it will be, When the Judge will come, To judge us all harshly.
I imagine God is going to be particularly wrathful on atheists, so it seems a bit funny that I should like a piece of music that conveys the message that I'm going to be horrendously punished. But again, using some logic, I feel this is unlikely to happen, so I can enjoy the music, like the movie Amadeus, as a charming piece of fiction.
And as my hands tire from typing, I jump one last time from the above musings to my last thought for today, carrying on from the discussion of the movie Amadeus. The one thing that I know most people love these days, irrespective of whether they are a vegan, atheist, religious person, or famous composer, is movies. It seems everyone takes some time out of their lives to watch movies frequently, and if not an actual movie, then TV shows. I find it a great way to distract myself, to give my mind a break from more complex thoughts, and enjoy some escapism. Rather than bore you with long descriptions of movies I love, and why, I figure a quick way to bring this lengthy ramble to a close is to post a sideways photo of my Blu-ray shelf, which you can click to enlarge, giving you a closer look at the titles I've liked enough to purchase. There are a few duds in there, but mostly, I love the majority of these films, and you can't go wrong with any of them.
Ok, well there you go, we made it through another Site Update entry. I think this entry in particular gives you a good idea of what's in store for you if you visit this page regularly: my musings on a range of things, nothing more, nothing less. You may agree with some or all of it, or disagree with what I've written, but either way, I hope I've been able to make it interesting and thought-provoking, which was my ultimate goal. As always, drop me a line if you want to share your thoughts about it with me - but please don't feel the need to try to convince me that God exists, because if you know me well enough, you'll know that I did the research and I went to source, and I am 100% comfortable with my decision.
Have a good weekend :)
18 October 2019
Some great suggestions have come through over the past couple of days, both via email and twitter. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to write to me. Obviously, some are not doable, either because they require a significant investment in resources, or simply because I have no interest in those areas. But I have enough of an idea of what you may be interested in reading here to be able to do one or more articles or guides between now and the end of the year, contingent on the level of donations, and I have a better notion of what to talk about in Site Updates.
As part of the feedback, certain issues were directly or indirectly raised, and I feel that by addressing them here, it might give you a better understanding of my general philosophy, as well as the practical limitations of this site.
Let's start with Adam Miettinen, who asked me a question on twitter that I suspect others reading this page would also like to know the answer to: if I could provide a visual cue on the front page indicating when a new Site Update is posted. Great idea, but not achievable in any simple way, as far as I know, Adam. And the reason for my negative reply is also the same underlying reason why I've recently been calling for feedback over and over again: they're both a consequence of removing trackers, ads, cookies, referrer headers, etc. from this site. In the past, I could use Google Analytics to give me very detailed breakdowns of the sites/pages that traffic was coming from, how readers progressed through the site, the time they spent on certain pages, right up to where they went next after leaving. So I didn't really need direct feedback, because I could infer from people's behaviour on the site what they liked and didn't like. Similarly, to provide a feature like the one Adam asked for, the server would need some way of uniquely identifying you each time you visit to know what content you had already seen, namely a tracker of some kind. And I no longer have that capability.
I don't regret removing trackers and cookies, because in retrospect, I didn't have much of a choice. With the coming of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and with my hosting provider being European, it is easier to comply with the GDPR, and better for readers, now that anything which could be considered a breach of privacy has been removed. Plus I wasn't pleased with where Google is heading both with trackers, and their ads.
What I can do however, now that I've decided to get back onto Twitter, is to utilise it more effectively as a place where I can get feedback, not only via general tweets, but also by adding polls to tweets. Furthemore, I can do a brief tweet whenever a new Site Update is out, linking to this page, and I always tag my site-related tweets with the #tweakguides hash to make them easier to find among my other, more frivolous, tweets. I know some of you really don't want to open a Twitter account. I didn't either. But the reality is that this is the future of online mass-communication, whether we like it or not, and it's not going to go away, no matter how trite, banal, shallow and meaningless it is compared to emails or websites.
Many of you have expressed support for this recently added Site Updates/blog section, and indeed, those who did almost unanimously seemed to be happy with me continuing in the same vein. A quick shout out to some of the supporters - note that I mentioned Adam's name in full above because he posted using his full real name on a public website, whereas I won't use full names from emails, nor reproduce their entire content, because the presumption is that it's private correspondence between you and me, unless you inform me otherwise. Anyway, Jarrod, Tom Z, Tom S, Fabrizio, Jens, Pawel, Soren, Xavier, Troy, Jean-Yves, Steven, Alexander, Rene, Iyas, Wayne, Luke - just to name a few. Apologies if I didn't name drop you here. These people and many more seem to be enjoying seeing me make a fool of myself in this section, and I'm happy to continue doing it, so it's a win-win :)
Kidding aside, I'm going to stray into non-tech opinions here from time to time, because as I said, this has quickly become my blog, and so by rights it should reflect the entirety of my thoughts and interests. Many of you said this was something you wanted to see, so there appears to be sufficient support for that too. I've gone to sufficient lengths to ensure that this page is clearly separated from the rest of the site so that anyone who truly objects to my opinions need never be confronted by them, as long as they never visit Site Updates.
