Subscriptions (and Apple Music)

We’ll get back to the agony and ecstasy of personal transport in a bit, but I wanted to do a quick write up about subscriptions (and Apple Music).

I have something of an aversion to subscriptions.

It’s a bit of a dilemma for me, because while I get that you need to pay for things, the idea that I have to continue paying to get access to a piece of software or, to a lesser degree, some service, is kind of scary. I realise software development isn’t free, and subscriptions make for attractive revenue streams for developers who constantly work on new features, but not enough to release proper upgrade versions, but traditionally, paying an upfront cost for something and then owning it until the day you die is still somehow more palatable.

Maybe it’s just because we’ve paid upfront for software for so long that makes this idea that you need to keep paying or lose access to the stuff that you’ve worked on seem so foreign. Office 365 isn’t so bad in that you can still open and view documents created with the office suite, but even when the price of the subscription makes the cost the same over time, it’s still a hard pill to swallow.

At the time, the Photography Plan for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop made a lot of sense. I recently purchased Lightroom 5 about a year after Lightroom 4, and at that stage I was paying about $100/year for Lightroom, so I’d essentially be paying $20/year extra for Photoshop which seemed like a great deal. Unfortunately, a few things have made this less attractive over time.

For one, Adobe hasn’t released a new version of Lightroom since 2015, so I’ve ended up paying more than those who picked up the standalone version. I also haven’t used Photoshop as much as I thought I would have, making that “added value” null and void, and to top it all off, Adobe has slowly increased prices. New subscriptions to the Adobe Photography Plan are currently $14.29/month, which starts to eat into that extra value of Photoshop, especially if you’re only using it a few times a year.

So that’s software, what about services? Things get a little more complicated when we’re talking about services. I don’t watch enough mainstream TV to subscribe to streaming services like Netflix or any of the other Australian offerings, and even though there are some great streaming services for anime, I’ve never really been able to reconcile paying a monthly fee for their entire library when I only want to watch one or two shows.

I think one of the main problems I have with subscriptions is that most of the time, I’d rather pay for an entire year upfront, instead of a month at a time. It’s weird, but I think I have an easier time justifying $120/year than I do $10 a month, especially if I’m getting some kind of discount that makes the annual option even more appealing.

How does all of this apply to Apple Music? To answer that question, we kind of need to talk about Spotify first…

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The Xiaomi M365 Electric Scooter, Part II: Electric Boogaloo

This post is part two of my experience with the Xiaomi M365 electric scooter. Reading part one is recommended, but not necessary.

As much as I enjoy scooting around on the Xiaomi M365 electric scooter, I find it very difficult to recommend to someone who wants to pick up something for personal transport. Some of it has to do with quality control, some of it has to do with design flaws, but ultimately, the reliability just wasn’t there for the model/revision I purchased back in January 2017 (more on this later).

It’s February, 2017. I’m barely a few weeks into electric scooter ownership, a total of 70KMs on the clock, when I scoot right into my first show-stopping issue: a flat rear tyre. At first I have no idea what’s wrong. I’m minding my own business, enjoying the joys of personal transport and riding along, when suddenly the back feels sluggish. It isn’t until I get home that I realise that the rear tyre is looking a little flat. I don’t even own a bike pump, so I can’t see what the issue might be.

She’s flat, Jim.

A quick trip to the local bike shop and I now own a bike pump. But there’s more bad news: while the tyre inflates, as soon as I inflate it to a certain point, it deflates again. Kinda weird. I’m no mechanic, but at this point I’m thinking it’s the inner tube — there’s no signs of a puncture or any other kind of damage on the rear tyre itself, so it must be the inner tube, right?

Tyre, wheel, and inner tube. Getting them apart was a feat in and of itself.

I get no help from the place of purchase (unless you’re counting “take it to the local scooter repair place” as help), so I pick up a few inner tubes I think will fit from Ali Express. A few tyres, while I’m at it, just in case. A few weeks go by; shipping from China is slow, and I am impatient. I set aside a weekend to do the deed, and following an afternoon of the ugliest work I’ve ever done, I get the rear wheel of the scooter, the tyre off the wheel, and replace the inner tube. The replacement valve sticks out a little more than the previous one, but it’s nothing that isn’t fixed by a cable tie.

