Thinking about VPNs

I’ve been using Private Internet Access (PIA) for my VPN service for a while now. I’m reasonably happy with them, but they’ve been acquired by a company called Kape, which has a bit of a checkered history. It looks like this is… maybe fine? maybe not?  I don’t know. But it seems like it might be a good time to look into other VPN services, just in case.

Firefox just announced that they’re starting up their own VPN service. So that’s a pretty good candidate for me, since I generally trust those guys. It’s in beta right now, and only available for Windows, but they plan to make it available for Mac and iOS too. They’re partnering with a company named Mullvad on this, so that got me interested in maybe just looking at their VPN service. The Firefox service is supposed to be $5/month, at least to start. Mullvad is in Sweden, and charges €5 per month, which is a little more than $5, I think.

I also took another look at ProtonVPN, from the Proton Mail guys. They’re a little pricey, at $8/month for “Plus” which is probably what I’d need. If their $4/month “Basic” plan supported more than 2 devices, I’d probably switch to that. But I can’t really justify the $8/month plan, which is what I’d need to cover all my devices.

My PIA subscription is only $40/year, so about $3.33/month. (And their plan lets me use it on up to ten devices.) So, honestly, if I can keep trusting PIA, that’s probably my best bet.

I signed up for the wait list for the Firefox VPN beta, and if I get into that, maybe I’ll give it a try. But if they still only have the Windows client out when I get in, then it’s not going to do me much good, since I spend a lot more time on macOS and iOS these days (at least for personal use) than I do on Windows.

more Amazon stuff

I didn’t really intend to write two posts about Amazon in a row (previous post here), but two things caught my attention today:

  1. Amazon is going to try to switch their Prime shipping “guarantee” from two days to one day. That’s interesting, and maybe some of the issues I had with my last order were related to the changes they’re trying to make to get to one-day shipping. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary. Two-day shipping is fine for me. (But I’m old. I grew up having to wait 4-6 weeks for anything I ordered through the mail. Two days is amazing!)
  2. I just tried to watch something on Prime video, only to see that it was “unavailable”. Then I poked around a bit, and everything on Prime video seems to be unavailable. So I went to my Amazon account to see if somehow I’d gotten dropped from Prime altogether. Right now, any attempt to navigate to the “your Prime account” section of Amazon’s site results in an error. I checked Twitter, and I’m not the only one getting errors on that right now. So that’s kind of interesting. My best guess would be that they’re rolling out some back-end changes related to Prime, and they screwed something up.

So my plan to kill the rest of the day watching an episode or two of Bosch on Amazon Prime Video has been torpedoed. I guess I’ll have to watch Netflix instead. (To be clear, I’m not complaining about any of this. Any time I start getting cranky because of something like this, I re-watch Weird Al’s First World Problems video.)

Amazon delivery shenanigans

I’ve been getting curious lately about some of the stuff that Amazon seems to be doing around package delivery. Like many people, I’m an Amazon Prime customer and I order a bunch of stuff from them. Generally, they’ve been using the US Postal Service for Prime deliveries (at least for me), which has always worked out fine. But lately, they seem to be doing more deliveries themselves. They seem to be setting up an interesting system for that, but they clearly haven’t worked out all the kinks yet.

I ordered a few small items on Friday of last week, and would have been fine with the usual two-day shipping, or even longer. I didn’t have an immediate need for any of the stuff I ordered. But they said the stuff would be delivered on Saturday. So, hey, one-day shipping. Cool.

The package didn’t show up with my normal mail on Saturday, but at some point Saturday evening, I got a notification on my phone that the package was “nine stops away” (or something like that), and gave me an estimated delivery time, and even the ability to see where the delivery driver was on a map. That last part was a little creepy, but OK. Anyway, about an hour later, I got a notification that the package had been delivered. So I went downstairs and looked for it, but it wasn’t there. Kind of weird to have such specific information about the driver’s route and the delivery time, but no actual package.

I checked to see what I was supposed to do to report a missing package, and they ask you to wait 36 hours before doing so. That kind of makes sense, if they’ve handed the package off to USPS, but if they’re delivering it themselves, and they’re apparently tracking the driver in real-time, that doesn’t make much sense. But I waited, and reported it missing on Monday night. They were cool about it, and refunded one of the items and sent me a replacement delivery for the other two.

So, guess what? Now it’s Tuesday, and the original package from Saturday shows up. Again, with the excessive level of tracking detail, where I can follow the driver around and all that. And this time, when the package is delivered, I also get a photo of it, sitting in the foyer of my apartment building.