Before I go, I want to address one other theme in the feedback that I've noticed, and that's a general disappointment and/or reluctance by some Linux enthusiasts to genuinely accept my personal conclusions in the Linux Experiment. I did think I was reasonably clear in that article, but I need to reiterate that at the moment, I have no plans, and more importantly, no need, to use any version of Linux. My personal circumstances are such that I have the ability to do everything I need quickly and easily using Windows 10. Unless Microsoft really screws the pooch with Windows, it is not worth my time to learn the complexities of advanced Linux usage, just so I can say I'm not using Windows. If you thought that I was going to suddenly become some sort of champion for Linux and FOSS, or if they're like a religion to you, in that you use them mainly for some moral reasons, then sadly, I cannot agree. I tried to highlight the misleading and unrealistic aspects of the FOSS philosophy in The Linux Experiment; it is not a 'white knight' solution.
While I've happily adopted some FOSS software, others have frustrated me with their unnecessary complexity and seemingly random support. The best example was in setting up the free open source Kodi media player on my parents' Sony Android TV, and comparing the process and outcome to using the proprietary paid Infuse software on my own Apple TV. Infuse cost me a bit, but out of the box, it comes configured exceedingly well, has a few well-chosen options, and required all of maybe 20 minutes to set up across my Apple TV, iPhone and iPad. It's been upgraded multiple times and I've never had any real issues with it. In contrast, Kodi took me hours to try to get it to detect a locally connected USB hard drive plugged into the TV's main USB port (and yes, it's a supported drive model, size & format). It then had a known issue whereby I had to disable hardware acceleration in order to use a video cropping feature on 4:3 content for my parents. Finally, when Kodi updated from version 17 to 18, the popular Titan Mod which provided the interface I needed was no longer supported because its developer had left for no apparent reason. Other versions of the mod appeared, and they kind of work, with some issues, and of course plenty of time spent reconfiguring the dozens of options, and hoping it doesn't break when Kodi is next updated.
The difference between the Kodi and Infuse support forums is night and day. There's one main guy on the Infuse forums who is courteous, efficient and frequently knows the answer to your issue, or chases it up ASAP. I imagine it's because he actually gets paid a decent wage. The Kodi devs act like they're doing you a favour by even acknowledging your issue, are frequently rude, treat all posters as potential pirates (because, truthfully, that's what Kodi is mostly used for) and thus seem resentful of most users because in order to actually get paid, the developers are trying to lure content owners onto the platform, but the piracy reputation of Kodi works against them. The main sticky at the top of the Kodi Forums is entitled The Piracy Box Sellers and Youtube Promoters Are Killing Kodi. That's largely the reality of FOSS. It seems to be surviving by selling a phony dream to overworked underpaid developers and/or simply setting them up to be cheaply gobbled up by corporations. I'm not completely opposed to FOSS, but I'm not here to blindly promote it either. If you can't accept that, then sadly, we must part ways.
Update: Not sure why I kept referring to Kodi in all caps, maybe because the Kodi logo shows it that way? Anyway, it was late when I posted the update but it's fixed now. Also, while I appreciate that some people love Linux, and that's certainly your choice if you do, I'll just say for hopefully the last time that I can see absolutely no compelling reason to install or try any version of Linux right now, either as a secondary OS, or a VM, or in any form - except perhaps my LiveCD disc of Mint that sits in my cupboard should I need it. Typically, if I have a need for something, I then look for the best software to suit my needs; with Linux, the suggestion seems to be that I install it regardless, then find reasons to use it. That's not going to happen, so while I appreciate the interest, let's leave it for now. One more thing: the easiest solution with regards to indicating new Site Updates is for me to just post a minimalist news item on the main page (e.g., a heading-only item with no text) saying New Site Update Posted (date beneath it), and people should know that they can use the Site Update link at the top of the site to get there. We can try something like that if it doesn't overwhelm the main page, but if you want real-time updates of when a new Site Update is posted, the only way I can do that is via my Twitter feed. In the future I'll also be running some polls to get a quick count of levels of support for certain things, so again, to vote in those you'll need to join Twitter. I haven't found any free poll sites that don't harvest user information and/or sign you up to spam lists, so Twitter seems the least worst solution. Just be careful when setting up your Twitter account so that you don't enter any detailed personal information, or give it permission to access your contacts list, and you turn off all of its email spam options, etc. and it's generally very well-behaved and non-intrusive after that.
