Jamie's Notes

Currently browsing technology ⤵

Blacklight

Feed Blacklight with a website and it’ll scan it and tell you what tracking technologies are being used.

I scanned a handful of the websites that I visit daily. One site had 16 trackers in operation and placed 30 third-party cookies! Almost all of them told Facebook and Google of my visit.

I was surprised to see that Google is setting third-party cookies via my site – probably as a result of me embedding Youtube videos.

Spacial audio on the AirPods Pro

Apple released a firmware upgrade today, enabling a new feature called ‘spacial audio’ on the AirPods Pro. It replicates Dolby Atmos, the fancy new sound system in use at Odeon Luxe cinemas.

I tried it out on the opening scene of Greyhound. It’s not how you expect sound from headphones to sound at all. I’d go as far as describing it as weird, at least on first listen. It’s like the sound is coming from the iPad, but then you get the surround sound thrown in reminding you that you are wearing headphones. And using the gyroscopes, the audio is augmented in real-time as your head moves. It’s incredibly immersive.

E is completely ambivalent about technology, so a good tester. I asked her what she thought of it. After struggling for a moment to get the AirPods to fit in her ears, she said “it’s like being at the cinema,” and that pretty much sums the experience up.

Nice update.

Ana, on tech-savvy privilege

Ana Rodrigues has written a lovely monologue on the problems that consumers of the internet face, and of how tech-savvy people, like you and me, are reaching the wrong conclusions on how we can fix it – if we can fix it at all.

…the “rage quit social media” is a privilege. I tried it once for three months and we were miserable. The moment we don’t have the same apps to communicate, things like MMS don’t seem to work well between different operating systems of phones. They just want to communicate with me like… everyone else is communicating with everyone else. They are not going to be involved in a discussion about ethics and privacy of social media. I can’t blame them. Why would they?

Having a blog is tech-privilege. I can make one. You can probably make one too. We are a tech-savvy minority. Sure, you could say that anyone can go and get one from WordPress. Easy, right? It’s not. I’ve watched people at work struggle to insert pictures in a word document. It involves knowing about WordPress, learning how to navigate through the sign-up, setting themes, post titles – the list is endless. Why do that when you can sign-up to Facebook, quick as a flash, and all your mates are there. Owning your content is hard. We do it because we can. Most people can’t.

I don’t have a Facebook account because I think they are a treacherous bunch of scumbags. It’s a moral stance, and arguably the right one – but in the grand scheme of things it makes fuck all difference to Facebook, and makes it harder for people to contact me who don’t even have the choice.

..when my parents bought that phone and were forced into a Google account, apps like Facebook and whatsapp were already installed. The majority of the people who didn’t grow up with the internet, especially those who don’t speak english, don’t know about browsers. To most people it is: “Look up on the internet”. And the internet is this thing and no app on their phone is called “internet”.

The problem is more complex than we think, and the solutions not what we think they are.

..things won’t be fixed by only creating your own blog and sending your RSS feed to your parents. Things won’t be fixed either by burning all the evil websites. The problem is much deeper as it isn’t just websites: it’s operating systems, it’s protocols, it’s hardware, it’s software, it’s design, it’s internationalisation and more.

Ana, you are so right.

Read the entire thing. It’s wonderful.

Location Tracking with OwnTracks

I have an app on my phone that periodically checks my location via GPS and sends it to my server at home. It seemed like a good idea when I installed it all last year, but then there was a pandemic and I forgot all about it. It has been sat quite happily in the background ever since, tracking me everywhere I go.

Basically, I have been nowhere interesting.

But I have seen a fair amount of my home city, as would be expected:

That track veering off up to the coast on the right is my trip to Hornsea last week.
Eating a pasty at Woodall Services while stationary. Safety first.

I’m not sure that this serves any practical purpose at all – but it is kind of interesting.

I can’t tell you exactly how I set it up because I can’t remember, but the component parts are:

  • Owntracks (iOS) – Records your location
  • Owntracks Recorder – Stores all the information and gives you pretty maps
  • Mosquitto – This sits in the middle of the other two. I’m not sure what it does, but pretty sure that it’s essential.

