What you need to know about the tech giants Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple

I just finished reading Kashmir Hill’s series of articles Life Without the Tech Giants. Here’s what I learned. It’s impossible to get along without them even if we’re boycotting their apps. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple dominate the internet in ways I never realized.

This should be required reading for everyone who uses the internet. It is an education in the way the internet operates and how dependent it is on these five companies.

This is a story of how, over six weeks, I cut them out of my own life and tried to prevent them from knowing about me or monetizing me in any way—not just by putting my iPhone in a drawer for a week or only buying local, but by really, truly blocking these companies from accessing me and vice versa. I wanted to find out how hard it would be—or if I could even do it—given that these tech giants dominate the internet in so many invisible ways that it’s hard to even know them all.

To keep my devices from talking to the big five’s servers, and vice versa, Dhruv a technologist built a custom virtual private network, or VPN, for me, through which I sent all my internet traffic. He then used the VPN to block my devices from being able to use the IP addresses owned by Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and/or Apple, depending on the week.

Week 1 Kashmir blocks Amazon
I Tried to Block Amazon From My Life. It Was Impossible

After reading this, news broke that Amazon purchased Eero the WiFi router that I personally use. This had made a lot of people unhappy. They don’t want Amazon sniffing all their internet traffic. I think Zack Whittaker’s TechCrunch article What Amazon’s purchase of Eero means for your privacy frames how we should think about this perfectly.

Everyone seems to forget Amazon’s massive cloud business. Most of the internet these days runs on Amazon Web Services, the company’s dedicated cloud unit that made up all of the company’s operating income in 2017. It’s a cash cow and an infrastructure giant, and its retail prowess is just part of the company’s business.

Think you can escape Amazon? Just look at what happened when Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill tried to cut out Amazon from her life. She found it “impossible.” Why? Everything seems to rely on Amazon these days — from Spotify and Netflix’s back-end, popular consumer and government websites use it, and many other major apps and services rely on Amazon’s cloud. She ended up blocking 23 million IP addresses controlled by Amazon, and still struggled..

Week 2 Kashmir blocks Facebook
I Cut Facebook Out of My Life. Surprisingly, I Missed It

Week 3 Kashmir blocks Google
I Cut Google Out Of My Life. It Screwed Up Everything

Week 4 Kashmir blocks Microsoft
I Cut Microsoft Out of My Life—or So I Thought

Week 5 Kashmir blocks Apple
I Cut Apple Out of My Life. It Was Devastating

Week 6 Kashmir blocks all 5
I Cut the ‘Big Five’ Tech Giants From My Life. It Was Hell

Additional reading by technologist Dhruv Mehrotra the person who built Kashmir’s custom VPN.
Want to Really Block the Tech Giants? Here’s How

Local programming for cord cutters

One of the problems with cord cutting is getting local programming. When we lived in Southern California we were able to get it using a Mohu HDTV antenna.

One of the limitations of HDTV antennas is that they have an average range of 30 to 65 miles. Living in Central New Jersey now we are too far away from our local market, which is New York City, for an HDTV antenna to pick up the signals. So, we have been without local programming until now.

The other day we got an email from Sling TV, to which we subscribe, introducing Locast for local programming. Locast is a new live TV streaming service that offers access to local stations including ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC. Locast recently added support for Roku Players and Roku TV. So, now we can stream local channels for free on our Roku using the Locast Roku Channel.

If you’re interested, Locast local programming is available for free in the following markets.

  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Dallas
  • Denver

iCloud sync issues on my MacBook

I’ve been having problems with iCloud sync on my MacBook. The odd thing is, it seems to only affect certain apps. For example, Bear always syncs and almost simultaneously. Ulysses almost never syncs unless I first trigger a sync by editing or starting a new sheet.

Today I saved a new file to iCloud from my iPhone so that I could edit it later on my MacBook. When I went to my MacBook to edit the file it wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure how to get the file to sync so on a whim I edited a file that was already on my iCloud Drive. That forced a sync and the file appeared.

This issue has been frustrating me for some time. So, today I disconnected iCloud Drive on my MacBook and then re-enabled it. After everything synced back up I ran a test to see if that might have fixed the problem. As a test, I created a file in iCloud Drive on my iPhone and then went to iCloud Drive on my MacBook to see if the file was there. It was. Fingers crossed my MacBook iCloud sync issue is now fixed.

Apple is secretly encouraging paid app developers to switch to subscription

I’m disappointed to hear that Apple is encouraging developers to move to a subscription model. As I’ve written before, I think this will be the demise of many small developers.

Many users dislike subscriptions. If you don’t believe me just read the App Store reviews for some of the developers that have switched their app to a subscription. A good place to start would be Ulysses or Drafts 5.

Personally, I’m experiencing subscription fatigue. My subscriptions add up to around $1500 per year. Yes, this includes my Netflix, Hulu and Sling subscriptions. It also includes my internet subscription, the subscription for all that’s needed to operate this website, my email subscription at Fastmail, and the subscription to a few apps. I’m not interested in adding more subscriptions.