Feedback Time Continued + Office 2010 End of Life
15 October 2019
First, a big thank you to the people who have written to me so far, or responded on Twitter, I genuinely appreciate your time in giving me thoughtful feedback. That said, it is still only a relative few who have done this, and I need more! I'm not fishing for compliments; if you want to tell me that some (or all) of my Site Updates are annoying, or you want me to write less about this or that, I don't mind if you're blunt, as long as you don't put it across rudely.
Note that the aim of the exercise isn't so that I change my opinions simply because they're unpopular, that's not going to happen. The opinions I hold are a result of contemplating the evidence before me, and a great deal of experience, so they'll only change as the facts (or my knowledge of the facts) change, not whether people are upset by my opinions. So if you're an AMD fan, or a Linux fan, and are angry at my recent articles and thoughts in regards to those two sacred cows of the tech world, then, frankly, that's your problem, not mine. I've seen people refer to me recently as an "Intel shill" and Microsoft fanboy. Anyone who's read my material for more than a few days would quickly see that in the past, I've blasted Nvidia for their GeForce Experience intrusiveware for example, and of course, I haven't been shy about detailing some negative experiences in working with Nvidia; I frequently criticise Microsoft for their ongoing incompetence and visionless direction; I've pointed out my displeasure at Intel's Management Engine security co-processor and drivers; and I've even *gasp* criticised Valve - the absolute holy of holies in the game world - for not using their dominance via the Steam platform to help push down digital software prices. All of this means that I've been pretty much persona non grata with every major tech company for years now: no sponsorship deals, no free hardware or software, no referrals. So if I'm a shill, I'm doing it really, really badly! That doesn't mean you have to like my opinions or preferences, but it's ridiculous to assume that I'm motivated by anything other than stating what I observe.
Anyway, once again, please give me your honest feedback. It's necessary if you want to read interesting material on this site.
Now, moving on quickly to the news post today about MS Office 2010 reaching End of Life in a year's time (13 October 2020), whereby it won't get any more security patches. This doesn't worry me so much, because although there are many exploits for Office 2010, with the exception of Outlook (which I don't use), the other components are protected firstly by the security in Windows 10 itself, and secondly, the exercise of a lot of caution - the usual advice about not continuing if you see a UAC Prompt when opening a Word doc or Excel spreadsheet, not opening any documents from unknown or risky sources, etc. However, this alone isn't enough to guarantee security, so by this time next year, I will be using something else in place of Word 2010 and Excel 2010, the two programs I actively use from my Office 2010 suite.
Office moved on quite some time ago to being Office 365, the '365' signifying that Microsoft will try to milk you for cash each and every one of the 365 days in a year, each and every year, rather than just once, up-front. To be honest, it's not a bad deal. Here in Australia it's just $99AUD ($67USD) a year, or $10AUD a month, for a one-person subscription, and works out to be even cheaper per person if you get Office 365 Home for up to 6 people. No, those aren't affiliate links by the way, I never make any money from links I provide on this site, so don't subscribe thinking I'll get a portion ;)
The fundamental problem I have is that the more subscriptions we rack up, the less control we have over our finances. Add up your streaming video provider(s) + streaming music provider(s) + cloud storage provider(s) + satellite radio provider(s) + Internet/mobile phone provider(s) + home security provider + insert numerous other monthly subscriptions (eBay Plus, Amazon Prime, etc. etc.). Then add in a subscription for your office software, and possibly a "coming soon from Microsoft - Windows 365!" subscription, and you suddenly find yourself paying out literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars in "subscriptions". And each one of them has the likelihood, as Netflix has demonstrated over the years, of steadily rising over time, well above the pace of inflation, when a provider either deliberately or accidentally, underestimates the costs required to provide the services they've actually advertised. It's very hard to actively monitor the financial impact of a dozen subscriptions, especially if they're just increased by, say, a dollar or two a month, year after year.
So what it comes down to is that I don't mind paying for services, but I do mind continually paying more and more in the way of subscriptions, which is a model deliberately designed to lull users into paying small amounts continuously, which frequently results in consumers paying much more than they may otherwise need to, for the same sort of service as before. Especially as most of these services now use the famous "Try for X period free! * and then we'll automatically and quietly start billing you every month without any confirmation before you notice" trick.
At the moment I'm leaning heavily towards switching to LibreOffice, which I briefly mentioned in The Linux Experiment article. It seems to be sufficient for my needs, though I'll try other free packages for comparison, especially to see how they go for compatibility with the Office Suite. Because the reality is that while we may switch to an alternative, many workplaces won't, so what we use needs to play friendly with Office, and I believe most alternatives do in most regards. Stay tuned for that article or Site Update soon.