One repaired rear wheel, now with cable tie to prevent the new valve from contacting the chassis.

Not exactly a heads-up display, but works in a pinch for working out where I want to go.

My suspicions were right; some kind of split in the inner tube that only opened when it was filled with air was preventing it from inflating all the way. Probably a manufacturing defect, but we’re back in business, and that’s all that matters. And for a while, everything is great. I get a case for my iPhone and a little velco, and pretty soon I have my own on-board computer that I can use for navigation.

I’ve started noticing that the range indicator has become less and less inaccurate over time. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to affect my actual range – even with 0KM showing, I can still scoot along, just more slowly than normal. I pass it off as the battery needing calibration or something. Then it happens — with 100KMs on the clock, I run into my second show-stopping issue. One day, the scooter just stops turning on. And with no way to turn it on, there’s no way to charge the battery.

Unfortunately, things get a little complicated here as now electricity is involved, and I’m no electrical engineer. I open up the scooter anyway, and nothing seems particularly broken that would indicate a major fault with the battery. I get the retailer involved again, and this time they’re nice enough to send out a replacement battery. I discover the product page for the electric scooter now has a warning about only using 220V mains to charge the scooter that definitely wasn’t there when I purchased it back in January. I wonder why the warning was added, and theorise that the higher charging voltage has worn the battery down somehow. Nothing on the internet I can find indicates what kind of an effect higher input voltage would have on a universal power adapter (which definitely says it’s compatible with Australian 240V mains), so I can only speculate.

Weeks pass. While I’m waiting for a replacement battery to arrive, I find a French blog about the Xiaomi M365, including detailing issues about the battery and fuses. I discover that people other than myself have had issues with the battery; fuses that have failed, or faulty connections which mean the proper voltage isn’t provided to the electrics, which means the scooter doesn’t turn on. Hundreds of pages on a Spanish forum say that there’s a design flaw within the regenerative braking system which results in a fuse blowing if too much current is passed to the battery at a time, or when current is passed to the battery when it’s already full. There’s plenty of useful stuff there too, including all of the mods people have done to their scooter, but none of it is particularly helpful. I will point out the 149-page unofficial user’s guide PDF that they’ve put together for the scooter, featuring all kinds of information from people who have taken their scooters apart and put them back together again. It’s entirely in Spanish, but there’s enough photos that you should get a good idea of what you’re looking at.

At the end of May, the replacement battery arrives. It’s basically identical to the one I pull out of the scooter, with the important distinction that this one actually works. With a working battery in the scooter, I take apart the old battery and test it using instructions from the Spanish forum. It seems normal enough — the output is 42V, the fuse seems to be intact, so perhaps the battery cells themselves that are dead.

I take it pretty easy on the scooter for a few weeks, only riding it to and from the Valley on weekends for one of my weekly grocery runs. The thrill of riding the electric scooter is now tempered by the anxiety that this will battery will likely fail as well. I contemplate buying a voltage converter so I can charge the scooter using 220V. But a good quality one is about $200, and you can understand my hesitation on spending even more money on something that has already had so many issues with less than 200 KMs on the clock. For now, I’m just thankful that the scooter is back in the land of the living.

It’s September, and I’m riding the scooter into work on a bright Saturday morning. I brake to come to stop at a pedestrian crossing 200 metres from work, and while I’m almost stopped, I suddenly lose all braking power. I don’t notice something is wrong until the light turns green; I push off into the pedestrian crossing, press the accelerator, only for nothing to happen. I try pressing the power button in the middle of the road, but nothing happens. She’s dead, Jim, and I spend the rest of the 200m kicking my scooter along, and cursing the time I decided to buy an electric scooter.

By this time, you can probably understand I’ve had enough. The scooter doesn’t turn on, and frankly, I don’t care. It’s probably a blown fuse, thanks to the issue that decides to pass power to the battery when you’re braking. If I wanted to, I could probably swap the controller board from my old battery into the new battery, but I’m finding it hard to muster up the motivation to spend time and energy on a product that has already proven to be unreliable.