Please let me know if you can think of a useful purpose for this, then I can justify the electricity use.

Unreal Engine on the PS5

I’m not a big gamer. I’ve had a console of some sort for as long as I can remember, but I usually play a game through and then put it down for months. I still enjoy looking at what new games are being released, and look forward to new console launches.

Epic has released a demo of their new Unreal engine running on one of the PS5 dev kits and it looks glorious.

The PS5 is due to be released later this year. If Sony can release it at under £500, with graphics at this level, it becomes very difficult to justify spending £1000+ for a fully specced gaming rig.

How many devices is too many?

In response to Kev, Bob and others who have posted lists of the extensive amount of devices that they use, while wondering aloud if they have too many. I absolutely do have too many, and I accept your judgement.

Here’s my list:

I’m a late adopter and usually a couple of iterations behind whatever is current, so while it looks like I’ve got the relatively new stuff – I’m just at that point in the cycle. My last phone, for example, was an iPhone 6. My laptop is seven years old, and I can’t see any reason to replace it.

I mean, it does look like a lot. But is it really?

Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport

Cal Newport’s second book, Digital Minimalism, is somewhat timely given the increasing concern about the role of technology in our lives. In it, he asks us to look critically at the technology we allow into our lives as individuals and consider whether it adds genuine value, or whether we use it as a crux to pass time which would be better spent doing something else.

Top of his hit list is social media, which he argues most people simply do not need & those that do need it probably need it a lot less than they think they do ( he says 20 – 30 minutes a week, tops). In 2015 I closed my accounts on the big social media platforms and am embarrassed to admit how difficult I found it. On reflection it hasn’t made any meaningful difference to my life. True, there are people that I have lost contact with, but I still talk to the people that matter and the level of that contact is more substantial than a ‘like’ or a quick comment.

He goes on to set out the merits of of solitude – being alone with your thoughts without external interference. We’ve become so accustomed to filling every spare minute with something: checking social media feeds, reading emails, listening to podcasts and audiobooks – we very rarely allow or brains the time to just think. This something that we don’t fully understand the long term effect of.

He also makes a case for analogue activities. Humans are happier, he says, when they are creating something. We should prioritise demanding activities over passive consumption and cultivate high quality leisure activities – things that are meaningful and have defined outcomes.

It’s a good book and there isn’t a lot of waffle in it. It isn’t anti-technology, it just reminds us that we are the masters of our own time and need to take responsibility for how we use it. It was persuasive enough for me to reset my iPhone and ruthlessly cull and lock down my apps.

Definitely worth a read.

1.32 Terrabytes

We have a weird internet set-up at home, with our connection coming in from a device on our roof instead of via fibre or ADSL. It mostly works okay, but if the provider starts to oversubscribe connections then our speed suffers, especially at peak times. We had some extended periods of poor service when the service first went live but we stuck with it and over the past year or two it has worked mostly okay. It’s not stellar, but it’s cheap and unlimited.

In January we started no notice that we were struggling to stream at peak times and my wife was having issues browsing on her phone. I figured that this might be a good time to switch to fibre, it’s around £15 a month more expensive, but bound to give us a more stable connection and it would be faster too.

I logged into my router to find out how much data we use so that I could price up the right fibre package, and noticed something strange:

During a standard month we usually download around 500gb of data, and upload 50-60gb. In January we downloaded 450gb, but wait, what the.. we uploaded 807gb. We’ve already uploaded nearly 700gb this month too, in total nearly 1.5 terabytes of data and more than we’d use in two years. Something was very wrong somewhere.

My instant reaction was to ask my teenage daughter if she had anything on her laptop that might be uploading stuff. Torrents? She offered me a blank look. Then I remembered the torrent client running on our home server. And there was the problem: three torrents had been seeding endlessly since the end of December, to the tune of 1.32 terabytes. Whoops. Theoretically uploading shouldn’t affect download speeds, but I think that my creaky network was saturated by the constant transfers. Lesson learned.

Anyway, to those lucky people that were able to download a particular torrent 987 times.. you’re welcome.