Happy New Year

It's been a bit quite here of late. I started playing with a new blogging tool over at mrfris.by (yes that is a Belarusian domain name, and yes I am rather fond of it) and haven't quite decided which of the two I'll keep, or what to do with either one.

I wanted though to quickly say Happy New Year to those of you subscribed here and reading. I hope you have a great year. 

I have neither resolutions nor nuggets of New Years wisdom to share, you'll be glad to know, what I do have is a picture from our Christmas Holiday in Hallstatt, Austria. BYE. 


Flyme OS Screenshots

Here are a few screenshots from the YunOS flavoured Flyme OS running Meizu M1 mini I bought in Shanghai. YunOS is the Alibaba-made Android fork, and Flyme is the Meizu branded cloud OS which sits atop it. Design-wise, Flyme feels very well considered, and miles better than what the likes of Samsung does to Android.

The screenshots start with the iOS9-like search interface, the launcher, and including some of the stock apps which came with the device. Overall, you can see the iOS influence here, but you don't have to go far to start spotting artefacts of the underlying android OS from which this is derived. 

News for iOS, Bad News for the web.

Watching the WWDC keynote this evening with some of my colleagues, the thing that struck me the most was that for the second time in a couple of weeks - the web has been dealt a blow. Facebook's Instant Articles came first - a damning indictment of how we as an industry have taken all of the power of the open web, and 20 years of collaboration & innovation, and burdened it with so much crap that loading a browser instance on a pocket super-computer is a disappointing enough experience enough of the time that Facebook can make a business out of doing something web-like, in an app, better. 

The new News app in iOS9 is similarly irritating - all of the promise of RSS, of syndicated content, of choice for the end user - all thrown away because we couldn't figure out a way to make it anywhere near accessible enough for normal people. Again, content which belongs on the web is going to be hidden away in a ring-fenced, silo'ed, owned platform. 

We have only ourselves to blame. 10MB webpages, dozens of external tracking files, retargeting and remarketting cookies, webpages with hundreds of HTTP requests. It's no wonder Apple & Facebook see an opportunity. We left the door wide open for someone to treat content & the consumers of content with the respect they deserve. 

Time to go learn some swift.

Watching proper television in the Netherlands

TV here is not good. My internet subscription comes with Dutch TV, BBC One & 2, and a few other mostly dire channels like MTV, Discovery, etc. So, I’ve been gradually improving our access to decent TV in a way which is less troublesome than torrenting files. Here’s my current setup: 

  1. unlocator.com - this is the key ingredient, it masks my IP address to bypass the geographical restrictions on all of the services listed below. Unlocator costs $5.99 a month, and can be used from any device which lets you set your own DNS. In my case, I manually set my apple TV DNS to run through unlocator, and I have a second wifi network which allows me to connect via unlocator on any other device in the house without fiddling with DNS settings on iOS devices, which is a bit more convoluted than elsewhere. 
  2. A US iTunes account - I have an iTunes account connected to the US store. This gets you broader programming not only in the store itself, but also brings a whole bunch of extra apps to my apple TV (a nice side-effect here is that I can now also install iOS apps which for whatever reason only get released in the US). 
  3. iTunes US Giftcards - in creating an account in iTunes, you need to provide some form of payment info. The only option which works without a US credit card is to buy iTunes gift cards. I use mygiftcardsupply.com to buy cards and keep my account in credit. I looked at lots of other options here and this one seemed like the most reliable option. The cards are sold at face-value and you get the voucher code generally within ten minutes of completing the transaction. 
  4. With iTunes credit, I am now able to subscribe to Netflix and access the US content catalogue (which is much, much broader than the Dutch offering), and I’m also trailing HBO Now which just came to apple TV. I’ve never experienced problems streaming content via unlocator DNS, except with HBO Now, which seems to still be suffering from some teething problems. 

That covers accessing US content. unlocator is smart enough to decide on an ad-hoc basis which country to present as my origin country, so I’m also able to use my Playstation 4 to access British TV content. I do the same DNS trick on the PS4 and have the BBC & SkyTV apps installed. For Sky, there is no easy way to get a subscription from outside of the UK, but thanks to an enterprising network of British emigrants, there are ways to get a subscription and access Sky Go via the Playstation. This gives me access to all of the standard Sky TV channels, but what I use it for is mostly watching Football and Cricket. 

In my 7 years of living overseas, this is the best setup I’ve found for getting access to proper television. The only downside, of course is the cost, here’s a breakdown of what this setup costs per month: 

Unlocator: $6
SkyTV: $40
Netflix: $8
HBO Now: $15 

Total: $69 (£45/€63)