For what it’s worth, there’s speculation on the internet that later revisions of the M365, or versions with a certain firmware, have fixed the issue where the regenerative breaking will attempt to push more power to the battery than it can handle. As far as I’m aware, I was using the latest scooter and BMS firmware available, and still managed to (probably) blow a fuse on my battery, so I’m not sure how much stock you can put in that speculation. It’s also possible that I got a second dud battery, but the manufacturing dates on both batteries differ by about six months, so I’m not sure what else would have made a difference in terms of reliability. And plus, it was working fine for a few weeks, even if I was only riding it once or twice per week.

It was fun while it lasted, but maybe I’ll just suck it up and buy a bike next time. Or an electric skateboard – but that’s a story for another time.

The Xiaomi M365 Electric Scooter

The Xiaomi M365, all folded up.

Here’s something interesting about the M365. Xiaomi advertises that there’s an app you can connect your electric scooter to, to see your current speed, the remaining mileage, and other current trip statistics. One page of the completely Chinese manual says you can download Xiaomi’s own app or use something called “Ninebot”.

I couldn’t find the Xiaomi app in the Australian App Store when I went to look, but I found the Ninebot app on the first go. It’s pretty basic, but does let you rename your electric scooter and adjust the level of regenerative breaking. But hang on a second, this all seems very weird. How does a Chinese manufactured and marketed scooter, with not a word of English in the user manual, works with an app that has near-perfect English? Something doesn’t add up here.

After doing a little internet sleuthing, I discovered Ninebots were originally manufactured by a Chinese company as a kind of personal mobility device. They’re kind of like Segways, except a little more discreet and don’t have the traditional Segway handlebar design. Still, none of that explains how the M365 is able to connect to the Ninebot app. Did Xiaomi reverse-engineer the app to such a degree that every feature works perfectly with their own electric scooter hardware, down to the regenerative braking setting and the cruise control mode?

As it turns out, Ninebot is a Xiaomi-backed company. It’s perhaps one of the simplest explanations for why the M365 works with the Ninebot app; being the parent company and all, you’d hardly want to go to the trouble of developing an entirely new app when one of your subsidiaries already has something that does exactly what you’re after. It’s not perfect (the Ninebot app doesn’t recognise my M365 as an valid Ninebot), but there’s nothing that I’m missing out on that I can see. My KMs even count towards the weekly and overall distance travelled leaderboards.

What does all of this have to do with Segway? Well, Segway complained to a US trade commission that several Chinese companies were infringing on its patents. They complained in September 2014, and not a year later, they were acquired by the Xiaomi-backed Ninebot in August 2015, which is all pretty hilarious when you think about it.

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The Haul From An Impromptu Malaysia Trip

I wouldn’t say I go looking for cool stuff. It’s not as if I’m methodically searching through every retail outlet or corner store for that extra special piece. But by virtue of my curated RSS and Twitter feeds, all relevant to my interests, I’m always peripherally aware of cool things, and sometimes I go looking.

A recent impromptu trip to Malaysia for the funeral of my grandfather was hardly the ideal time for shopping. Reflection, perhaps, either on the traditional Chinese funeral, or the grandfather I didn’t really know, but somehow, we still managed to make the trips to Aeon. Almost every day we were there.

It was in Aeon’s shopping complex that I first saw the Pikachu and Eevee. Not sure if it was cool or not, I borrowed my sister’s internet to look it up. Apparently, it was a promo that was only available via some kind of lottery system at Pokémon Centres in Japan in 2013. I’m entirely unconvinced that what I purchased is the real deal as the box text is slightly different, but eh, it’s a pretty good fake… that I later discovered was super-common, after finding it at a few other shops.

Later in the trip I found myself at KLIA2 more than twelve hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. We were dropping off my sister, and after that was done, there was still over six hours to kill before check-in opened, and another eight before my flight was scheduled. We took the KLIA Ekspres to KL Central, then a taxi to Mid Valley Megamall.