15 October 2019
Well I've managed to rant and babble my way through about two months' worth of Site Updates, but I'm flying blind. Aside from a few emails here and there (which I do appreciate), I don't have much of an idea as to whether I'm boring everyone, or whether I'm on the right track. I also need some help on what topics to talk about, and also, what potential guides or articles I can produce in the future. In short, I need your feedback, especially now that Google Analytics and cookies are banished from the site. I have no real way of knowing why you come here (aside from front page news updates), what you enjoy, what you don't enjoy, and what you'd like to see.
It can be pretty much anything, even non-tech-related topics, as long as it's not a request for a game guide, or a request for a guide for and/or promotion of some relatively obscure piece of software you personally enjoy, or a tricky way of asking me for hardware upgrade advice ("What do you think is the best GPU for running this game right now?" = No). Please remember that I'm writing for a broad audience, with limited resources, so if you have an idea, ask yourself if it would truly be interesting for others to read about it, and would it be doable for me. If I think any are worth pursuing, I'll reproduce the question or topic as put to me, along with the name/alias of the person submitting it, and either talk about it in Site Updates, or consider doing an article on it for the main site if it's truly inspiring.
Windows 7 End of Life Approaches
13 October 2019
With the recent announcement that the November Update, Windows 10 Version 1909, is about to drop soon, if you're a Windows 7 user, it's a good time to decide whether you want to switch to Windows 10 or Linux, and start the process now rather than waiting until the last minute (January 2020). The Linux Experiment details how you can quickly start delving into Linux with a LiveCD, if you want to go in that direction; meanwhile, when Windows 10 Version 1909 arrives in the next few weeks, it will be the perfect opportunity to do a clean install of Windows 10 - and chances are, you may even be able to upgrade for free. Doing so now will give you six months before the next major Feature Update arrives to bed everything down, and simply by using the tips in the last couple of pages of Hardware Confusion 2019, such as installing a third party Start Menu and using O&O Shutup 10, you can tame much of Windows 10's idiosyncrasies and intrusive behaviour relatively easily. It's not as frightening as it seems, the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is not all that jarring. It is necessary to transition to a modern OS though, because not only does the latest hardware not properly support prior versions of Windows, it's a significant security risk to yourself, and to others, to run Windows 7 after January next year.
If you're deciding what to do for family members who have fairly basic needs - mainly browsing the web, checking email, playing simple games and the like, then instead of going to the trouble of transitioning to Windows 10, I have a couple of suggestions. If they insist on keeping a PC, then Linux is actually a good choice, as long as you can set it up for them. Simple browsing, email, multimedia and web consumption are as easy to do (and very similar) on something like Linux Mint as they are on Windows, and Linux also seems to run better on lower-end hardware. Alternatively, if their PC is very old and/or on the way out, then with the recent release of iPadOS 13, which now supports direct file transfers and is more laptop-like in its design, then the new 10.2 inch iPad with a keyboard cover is actually a better solution in my opinion. Minimal user knowledge and maintenance is required, especially with automated backups onto iCloud, and a curated app store to prevent malware infection. It's a safe but still very capable choice at a price that isn't much more than a mid-end laptop.
Again, whatever you do, please don't be complacent and hope for some last-minute reprieve for Windows 7. It's had a good ten year run, but it's time to retire Windows 7. As much as you may hate Windows 10, it is much better under the hood than 7 or even 8.1. I get the feeling that with the Universal Windows Platform now unofficially dead, given the new MS Surface Duo don't-call-it-a-phone running an Android-capable OS, that MS will spend less time bastardizing Windows 10 to suit mobile devices. So the worst may be over, fingers crossed.
Say No to Fanboyism
10 October 2019
As I browse through various tech sites I see more and more fanboyism pervading even the "professional" sites and YouTube videos, as they try to pander to their audiences' biases to get more traffic. I've noted before that AMD, as the underdog, is still very much in favour with the average PC user today compared with the "evil" Nvidia and Intel. This isn't new; 15 years ago, ATI, the GPU company that was later bought out by AMD, was the favourite against Nvidia. I have nothing against AMD; it's a company, like any other, it's publicly listed, so it has shareholders, and therefore, its overwhelming priority is, both legally and morally, to maximize the return on the investment of its shareholders. It is not a charity, and it is not making decisions in your favour at the expense of its profits. If an AMD product is cheaper, but has issues, they should not be excused, the same way that if Intel puts out a product that has faults, they too should be highlighted. Unfortunately, many people do not view AMD in this way, and therefore, we get continual justifications and rationalisations in defense of AMD, and a push to avoid Nvidia or Intel products, regardless of the facts.
Let me digress for a minute. With Red Dead Redemption 2's PC release imminent, and with its minimum and recommended specs having just been released, I wondered if my ageing but still capable GTX 970 4GB would run the game. Checking the specs, given a GTX 1060 is the recommended card, I'm betting a GTX 970, which is only around 10% slower than a 1060, will be fine, even with its 4GB vs. the 6GB of a 1060 - especially given a 4GB Radeon RX 480 is also recommended. The relevance of this digression to fanboyism is that I have no doubt that someone will send me an email pointing out that the GTX 970 actually "only has 3.5GB of fast RAM (lol)". The GTX 970 VRAM Controversy conveniently provides me with a great way of demonstrating precisely why fanboyism is so harmful, and why fanboys are, almost always, so very wrong.
