My new iPhone 6 Plus

For over 3 years I’ve been using my trusty iPhone 4S.  It has served me well but it was definitely getting a little long in the tooth.  The iPhone 5 wasn’t a big enough change for me to upgrade and neither was the 5S.  However, with the introduction of the iPhone 6, especially the 6 Plus variant, I knew it was time.  I usually carry my iPhone and iPad with me.  I use the iPad for reading as the bigger screen makes a huge difference.  With the new 6 Plus, I won’t have to take the iPad with me as much unless I’m doing some serious reading.  The Plus is huge, almost too unwieldy.  Somehow it manages to be just portable enough.  It’s a slippery fish though so I’ll have to get a case.  I ultimately went all the way and got the iPhone 6 Plus in gold with 128 GB.

Aside from the form factor, it does have a huge gorgeous screen.  Now that I’ve used the larger screen, there’s no way I can go back.  Performance wise, I’m not seeing much of a difference between the 6 Plus and the 4S or in battery performance.  But given that the 6 Plus has 4 times the pixels to push around as well as a screen that’s twice as big to light up, that is impressive indeed.  Some cool features that I’m enjoying include the Touch ID.  It works amazingly well for pretty much anything that supports it.  Maybe too well for things like Apple Pay when it comes in October.  I can see paying for something on accident but it’s very accurate.  As I didn’t have the 5S, this is something brand new to me.  The other thing I’m enjoying very much is the 3rd party keyboards that now support things like “swyping” via either the Swype keyboard at $0.99 or the SwiftKey keybord (free).

The other thing I like is the live dictation. I’m not sure if this is what Apple calls it or not but basically after hitting the microphone key, you just speak and the words appear.  No more hitting the done button for the speech recognition to happen although you still have to touch when you’re done speaking.  You do still have to speak punctuation marks but it’s a pretty nice improvement.

My personal net worth

Recently I’ve begun to worry about whether I’ve saved enough (probably but I can always save more!) and whether I’ve accumulated enough to retire later at this age.  It’s a minor obsession of mine to see how others in a similar situation are doing just so I can gauge how I’m doing myself.  That of course puts me into dangerous territory where I may be completely satisfied with just being average rather than doing the best I can.  Some folks are even worse than average given their station in life due to a variety of personal situations.  Everyone understands that.  But I think it’s important to do these check up once in a while just to see how you’re doing generally.

So where am I?  I’m just about average.  I suppose it could be worse.  It’s good to know that at least I’m not behind my peers.  I always have the nagging feeling I should save more but it’s just so hard with all of the expenses of ordinary life.  It does take true discipline to be able to consistently sock away as much as you can.  I do admire those few folks who can do it and strive to do better myself.  But I suppose being average is not a bad place to start from.  There are worse places to begin for sure!

Have you done a check up of where you stand financially?  If not, just do a Google search and get a rough idea.  It’ll get you started on thinking about your finances at the least.  If you’re lazy, here’s a very general formula to get you started:

NET WORTH = [ (Your average income over the past 10 years) - ($15,000 + $5,000 for each person in your household) ] x Your Age / 8

So for example, if you’re age 35 and your last 10 years of income averages to $75,000, your net worth should be in the neighborhood of $262,500 if you’re single.  (That’s $75,000 minus $15,000 times 35 divided by 8).  If you’re a family of 4 in the same situation, your net worth would be less: $196,875.

Refinancing with National Bank of Kansas City

Finally.  That’s all I can say.  I probably should have done this about 1 1/2 years ago but I’m refinancing my house.  It all started with a visit to Zillow where I thought they did such a poor job of estimating my house value with their so called “Zestimate”.  What a load of crap that is.  They were a full 15% off, which is huge.  Unless you’re in a completely homogeneous neighborhood, this estimate will provide absolutely no value.  Two houses next to each other with everything exactly the same can have wildly different values according to Zillow.

But what did intrigue me as I was fuming about this was the ad to refinance.  I figured why the hell not? Rates are still very low.  It’s not as low as it was a year ago but they’re still at a level that we won’t see for decades.  And I’m convinced they’re about to rise. Part of the refinancing process includes an appraisal.  The professional appraiser came out and pretty much confirmed my suspicions about Zillow – that they’re full of crap.  In any case, now I’m on my way!

I’m working entirely online and through the phone on this one with National Bank of Kansas City.  I’ll admit I’ve never heard of this bank before and save for this transaction, I’ll probably won’t see them again.  But what do I care if they sell my mortgage or not?  They are an FDIC bank and so far it’s been a total pleasure dealing with them.  The loan office maintains regular contact throughout the process and keeps me updated.  They’ve been responsive and more than fair with their rate and costs.  I should know; I shopped around after reaching out to them.  I would heartily recommend these guys if you’re in the market to refinance before rates jump.  So far so good with this one.  :-)

A new privacy oriented browser

I’m pretty sure that programming a browser from scratch is crazy difficult.  Especially when you take into account all of the different content types that needs to be supported.  Perhaps if you start small, like a text only browser a la Lynx and then expand it, it can be done.  Regardless of the difficulty, I really think we need one bad in this day & age due to privacy concerns.  Today’s browsers boast some privacy features in some form or another but not nearly enough.  Let me outline why I think we need one and what some broad features could be:

1. First off, the browser needs to be able to mimic any current browser in existence via the Browser Agent feature.  I envision this as a drop down where you can select which browser you want to mimic or enter your own Browser Agent string.