We go to Megamall basically every time we’re in KL. Truth be told, I was beginning to get a little sick of the place, even if I’ve found some cool Dota-2 stuff there before. Alas, the gaming store that was there before wasn’t there any more, replaced with yet another gaming store that had nothing that was particularly interesting. I thought about picking up the Hypebeast edition CS:GO Steelseries mousepad, if I didn’t find anything else that piqued my interest elsewhere in the mall.

But it was on the recently-refurbished (at least, I think it was recently-refurbished, it definitely wasn’t like that the last time we were there in 2015) fourth floor that I found a small gaming store. They didn’t have as much stock as some of the larger stores, but their shelves were crammed with all kinds of gaming gear. And on one of those shelves, the SteelSeries Rival 100, Dota 2 Special Edition.

It was only afterwards that I learned these were originally sold at the Shanghai Major Secret Shop, and later released worldwide. But I’ve never seen it posted online anywhere, so stumbling on it was completely by chance.

Last but not least, I happened to know that Uniqlo in the US offers Nintendo-themed tees. I’ve never seen them at an Australian Uniqlo, but a quick recon of the Uniqlo at KLIA2 revealed that Asian Uniqlo stores stocked the Nintendo-themed tees. With the hours dwindling, I made one last stop and picked up a Pikachu-themed tee from the collection, completing this trips haul.

It’d be a misnomer to say cool stuff finds me. I’m always on the lookout for that next exclusive, unique piece that will somehow make my life that little more fulfilled — if only momentarily — but sometimes, that necessitates a little looking. And most of the time, I’m glad I did.

Simplicity is dead, long live Simplicity!

Back in August 2013, I wrote about the simple, it-just-works mentality of Apple products. I was experimenting with dd-wrt at the time, and once I had worked out that it definitely wasn’t the simple option, went out and bought an Apple AirPort Extreme to serve our family’s NBN connection to every device in the house capable of communicating via TCP/IP.

And for a while, everything was great. The AirPort Extreme dished out fast, reliable Wi-Fi, just like it says on the box. A few years pass without incident, and when I move to a different state, I trust that my network setup is robust enough to require zero maintenance. But soon enough, my family begins to complain about internet issues. Unfortunately for me, the kinds of issues they describe necessitate an in-person visit to ascertain what the issue actually is.

I’m back in Hobart now, and the Wi-Fi situation is even worse than I imagined. I realise something is seriously wrong when I try connecting to the Wi-Fi. For some reason, the wireless network is broadcasting its SSID even though I’ve set it to be hidden. It also tells me the password is wrong, even though I, nor anyone else, has changed it since it was setup. I ask my parents more questions about it. We give it a reboot and leave it at that. I’ll need to witness a failure to figure out what’s wrong, not have it broken to begin with.

As luck would have it, the Wi-Fi dies a short time later. And that’s pretty much all I have to go on, given that I don’t have any other way of connecting to the unit to check it out. All the devices in the house are wireless and don’t have an Ethernet port; any troubleshooting that I was planning to do is severely hampered by the fact I can only connect to it wirelessly.

I mean, there’s an old XP box that still has one, but I’m not sure I want to try troubleshooting anything from that. My mum has a Surface (Pro?) that has an USB dock with an ethernet port, but I’m loathe to install some potentially dodgy Targus Mac drivers for it on my MacBook Pro. My sister has a MacBook Air, which doesn’t have an Ethernet port, and even my old Chromebook doesn’t come with an Ethernet port. Of course, I own a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter, but I left it back in Brisbane, and buying another for the sole purpose to diagnosing a Wi-Fi issue seems somewhat wasteful.

Giving up on diagnosing the issue for now, I ask what my family does when the Wi-Fi stops working. They power-cycle the device, which fixes the issue for anywhere between a few hours or a few days. Given that the Wi-Fi can drop out multiple times a day, that’s kind of an issue. So we power-cycle the unit again, which fixes it until I can work out what’s wrong.