Basically, the 4GB of VRAM on the GTX 970 GPU is segmented into a faster 3.5GB and a slower 512MB. Nvidia even lost a class action lawsuit on the basis that this was false advertising - even though there was, and is, no legitimate proof of actual decline in performance resulting from it - and Nvidia's CEO admitted they should have communicated the VRAM configuration better. That VRAM configuration by the way was why Nvidia could sell a relatively powerful card at a lower price, and hence why the 970 GTX was the most popular price/performance bargain of its time.
But this was Nvidia, and as we all know, they're evil, so the GTX 970 VRAM issue generated a great deal of ridicule from a certain segment of the PC community, and all sorts of stories and warnings that the card was effectively useless for future gaming. In my testing at the time, this seemed patently false, as I tried to demonstrate in this video, which showed that an exaggerated VRAM load on the GPU, by simulating 4K with max settings in Far Cry 4, while resulting in expectedly low framerates, didn't result in any hitching or stuttering, which are the key symptoms of low or slow VRAM. As you can see both in the comments, and the votes for the video, this didn't go down well with that certain segment of the PC community. The top comment in the video, no doubt coming from an MIT-educated electronics engineer, was "Essentially 500MB 'duct taped' to 3.5GB. Yeah the way its meant to be played alright."
Well it turns out that the 970 GTX's "500MB duct taped to 3.5GB" manages very well over four years later, despite the expert contributions of the fanboys. This recent Revisiting the GTX 970 vs. R9 290 article demonstrates that all the rubbish about AMD cards being more "future proof", that the GTX 970 would collapse in future games due to its VRAM structure, were all false:
Despite its 3.5GB of fast VRAM, the GTX 970 remains the more reliable performer which might surprise some of you, especially after you've no doubt heard over and over again how it's doomed and will be completely useless before too long. It's also the cooler GPU but most important of all, either solution will let you play games at 1080p comfortably all these years later.
The relevance to 2019 is that it highlights clearly the motivations of the people who ridiculed the GTX 970 and promoted the AMD alternative: to support their brand bias, not to inform, or rationally examine hardware choices. This strategy of exaggerating the faults of the fanboy's hated brand, and similarly, exaggerating the benefits of his or her favourite brand, or excusing its faults, continues today with the recent Ryzen 7nm launch. AMD, just like Nvidia, miscommunicated the way this CPU works with regards to boost, there were plenty of launch issues which basically made the chip unreliable for months, some still continuing. And prices went up, for both AMD CPUs and AMD GPUs, despite their performance arguably not being much higher than the Intel or Nvidia offerings which had come out almost a year earlier. So out came the excuses, out came the derision of Intel as a defense, out came the scapegoating of motherboard manufacturers and of this and that - anything not to lay blame on AMD. Had this been Intel or Nvidia, there would be howls of the urgent need for a class action against them for lying about advertised frequencies, much greater heat and noise, and BIOS issues both in launch reviews and subsquently, all of which may also quite possibly have reduced the longevity of these CPUs.
Again, I personally have no issues with the Ryzen 3000 series. All new CPU architectures have launch issues; AMD did miscommunicate the different way that boost behaves on these new-gen CPU, just like Nvidia with the GTX 970 VRAM; it's not a major issue in either case because they still perform well. I've noted before, and still think, that the 3900X in particular is a good buy, with both solid 12 core performance should SMT need to be disabled - and I think it will eventually, as it's a major security risk - and yet still provides 24 thread performance if SMT can be kept enabled and is needed. Frankly, I don't see a huge need for 16-24+ threads even in a few years, because despite fanboy promises that multithreading is the future, and the (largely irrelevant to most PC user's needs) results of the much-loved CineBench benchmark, I expect the bulk of what most people do (browsing, watching videos, movies, and games) will fully occupy 4-8 cores at most for the foreseeable future.
Interestingly, back in 2010, an AMD representative posting on Hacker News expounded the benefits of the very opposite to their current strategy in regard to SMT:
The goal was not to dismiss SMT - merely to explain why we are not using it. We have a different strategy than the competition. They are choosing SMT, we are heading down the path of more physical cores... The argument that we have been deflecting for some time is "SMT only adds ~5% overhead and gives you ~20% more performance." On the surface that sounds like a good tradeoff. If you always got 20% - but you don't ..Sometimes you get performance, sometimes you don't. I used to work for a major OEM that sold Intel systems. One of the biggest problems was that SQL Server, for instance, ran slower with HT when you had more than 4 threads. But customers never thought to turn it off because they assumed it was a "performance feature." If it was pitched as a "sometimes" performance feature, then people might be inclined to turn it off to check performance.