And, of course, I also get the replacement package today too. Also from an Amazon delivery driver, with a photo of the package in the foyer. Though this one seems to be from a different driver, since it arrived a few hours after the first one. I guess this is good for me, since I now have extra stuff that I didn’t pay for. All things considered though, I’d rather have just gotten the original package in with my mail on Monday, without all this extra nonsense.

So it seems like they’re tracking their drivers all over the place, making them take photos of delivered packages, and also making them take photos of themselves now. Yet somehow, a package can still disappear into a black hole for three days. I don’t know, I can’t decide if this is a utopia or a dystopia we’re headed towards. (Maybe a little of both.)

Here’s an article from Vox, talking about the economics of Amazon’s two-day shipping. It’s pretty interesting. It’s also interesting to think about Amazon’s carbon footprint. They’re so big now, they can probably have a meaningful affect on that just by making small changes. (Though it can’t possibly be efficient for them to have two different drivers deliver something to my apartment building on the same day, just a few hours apart, can it?) I’m also kind of curious about the new Amazon Day thing, where you can choose to get all your packages on a specific day of the week. That could help cut down on excess packaging and multiple deliveries, so that’s a good thing.

The Internet Archive

Right now, if you donate to the Internet Archive, there’s a 2-for-1 match. I’ve been using links from the Wayback Machine to replace a lot of the broken links on my site recently, so I’d been meaning to send them a few bucks. A 2-for-1 match is a good excuse to actually do that. It’s easy to take something like for granted, but it’s not cheap to keep a site like that running.

Speaking of broken links, I’m continuing to clean them up, slowly. My broken links list is currently at 660. I’ve recently hit a vein of broken links related to “best of” lists from 2004. Some of those are gone forever. And John Vanderslice’s puttanesca recipe seems to have disappeared from the internet. No, wait, I found a copy. (I need to stop now and go to work…)

1&1 Ionos

I’ve been using 1&1 for web hosting since 2003. The cost went up last year, but I’ve stuck with them, partly out of laziness and partly because they’ve been reliable. They recently went through a merger and renamed themselves as 1&1 IONOS. I’m all for this rebranding; searching for “1&1” has always been a crapshoot, whether it’s in Google, my email, or my Evernote database. Whoever decided to name the company using one digit, an ampersand, and no actual letters clearly did not run that past an SEO guy. I think that maybe the guy who named the company “1&1” was stuck in the old “telephone book” mindset, where he wanted a name that would float to the top of most sort orders.

“IONOS” is a name that actually contains enough letters to form a unique search term, so for that alone, it’s way better than 1&1. I’m not entirely on board with the whole name being in capital letters though. That makes it seem like it’s an acronym, and (as far as I can tell) it’s not.

Instapaper Premium

Speaking of changes in paid internet services, Instapaper’s new owner has started charging for premium subscriptions again. When they were acquired by Pinterest, they discontinued premium subscriptions and made all features available for free. But the new owner needs to make some money off the service, so they’ve re-instituted Instapaper Premium. I went ahead and signed up for it, at $30/year. As with Flickr Pro, I don’t mind paying for a service, if it means I don’t have to put up with ads or spam or having my data sold off, and if it means that the service has a sustainable business model that will keep it from going under.

more Flickr changes

I’ve been a Flickr user for quite some time. They’ve had some ups and downs over the years, but I have a whole lot of photos there, so I’ve stuck with them. I was happy when they were bought by SmugMug earlier this year. Not much has happened with that, but it looks like some stuff will be changing soon.

First, they’re finally ditching their tie to Yahoo’s login system. That’s long overdue. I’d really like to nuke my Yahoo account, but I’ve had to keep it a lot longer than I’ve wanted to, since my Flickr account is tied to it. They’re also making some other changes, which all sound good, but honestly, just getting off Yahoo’s login system is my main concern.

I’m pretty hopeful about Flickr’s future. The SmugMug CEO is saying a lot of the right things:

Unlike most photo sharing services, SmugMug is photographer-focused and has been for more than 16 years. We are privately owned and operated. We never raised venture capital to grow our business and we don’t make money selling our customers or their data to advertisers.


At SmugMug, we also charged a fair price when others were pretending “free” was actually free. We work for you, not investors or advertisers. We don’t mine you or your photos for data to re-sell or advertise to you. Your data, and your photos, are yours. You’ve entrusted them to us to keep safe. We take that responsibility very seriously and so does Flickr.