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Gutted

I took this photo the last time I was in Hobart, back in February 2016. By that time, it was about nine or ten months after Next Byte’s parent company had shut down all the Next Byte stores nationally, ending the era of what was once the largest Apple reseller in the southern hemisphere, if not the world. At its peak, Next Byte boasted upwards of 20 stores all around the country, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape is a lot different than it was 10 years ago. We have as many Apple retail stores as we had Next Byte stores, once upon a time, and in a world of slim profits on Apple hardware and a customer experience from the first-party Apple stores that’s impossible to match, any third-party Apple presence is either marginalised enough to fly under the radar or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means our in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps filled by Apple’s online presence.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. But the one I want to tell today is the one of how I got the job in the first place. There was no interview. I didn’t hand over a resume. But somehow, I got the job anyway.

The date is January 2nd, 2007. Ten years to the day.

I’ve been thinking about it for months now. I was promised a job after completing my work experience, but that was back in August last year. Now it’s January, and I’m beginning to question their sincerity. Did they really mean it? Or was it just something said in passing to an impressionable, naive high schooler who was only just beginning to understand the world? Of course, it’s just as plausible that they’ve been busy and have just forgotten.

Either way, today we’re going to find out. Nothing was open yesterday, being New Year’s Day and all, but there’s no chance they’re not open today.

I walk in. Half-faking confidence, I approach the manager. I’m not sure of the exact words I said. But it was definitely along the lines of: “hi, my name is Benny. I did work experience here last year, and at the end of it, I was promised a job. But I haven’t heard from you in several months, so now I’m here to claim in person.”

He said to give him a moment, then he disappeared behind a door.

A few minutes passed.

When he reappeared, he came up to me and said: “can you start tomorrow?”

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Logitech MX Master

According to the dates I just punched into Wolfram Alpha, it’s been over 20 months since Logitech released the MX Master. I’ve wanted their flagship consumer wireless mouse for almost as long, and as of earlier this week, am now the proud owner of a MX Master of my very own.

The last time I looked for a wireless mouse replacement, it was out of necessity. An attempted cleaning and repair of a scrolling issue on my old Logitech Anywhere MX may have merely exacerbated or outright sparked a tracking issue, but regardless of what happened, the end result was that tracking became awful. So awful, in fact, it rendered the mouse inoperable, with replacement the only recourse. After examining the pros and cons of different models, I procured a replacement of the exact same model, and everything was hunky-dory.

Then Logitech released the MX Master, and I immediately knew what my next mouse was going to be. The MX Master is everything the Anywhere MX was, for the most part, and had enough of the features that I liked about it that I’d consider it an upgrade. The argument could be made that some aspects are compromises in one way or another, or even side-grades, but what about the overall package?

MX Master on the left, Anywhere MX on the right. Pikachu in the back.

For starters, the MX Master is almost twice the size of the Anywhere MX. It’s also nicely sculpted for right-handed usage, and probably ergonomically “better”, whatever that means. Because of how much taller the mouse is, the “palm” part of the mouse where it meets your palm is much further off the surface of the desk than I’m used to, which means using a fingertip grip isn’t as easy as it was the Anywhere MX. It’s partly because the diminutive size of the Anywhere MX lent itself to being used with a fingertip as much as it did with a palm grip, and partly because the larger size and shape of the MX Master means you’re more inclined to use it with a palm-style grip. While you could use a fingertip grip with the MX Master, the position and placement of the vertical scroll wheel, as forward as it is on the mouse, means that you either need longer fingers or position your entire hand further up on the mouse in more of a palm grip.

While I’ve always been a “fingertip grip” user for the mouse that I use with my Mac (my primary computer which gets used for everything bar gaming), I’ve always used a palm grip when gaming. I suspect that I’ll get used to palming the mouse that I use for general web browsing, but for now it’s a little awkward, especially given the vertically asymmetrical design of the mouse which means that it’s not quite a standard palm grip. For now, even trying to wrap my hand around the entire mouse feels incredibly awkward. The “ridge” of the mouse — the thickest part of the mouse — that sits underneath the knuckle of your index finger feels far too large, and I’m yet to find a comfortable position when gripping the mouse. It’s possible that my hands are too small for the larger size of the MX Master, but on the other hand (pun not intended), maybe I’m just holding it wrong.