I love trying new apps. If all apps went to a subscription I would no longer be able to continue trying and writing about them.

For example, I have several writing apps. If they all went subscription I would have to select one and abandon the others. In this scenario, there will be one winner and several losers.

Here’s the story according to Business Insider:

Apple’s secret charm offensive: How an invite-only meeting at Apple’s luxury loft in New York helped transform how software is sold on the iPhone

In April 2017, a group of over 30 software developers gathered at a luxury loft in New York City’s trendy Tribeca neighborhood after receiving an invitation from Apple. They didn’t know exactly why they had been summoned, but all of them had one thing in common: they developed apps for Apple’s devices, according to people who attended the event.

Developers, Apple said, needed to realize the business model of apps was changing. Successful apps tended to focus on long-term engagement instead of upfront cost. Indie developers who wanted to capitalize on this needed to move to a subscription model, as Apple had made possible in the past year in a splashy announcement.

There’s also a danger that consumers may not want to pay on a monthly basis for a utility. “You’ve seen many apps changing their business models, and the consumer reactions are mixed,” Denys Zhadanov, a VP at Readdle, which makes Spark, a mail client, as well as other utilities, told Business Insider in an email.

After thoughts on Ulysses subscription

I know I said No Subscription. Even though I said that I caved in and signed up for a 12-month subscription to Ulysses right before my free use period ended.

I’m still not a happy camper though and here’s why.

I think Soleman should have followed the lead of 1Password, Day One, and TextExpander and continued to support and update the purchased version of the app for those users who want to continue using it. They didn’t! They said the paid version would not be supported after High Sierra. So, in essence, they are forcing everyone, previous users, and new users, on to the subscription. To me, that’s just wrong. That’s why I’m not a happy camper.

Then why am I still using Ulysses? Because I haven’t found anything that compares. I’ve tried Byword, MultiMarkdown Composer, the new iA Writer 5 for Mac and iOS, Bear and BBEdit.

Here’s what sets Ulysses apart for me:

  • Identical features across Mac and iOS.
  • The unified library. I don’t like managing individual files.
  • Clean distraction free writing environment.
  • Selecting my font of choice.
  • Publishing to WordPress and Medium.
  • It’s just dead simple to use.

Podcasts I listen to

A few weeks ago I wrote about RSS feeds that I follow. Today I’ll share some of my favorite podcasts.

Podcasts are a cool way for me to get other peoples perspective on a variety of subjects. They are also a way for me stay informed and educated on subjects that I’m interested in as well as a way to be entertained.

The great thing about podcasts is that I listen to them in Overcast on my iPhone while I’m walking, running, cycling, driving, or working out. All of my favorites are available in Overcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Mac Power User
Learn about getting the most from your Apple technology with focused topics and workflow guests. Creating Mac Power Users, one geek at a time since 2009. Hosted by David Sparks and Katie Floyd.

Accidental Tech Podcast
A tech podcast we accidentally created while trying to do a car show. Featuring Marco Arment, Casey Liss, and John Siracusa.

The Committed
A weekly tech podcast focusing on Apple products and other technology. Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths, and Kirk McElhearn look at how to remain sane in a world of constantly-changing technology.

Connected
Connected is a weekly panel discussion on Apple and the impact of technology on our lives. With each co-host having a unique background — and accent — Connected provides a perspective that no other show can. Hosted by Federico Viticci, Myke Hurley, and Stephen Hackett.

The Axe Files
David Axelrod, the founder and director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, brings you “The Axe Files,” a series of revealing interviews with key figures in the political world.

The Forward
The Forward Podcast with Lance Armstrong gives the audience a rare and revealing listen into Armstrong’s conversations with an eclectic range of personalities—some well-known, others simply with intriguing stories to tell. Above all, The Forward Podcast is a personal, honest, engaging and always entertaining dialogue that leaves the listener with new insights and perspective.

The Move
Co-hosted by Lance Armstrong and longtime Austin radio personality JB Hager, The Move presents a singular perspective on the world’s most iconic cycling races, including the Tour de France and the Classics, as well as the broader endurance sports scene. Not your typical cycling or sports podcast, The Move brings listeners deep inside the racing action, imparting insights from someone who knows the suffering and splendor like no one else.

Back into the swing of things

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here on my blog, so it’s time to get back into the swing of things with this post.

Here’s what’s been going on. We sold our house in Southern California and moved across the country to our house in New Jersey. The entire process has been all consuming and stressful. If you’ve ever sold your house and moved across the country you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ll spare you all the grisly details.

We are sort of settled into our New Jersey house. It has been mostly empty for the past 15 years so we have a few fixer-upper projects both inside and out. We’re tackling them one by one. We are still waiting for the moving company to deliver our belongings. It should only be a few more days.

We now have internet. It was installed yesterday so now I’ll be able to get back to my writing and blogging.