Once again, I must stress, I'm not writing this to ridicule AMD. I am writing this to ridicule AMD Fanboys. AMD is an agile company competing against much larger opponents, and they're doing a great job despite a few hitches here and there, giving a great return to their investors. AMD fanboys, and the sites that pander to these fanboys to get traffic, on the other hand, are not doing a great job, and they're not doing themselves or their fellow PC enthusiasts any favours. Fanboys, regardless of who they support, actively work against informed decision making by being overtly biased. We all have certain brand preferences, but if you notice yourself getting passionate in defending "your" brand, or excusing their foul-ups, then chances are you've come down with fanboyism. The only cure is to read more broadly, and to think more openly, and remember: companies are impersonal profit maximizing entities by design, they are not your friend, even if there are friendly people in them. Be loyal to whoever is giving you the best product at a reasonable (note: not necessarily cheapest) price right now.
Update: Fixed the 3900X core count mistake!
Latest Windows 10 Update
9 October 2019
Just a quick heads-up that I've installed the latest update for Windows 10 version 1903, and so far, so good. No issues to report on my system, and there are none listed on the Windows 10 1903 Known Issues page yet. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't any issues, simply that there aren't any issues Microsoft has acknowledged. The only minor quirk I have is that I had to force a cleanup of the Update files via the DISM command, as per my post a few days ago, to regain some drive space. I get the feeling Microsoft may be deliberately preventing easy uninstallation of updates now, in case users need to roll back after issues with one. I also ran an SFC /VERIFYONLY (i.e., runs System File Checker, but doesn't try to fix anything), and it reported no issues, which again, is a good sign. Fingers crossed that you don't have any issues either, though typically that's impossible, as inevitably, every update will always create a problem for somebody.
The Death of iTunes
8 October 2019
Today saw the release of MacOS 10.15, known as Catalina. My very first thought, fresh from having tried Linux, is that Apple chose too tame a name; they should have called it Burbling Baboon. My second thought was yay, a new MacOS, who cares! That's a bit harsh. Actually, what drew my attention to it as an iDevice user is that it marks the death of iTunes. As of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, and now MacOS 10.15, you no longer need iTunes to transfer or manage music to and on your iDevice or Mac. I've only installed iTunes briefly a handful of times in the past 8 years, just to upload a few songs, or remove a ringtone file from my iPhone or iPad. It was truly an awful, counter-intuitive, painful program to use on Windows. Which is why, for Windows users, it remains alive! That's right, Apple is maintaining iTunes for Windows, perhaps as some sort of punishment. I can't see why you'd want to use it, but it's going to be there for a while yet.
There were two minor issues I recently had on my iPhone, for which I was dreading having to install iTunes to fix, and kept putting it off. Thankfully, as I'd hoped, iOS 13 fixed them. The first issue was that I'd made several ringtones using GarageBand (instructions here), but the downside is that for some reason, prior to iOS 13, you couldn't delete ringtones, custom or otherwise, from your iPhone. So multiple copies, some duds, of a bunch of ringtones I'd been experimenting with, cluttered my phone. The procedure required using iTunes, but now iOS 13 lets you delete them directly. The second issue is that one of my albums, a Godfather Trilogy soundtrack compilation, had been split into two, because the metadata was slightly different on some songs: The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra was missing the 'The' on some tracks. Previously, this couldn't be resolved without iTunes, even after I deleted and re-added the album; now, just removing it from my library and re-downloading it automatically merged the two correctly. So that was it, I never need iTunes again (I hope!).
I also discovered that last month, Apple rolled out a web-based music player which can play Apple-based music - I totally missed this bit of news. If you want to try it, it's still in beta, but can be found here: Apple Music Web Player. It looks like you need to be an Apple Music subscriber, or at least opt-in to trying it, otherwise even if you already own music on iTunes and sign in with an Apple ID, it won't let you past without initiating the Apple Music trial - which I don't want to do. Without an Apple Music subscription it appears mainly just a place to preview tracks.
I made the bold decision at the start of the year that I wanted to be free from being tied to monthly music streaming fees. Combined with the patchiness of Internet coverage while driving, and the whims of music licensing which can affect track availability, not to mention monthly fees inevitably creeping upward (e.g., Netflix), and the fact that I'm quite old-school and don't listen to any new music, it made sense for me. I set about legitimately purchasing all of the songs and albums I like from iTunes. It took a few months and some bargain-hunting (mainly for some fast-disappearing compilation albums) but I've managed to put together over 1,400 of my favourite tracks, most from the '50s - '90s, for around the cost of three years' worth of standard streaming subscription fees. I have local copies on my phone (~12GB), backup copies on HDD, and that's it - free from streaming, free from iTunes, but with all the benefits of Apple's music ecosystem: streaming from any device to heaphone, portable speaker, in-car Bluetooth, or via my Apple TV, to the main sound system; centralised playlists across all devices, full album art & tags automatically maintained by Apple, and should my device be wiped or lost, redownloading the music library is now dead simple.