As much as I used to like the fact that the Anywhere MX used AA batteries, over the months it became apparent that having to charge AA batteries and always keeping some charged spares for when the ones I was using in the mouse died was all a bit of an inconvenience. If the rechargeable Li-ion pack in the MX Master means I don’t have to deal with scrambling to find some charged AAs right when I need them most, then I’m all for it. Hopefully the quick charge time of the MX Master also means I’ll be able to plug the mouse in for a minute or two to get me enough charge to last me through a quick browsing session, too.

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Well Wrapped Christmas Gift Giving Materialism

I enjoy wrapping presents. There’s something about the methodical nature that appeals to me. There’s a lot that goes into it, and it’s not just about choosing an appropriately festive wrapping paper. It’s about making sure the wrapping paper has as few creases as possible, that any application of sticky tape fits into the overall wrapping aesthetic, and that all your creases and folds are deliberate to produce a well-wrapped gift.

There’s something special about a well-wrapped gift, because it means someone has put as much thought into the presentation as much as they have the contents. Even if it’s just going to be torn apart and ripped to shreds by the recipient, a well-wrapped gift can say a lot about you as a person.

Imagine my disappointment when a shopping centre gift-wrapping volunteer did a truly average job of wrapping a rectangular prism, arguably the easiest package of all to wrap. The wrapping paper was nice enough and all, but the wrapping itself was sloppy; not carefully wrapped, but a perfect rectangular prism turned into an almost shapeless form, with no edges visible, air gaps, and bunched up wrapping paper all over the place. I would’ve thought that they’d have some practice at wrapping given the number of shoppers, but maybe that wasn’t the case. At least my donation went to charity.

Choosing gifts is fun, too. The IT department at work did a “stealing santa” this year, which is kind of like secret santa, except you’re buying a gift for every participant instead of an individual. The $15-20 limit on presented a challenge in terms of what to get, because I wanted to get something that was serious and a joke. The perfect gift!

But then I decided that full cheese was the go, so the hunt began. Sadly, an IT-related “for dummies” book was outside of the budget, as was the book of Kim Kardashian selfies. I ruled out a neon-coloured rock-painting kit (including rocks), a bright green WTF pillow, and even the book of Kim Kardashian quotes was ruled out due to being under budget. I eventually settled on a harmonica, which turned out to be a surprise hit (maybe one of the older guys wanted it for their kids or something, I don’t know). I’ve always wanted one, and going off the advice of the organiser who said that you could absolutely get something that you wanted, I eventually settled on it as my secret santa gift. I ended up with a box of Roses, which was good enough for me.

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A fine, perfectly OK, not-too-shabby, backpack

img_3352There are two pieces of fashion I truly care about. OK, maybe three. Jackets, backpacks, and wallets, in that order. Jackets are, well, they’re jackets, along with all the versatility and variety that comes with the garment. Jackets are capable, casual, and my only regret is that moving to Brisbane has meant to less jacket-wearing than cooler climates. But it’s fine, I just need different jackets — see what I mean?

On the other hand, wallets are a little more personal. Because you keep all of your personal stuff in your wallet, your personality is kind of reflected in your wallet. It kind of has to, when it carries around your ID, your credit cards, and whatever else you deem necessary to have with you day-to-day. Does your wallet reflect your minimal lifestyle, or have you packed in every bit of loose change and every scrap of a receipt that you’ve ever been given, until one day it just explodes all over the place and forces you to clean it up? Like I said, wallets are personal, as evidenced by our discussion on the topic on AppleTalk.

And because guys can’t go around carrying handbags due to certain social stigmas, but occasionally also require something to hold all the extras they need for their day, backpacks are the only suitable solution. Backpacks are there for guys that need to haul around their laptop to and from work. They’re there for the guys that need to carry a change of clothes, or want to bring a few odds and ends about with them without resorting to the fashion faux pas of cargo shorts. In short, backpacks are the guy’s handbag.