That’s what I’m looking for. I don’t mind paying for Flickr Pro. I just want someplace safe and stable to put my photos.

broken links

I installed the Broken Link Checker plugin on my site today, and spent probably too much time fixing broken links. Doing blog maintenance like this feels like productive work, but really isn’t. But it’s kind of fun, and lets me stroll down memory lane a bit, rediscovering stuff like Get Your War On, which I’d forgotten about.

A lot of dead links can be easily replaced with ones from the Wayback Machine, and the plugin helps with that. But some of the links on this blog seem to have completely disappeared from the internet, which makes me a little sad. Nothing lasts forever, I guess, even an interesting review of The Two Towers from a newspaper in Las Vegas that apparently only existed from 2003 to 2005. Oh well.

I’ve been linking to Wikipedia, the NY Times, and Amazon a lot lately. I think (and hope) that those sources will be around for a while, and that they won’t mess with their URL schemes in a way that breaks old links. (For the most part, they haven’t, at least recently.)

The plugin has found more than 600 broken links so far, and I’m not even sure if it’s done crawling the site yet. I need to be careful about getting too wrapped up in this, or I’ll be doing it all day. (Or maybe all week.) I’ve actually talked myself into deleting some old posts, where the links are dead, and I didn’t really say anything interesting about them. That’s always been hard for me to do, but I’ve got more than 2000 posts on this blog, so it makes sense to cull some useless ones out occasionally.

Internet Annoyances

I’ve been getting increasingly annoyed with my cable TV and internet provider, Optimum. I vented a bit about them last year, and I guess it’s time to vent some more. In addition to all of the other things that bug me about them, they’ve just added a new one: ad injection. I was browsing on my iPad last night, and got a giant banner ad from Optimum, patting themselves on the back for giving me a free trial of The Movie Channel. This is on a page that would not normally have ads. Then, this morning, I got another banner ad from Optimum, on my desktop computer, again on a page that shouldn’t have had any ads.

I did some searching, and yep, I’m not the only one seeing this. Here a DSL Reports thread about it. (TL;DR: Apparently, HTTPS Everywhere might solve it.)

I’ve seen ads from them on my phone, while using their WiFi hotspots, and that’s annoying, but not unexpected. But doing this on my home internet service is pretty horrible behavior. I haven’t experimented much, but I guess the ad blocker that I use on iOS doesn’t catch this, nor does uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger on my desktop. I think that being on my VPN might help, since I haven’t seen this on my Mac, and I have that set up so that it’s (almost) always connected to the VPN. And I think I still have my router configured to use Optimum’s DNS servers. I should probably change that, even if that won’t help with this particular problem.

Earlier this week, I read a good post on Troy Hunt’s blog about Pi-Hole. I’ve thought about setting up a Pi-Hole box on my network before, but it always seemed like it would be overkill. Maybe not, though, if my ISP can’t be trusted to leave my web browsing alone. It’s bad enough that they email me and call me, trying to up-sell me on faster internet service and more expensive TV packages. Now, that’s not enough, and they need to shove ads into my browser too. Ugh. (I’m not sure if Pi-Hole would actually help with this issue either, but it seems like it might be a good idea.)

So I guess that’s my venting for today. Optimum is the only option I have for internet access. (Verizon Fios is an option in my area, but my building isn’t wired for it.) And internet access isn’t really something someone in my profession can do without. So I guess I’m stuck with them for now.

Digg is probably done

I just found out that Digg has been bought by a company named “BuySellAds.” So… that doesn’t sound good. The previous owner, Betaworks, used it as a kind of “curated” news site, and it was interesting to check on once in a while. (But not interesting enough to check regularly.) The original Digg was pretty cool, but lost out to Reddit in the war of, umm…, sites that allow users to upvote and downvote stuff. (There’s probably a name for that category, though I guess Reddit is the only site left in that specific category?)

I guess the pending acquisition is why they shut down Digg Reader recently.

Betaworks also used to own Instapaper, which is a service I still use a lot. Instapaper is now owned by Pinterest, which worried me at first, but they seem to have mostly left it alone. (The Ten Years of Instapaper post on the Instapaper blog is interesting.)

Meanwhile, Facebook is still kind of horrible, but I’m still checking it every day. I have decided to delete the Facebook share button on this website though. Nobody was ever using it, and I assume it was pulling in some Facebook tracking code, so it seemed like a good idea to turn it off.

Amazon is kind of horrible too, but I placed two orders with them this week already, and of course just bought a new Kindle. Much like Facebook, they’re too convenient to just stop using them. (I mean, if Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos actually teamed up, super-villain style, and went on a mad killing spree, I’d reconsider. Until then, though, I need my cheap USB cables and Bloom County comics.)