It's an approach worth considering if you're like me and have very specific tastes; if you listen to a huge variety of stuff, streaming makes much more sense. Either way, it's great to see the end of iTunes as a requirement to manage music on Apple devices. While it remains available for Windows users, it's best avoided; even the Microsoft Store version which appears simpler to install and uninstall is a buggy mess.
Good News For PC Gamers
(Bonus: Anti-YouTube Rant Included)
5 October 2019
If you're a PC gamer, you would have heard by now that Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) is officially coming to PC on 5 November 2019. This is great news, as the first Red Dead Redemption was one title I never got to play, but heard so much about. Of course, Rockstar waited over a year to port RDR2 to PC, to ensure they got maximum sales via consoles first, but better late than never with a game like this. I don't have a console, so I watched a few RDR2 videos on YouTube when it came out, and I actually enjoyed seeing it on a big screen sitting on my couch. It was the closest I came to wanting to buy a console, but ultimately, the biggest reason not to isn't because of this silly "PC Master Race" crap, the lower graphics fidelity or lack of tweaking options to improve it; it's simply down to the fact that console controls can never be as precise as keyboard + mouse. If you've grown up gaming on consoles, then it's probably not an issue you consider much, but I think that for most PC gamers, it's a noticeable loss of fine control that's hard to ignore, and no, the "aim assist" feature doesn't make things any better.
On a side note, it was nearly impossible to find decent YouTube gameplay videos of RDR2 - or pretty much any game - where (a) there wasn't obnoxious commentary blaring over the video, ruining the atmosphere; (b) it wasn't covered with bright watermarks and/or a picture-in-picture image of the player's "hilarious reactions" (a technique made famous by the imbecilic PewDiePie); and (c) it wasn't a compilation of edited portions from the game.
Can you tell that I'm not a big fan of YouTube? It started out great, but over the years, it's become a cesspit of utter garbage. It's like they took everything wrong with the commercial free-to-air TV I grew up with from the '70s to the '90s, and made it worse: more annoying ads, sensationalized, amateurish content where the "content creator" insists on building a "brand" (i.e., a greater focus on them than the actual topic they're discussing), and of course, a return to 1950s-style advertorials - that is, the entire video is basically an ad that you can't skip, because it's sponsored by a particular company, or political/lobby group, to push a certain viewpoint or product, whether subtly or blatantly. I uninstalled the YouTube app on my phone and tablet a few months ago. It was updating almost every second day, incessantly prompting me to subscribe to YouTube Music, and of course, the unskippable ads... I'd had enough. If I really need to watch YouTube on a mobile device I now use the YouTube Mobile site that I've bookmarked, which, combined with the free Adguard iOS app (not sure of an Android equivalent), gives me ad-free, update-free, nag-free viewing. Is it immoral to block YouTube ads? Not, in my opinion, if you donate directly to your favourite content producer(s), or purchase what they're selling (e.g., a song or movie). Blocking YouTube ads, combined with not opening any clickbait videos, helps to reduce the rubbish that YouTube's ad model currently rewards.
Where was I? Oh yes, something else that's interesting which neatly combines my dislike of Google with Red Dead Redemption 2 PC is that the game is a launch title for Google Stadia - a streaming service that will allow you to play RDR2 PC on your phone or tablet, or virtually any other device, at up to 4K resolution + HDR, 60FPS and 5.1 sound. All this at a cost of $69US for a wireless controller if you want one, and $9.99US a month (no Australian launch date). No, this isn't an advertorial for Google Stadia... if it is, it's probably the worst advertorial ever ;) I'm genuinely curious as to how this tech will work. It's been around for years, and it's never really taken off (e.g., the now-defunct OnLive). Latency issues and stream interruptions are a major, and valid, reason. What both fascinates and scares me a little is the way Google can be so confident of this product, because it tends to confirm that they have a great deal of control over the general infrastructure on which the Internet is based. Will Google prioritise their Stadia traffic over other streams, like Netflix? This isn't conspiracy theory stuff, this Venturebeat Article for example, notes that Google and other companies are buying the sub-marine cabling that forms the heart of high-speed Internet infrastructure across the globe. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon will soon own almost 10% of all sub-marine fibre-optic cabling. That's a worrying thought. It's not even a question of trust, or any tinfoil hat conspiracies about spying; it all boils down to the need to keep Internet infrastructure as free from any commercial interests as possible, that could otherwise dictate the flow of the most important commodity of all: information.