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Now With More HTTPS

Ever since Let’s Encrypt announced free SSL certificates (albeit with a few caveats, more on this below), I’ve wanted to make the change to serving web pages on this blog securely. Last night I finally buckled down and got it done. After a small mishap that involved the accidental removal of my Nginx configuration file (a droplet backup saved me from certain disaster), I generated a cert following the pretty great tutorial from Digital Ocean.

A few notes on the process:

  • For people just running a self-hosted WordPress blog, there’s zero WordPress-side configuration you have to do, which kind of surprised me. I thought I was going to have do at least install some kind of WordPress plugin, but it turns out enabling HTTPS is all dependent on your web server software. For Nginx, it’s a few lines in your site’s configuration file, and presto, HTTP over SSL (once you’ve gotten past the hurdle of generating your cert).

  • One of the first issues I ran into was the certbot not recognising my domain, returning a 403 Forbidden when it attempted to authenticate that I owned the domain in question. At first I thought this was because the DNS changes I made hadn’t propagated yet, but then I realised it was one of my Nginx access rules (the only preventing access to any file or directory starting with a period) that was preventing certbot from accessing my domain. A quick Nginx configuration change fixed that issue – I’m still not sure if it will need to access the well-known directory again when it attempts to renew the certificate, but we’ll know in about 89 days.

  • Yeah, Let’s Encrypt only issues certs that are valid for 90 days. But it’s not such a big deal, because there’s a handy way to renew your cert that you can even put in cron for true set-and-forget functionality. It’s not the annual or multiple-year certificate that you’d get from a more established CA, but you’re also not paying anything.

  • Once I had generated the cert, updated my Nginx configuration, and restarted Nginx with the new config, my blog wouldn’t load — the connection would just time out when attempting to load it in a browser, and curl via Terminal told a similar story. I scratched my head at this a little, until I discovered that my server’s firewall was blocking port 443. Oops. Bit of a rookie mistake there, and what made it even more difficult to diagnose was how I had set Nginx to redirect HTTP traffic on port 80 to port 443 — pretty standard practice when enabling HTTPS, but it made troubleshooting the issue more difficult.

Anyway, my blog now scores an A+ on Qualys’ site SSL testing suite, and all I have to do is turn think of some other stuff to write about, so there’s actually something to serve over HTTPS.

Update Dec 30, 2016: After discovering that (some? if not all) posts with images were being served as mixed content, I used this sql update statement on this page to update all my wp-content links in posts to be served over TLS. I also updated my site URL in settings, so hopefully everything should be hunky-dory.

Or… maybe not. I just realised that there’s probably a tonne of pages (mostly from the now-defunct Posterous) that would have been being served over HTTP. Still not sure what I want to do with those Posterous posts, as images as broken on all of them at the moment.

My favourite portable console

IMG_3658I picked up Zero Time Dilemma last week on the PS Vita, and it’s really reminded me why the PS Vita is my favourite console. While Nintendo’s 3DS lineup may edge out the Vita in terms of social integrations (StreetPass is a hell of a thing), the PS Vita remains the more “serious”, the more mature console. Not because it doesn’t have a cutesy interface like the 3DS, but because it lacks the simplifications of the 3DS that make it the more appealing to a younger audience.

Like a lot of 90’s kids, I grew up on Nintendo. My friends had the Nintendo 64, I eventually got a GameCube, and there were various portables interspersed throughout all that. The Game Boy Color introduced me to portable gaming, and by the time the Game Boy Advance SP rolled around, I was hooked. (I borrowed a friend’s Game Boy Advance for a few weeks, which was pretty cool, but I never had one of my own.) I picked up the original 3DS when it came out, but by that time I had more or less outgrown portable gaming, eschewing it in favour of these new-fangled “computers”.

Fast forward a few years. I haven’t played Pokémon for far too long, but I get the chance to acquire some 3DS hardware for cheap. I jump at the opportunity, with the intention of sating my desire to catch pocket monsters for another decade or so, publishing a series of posts about the fun I was going to have. Unfortunately, whether it was due to Poké-fatigue or something else, I never ended up finishing Pokémon Y.