Latest Windows Update
4 October 2019
Microsoft rolled out another out-of-band security patch today. That's fine, security issues need to be addressed ASAP. It seems to have installed without any major problems on my system (so far), but I note again that it is somehow flagging the update files incorrectly such that they can't be removed by the Windows Disk Cleanup utility after updating. Not a major issue to be sure, but from the past two updates I've lost over 6GB of disk space for no good reason, other than whenever MS fixes something, they inevitably break something else.
The good news is that you can manually clean up the component store - the \Windows\WinSxS\ folder where current and previous update files are held - by opening an Admin command prompt and typing:
Dism.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup
Press Enter and it may take some time, but this effectively does the same thing as the Cleanup utility. I got 3GB back from today's update, but it looks like the other 3GB or so I lost last week remains lost for now. I have a 500GB SSD as my primary system drive, so a few GB isn't going to kill me, but it's a waste given it serves me no purpose.
Microsoft Goes Mobile (Again)
3 October 2019
Got up late this morning, only to see that hours ago, early AM Australian time, Microsoft announced a new Surface Duo
phone mobile device. It's a dual-screen phone, combining the Surface brand, with an unspecified OS, running Android apps. Knowing Microsoft, this device will presumably combine the worst of all worlds: the Surface brand's well-known lack of reliability and rapid obsolescence, with some hybrid of Windows 10, a desktop OS bastardized in favour of mobile devices, but which serves neither as well as it could, and probably some performance-limited Android app environment. All in a device that looks like a dual screen phone, but which Microsoft insists isn't a phone. And - you read it here first! - will be rebranded, revised, and dropped, all within the space of a couple of years. You have my rock-solid guarantee on that*
Maybe somebody much smarter than me can explain why Windows users went through all of the pain, first with Windows 8, then Windows 10, as Microsoft steadily devolved the pure desktop experience into a FrankenOS with a mobile-centric UI and Metro/Windows/Universal Windows Platform (or whatever it's called this week) apps mixed with "legacy" apps - all so it could essentially wind up with this - and let's call it what it is - Android Phone. Whatever OS it runs, whatever MS wants to call it, basically it's an Android Phone. Nobody will be buying this to run UWP. And it doesn't look like it can run full-featured Windows programs. So it's an Android phone. They've made it dual screen so that I suppose if you're out and about and want to look like a total gumby, you can unfold it and try to "work" on it. Sigh.
I know it's easy to criticise, and be sarcastic, and act like we know better than a billion dollar corporation. But honestly, when it comes to Microsoft, I just scratch my head as to how any of this remotely conforms to anything resembling a strategy. The key aspect of a strategy being that it's a long-term, consistent vision which a company works towards. Not a moving target that probably confuses Microsoft's engineers and other staff as much as it does us the consumer. Meanwhile, what does this mean for UWP? Obviously, MS won't come out and say UWP is dead. It will labour on with UWP in some form or another for at least a year or two more, then rebrand it, and ultimately, quietly drop it. Even if this phone can run UWP, which user would be dumb enough to invest in that ecosystem when they'll have Android apps available? If MS tries to corral Android apps into its own Microsoft Store, then which idiot would buy this phone instead of a proper Android device?
What this means for Windows, I don't know. I hope it means they'll stop buggerizing it and let it get back to being a desktop-centric OS. But how they'll then monetize that, who knows. Maybe we should get a kickstarter going for Windows.
Site Updates From Previous Months:
The Rationale Behind the Site Updates & Editorials Page
One of the more desperately needed pieces of housekeeping I've wanted to do for some time is to separate the bulk of my increasingly frequent Site Update posts from the actual news on the front page. I fully understand that many people visit the front page of TweakGuides daily simply to see the latest software or drivers updates, or general tech news. You probably don't want to come here and find the front page covered in a wall of text, often consisting of my opinions and other personal observations.
This is actually incredibly important, because no matter whether you tend to agree with my musings or hate them, news should be served up as objectively as possible, without much in the way of "opinions". Unfortunately, the Internet is now flooded with people who think they are "entitled to voice an opinion", no matter how incorrect or banal it may be. I tend to side with Harlan Ellison, who famously said: You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant." In the past I've similarly alluded to uninformed opinions as weeds on the landscape of the Internet: of no productive value, constantly growing and very hard to get rid of once they spread. That, incidentally, is why I value getting informed, individual feedback from you via email, as opposed to the mostly toxic forums or comments sections on other websites, where people with entrenched (and frequently totally uninformed) opinions form tribes and wage war on each other.
At the same time, I recognize that it's impossible to make any news I provide 100% unbiased or objective; everything, from what I choose to post as news and what I exclude, to how I interpret it when I summarize it for a news post, to even tiny things like the order in which it is presented on the page, carries some implicit bias on my part. We all have biases, whether we're aware of them or not. The least I can do is minimize your exposure to mine, and I believe I can finally do that.
To view the latest news go to the Front Page