Somehow, I ended up buying a PS Vita in the middle of that. I imported it from the US due to Sony being much more lenient with their region-locking than Nintendo was, and I spent a good chunk of time in Persona 4 Golden which I later wrote about.

By the same token, the growing library of titles on the 3DS meant that it was now a compelling purchase. I remember reading about Fire Emblem Awakening somewhere, and feeling it was a good a time as any to jump in, I imported a 3DS XL from the US along with a physical copy of Fire Emblem Awakening.

The 3DS XL was pretty great, despite Nintendo’s insistence on region-locking its titles. My imported 3DS meant I was never going to be able to walk into my local EB and pick up a 3DS game on a whim, but I was OK with that, thanks to increased digital availability of titles. I took my 3DS XL to PAX Aus the first and second times, and StreetPass really came into its own as the ultimate social drawcard, even if it meant walking around holding the right shoulder button and giving A a solid workout.

But for all of the 3DS’s many compelling titles and social integrations, there’s always been something off about Nintendo’s portable console. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels as though the 3DS is still a console for kids — maybe because it is — but it means that there’s this feeling of something missing. As in, why isn’t there any easy way to take screenshots on the device to save moments in-game? In a world of super-high resolution displays, why are the screens on the 3DS still the same low-res that we were seeing five, ten years ago? And that’s not even talking about the seldom-used 3D feature — although it’s cool that Nintendo has come up with a way for glasses-free 3D to work in a portable console, the fact that 3D cuts the resolution in half should mean Nintendo would want to be cramming the highest quality display possible into the 3DS, at least for the upper display.

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Which platform do I play this on?

It's been two and half years since I last played my Vita. Bonus points if you can name the games.

It’s been two and half years since I last played my Vita. Bonus points if you can name the games.

One of the best things about modern gaming is being able to choose what platform to play something on. Console exclusives have more or less died out apart from a few titles that I’m not really that interested in anyway, and I can probably count the number of games that I want to play that aren’t on a platform I own on one hand, so life is pretty good when it comes to choosing which platform I want to play something on.

Nine of out ten times, I’ll choose to play something on PC. I have a reasonably powerful gaming PC that’s purpose-built for the task, so putting all that graphics power to the task of pushing some pixels around is more productive than having it just sit around, looking pretty. Playing on PC means I get all the extra goodies that come with PC gaming: ShadowPlay to record in-game footage I want to watch later, and Steam integration for screenshots and for when I feel like being social and playing with friends (or to see what my friends are playing).

Note that I don’t have a current-gen console at the moment, either. I used to have an Xbox 360 and a PS3, but I left those behind in Hobart when I moved to Brisbane in 2015. Some times I miss those consoles — there’s still a few PS3 games I’d like to play through — but for the most part, I haven’t felt like I’m missing out on anything by not having a console. Besides, these days I’m playing way too much Dota to get stuck into anything else.

When Zero Time Dilemma came out at the start of July this year, I faced a dilemma: which platform should I be playing this on? I immediately purchased it on Steam due to the fact that it was the first title in the series that was available on PC. I didn’t have much of a choice with 999. Although you can play 999 on iOS these days, it lacks the puzzles of the 3DS version which I played through a few years ago. For Zero Time Escape, I went with the Vita version for something a little different.

I tried playing Zero Time Dilemma on the PC, I really did. But the advantages of the PC platform just weren’t there. It’s not a bad port, per se, but using a mouse and keyboard for what is generally a pretty hands-off game/visual novel interspersed with puzzle sections felt wrong somehow, like I was doing more work than just playing the game.

I could have gone with Zero Time Dilemma on the 3DS, too. I generally like the cutesy nature of the New 3DS, and Nintendo’s insistence on keeping games on their own platform forces my hand more often than I’d like. But here, the lack of an actual screenshot function would have let me down if I ever wanted to do a little write up — if I can’t go back and review the screenshots of the game I’ve played, did I ever really play it?

So it was settled. I asked my sister to ship me my PS Vita that I bought back in March 2012, and as soon as I arranged for some US PSN credit and downloaded Zero Time Dilemma, I knew I had made the right choice.