2. Second, the browser needs to mask the user IP address by default.  This can either be randomly generated or using an algorithm that duplicates current IP addressing models to make it more authentic.

3. Cookies should be sandboxed, erased on exit and encrypted to prevent 3rd party reading by default.  Users would have the ability to whitelist certain cookies and allow them to persist on a cookie-by-cookie basis.  There could be a cookie database that’s regularly updated for the most popular sites.  Using this database, the browser can even auto generate cookies when a site requests it so that it never needs to be stored, sandboxed or encrypted.  Imagine visiting a popular site like abc.com and it requesting some general cookies to establish if you’ve visited before, the last time you visit, etc.  The browser can automatically generate this cookie based on the database with fake info.  If a particular cookie is wrong, no big deal – you should still be able to proceed with viewing content.  If you need personalized access to the site, then it can always be whitelisted.  I envision cookie control features to be essential.  This needs to be very granular to the extent that even cookies are kept or auto-generated that things like date, time, email, usernames, etc. can be modified or even kept frozen.  Imagine freezing the date last visited field to be whatever you want.  This should drop a lot of privacy & tracking concerns from the get go.

4. Built-in ad-blocking features.  A lot of browsers already offer pop-up blockers.  I’m thinking of going even further than this and beyond current ad-blocking extensions & add-ons.  This built in feature can work off a regularly updated list and users’ own criteria.  The key on this feature will be to prevent the site from even knowing these features are employed.  This can be done a variety of ways, all the way up to actually downloading the ad content but then discarding it completely.  This will give the browser an added layer of security & privacy.

5. Content blocking features are also built in.  This allows the user to block Javascript, HTML5, Flash or anything else on a granular or browser wide basis.

6. Cache control is of utter importance.  Data should be evaluated carefully before being cached.  Cache is an important performance enhancing feature so a balance must be maintained.  This is important since tracking data can be embedded in cached files.

These are the major features that I believe needs to be in a browser that protects ordinary users from tracking and privacy invasion.  If someone needs something more advanced, there’s always the Tor browser.  However, I believe that if these features can be implemented then the browser can the first line of defense for users on the Internet.  I certainly don’t have the skills to do this but if anyone reading this gets an idea that can be implemented, at least it’ll be a step in the right direction.

Migrating to GoDaddy

After several years at my current web hosting company, I’ve decided to move on and relocate my site.  There are many reasons but the main one is that the billing is all messed up on the other hosting company’s site.  They have me as a reseller and I can never get that corrected.  The other is that it’s painfully slow.  I know I’m on a shared server so resources are spread among thousands of users.  Still, there’s not a whole lot of traffic on my site so I expected some responsiveness.

So I’ve decided to relocate to GoDaddy.  They already host my domains so I figure why not have everything in one easy to reach place?  Additionally they were slightly cheaper than the old hosting company.  Let’s see how well this runs for the next year and then I’ll revisit.  I’ve migrated the main WordPress site but there’s a lot of random links apparently still coming back to my site that I need to correct.  I’ll clean it up someday and have all the random links point back to my home page.  But until now, let’s see how this new host works out and we’ll take it from there.

Minecraft – My New Addiction

I have a new addiction – Minecraft.  It’s been a while since I was this addicted to a game.  World of Warcraft was one and Starcraft II was probably the most recent.  I did buy Diablo and played it for a while but never got really into it.  Come to think of it, I never got into the Diablo series as a whole.  But as a Blizzard game, I had to try it.  Looking at this list here, I can only come to one conclusion: if you want me to be addicted to your game, just simple name it anything + craft!  :-D (So no, Flappy Bird isn’t going to do it).

Minecraft is addictive because it’s deceptively simple yet complex at the same time.  There are different playing modes, from Creative to Survival to Adventure, each with its own flavor.  The world on a PC is essentially endless.  It keeps on generating new areas for you as you explore.  There’s a PVP aspect to it that makes it fun as well.  If you don’t know what it is, then here’s a short description.  It’s a genre of games called “Sandbox” games where you essentially play in your own sandbox of computer generated worlds that you can then explore, modify, or do whatever in.  Think of Legos on the PC, except this Legos world comes pre-built and then you can add to it.

I’m surprised that I haven’t played this before although I’ve certainly heard of it.  And at some point I even made an account on the Mojang site apparently!  I think that I may have tried it once or twice but didn’t really understand it until just now.  The funny thing is that my nephew has been addicted to it longer than I have!  Now when he comes over and asks me if I have Minecraft, I can effectively say YES!  Like any game, you have to have a little discipline and not get too addicted… and with this game, it’s easy to get addicted!

Super Heroes Movies

I recent just walked Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 over the course of a few days.  Super heroes movies have made a resurgent in recent years.  We have movies like the X-Men series, the new Batman series, Man of Steel, Return of Superman, Green Lantern, the Iron Man movies, Thor movies and the Avengers.  For fans of comic books and super heroes, this is a wet dream come true.

Almost all of those are very entertaining and some are down right great movies, whether it’s through acting, the action & special effects, the story telling or any combination of the above.  In my latest foray to this genre, I was very impressed with the Captain America sequel and disappointed with the Spider-Man one.  Captain America had the right storyline, great acting (as great you can get in a super heroes action movie), and just great pacing & storytelling.  You were engaged throughout.  I love the development of some of the characters.  Chris Evans did a phenomenal job.  So did the rest of the supporting cast.  I’d highly recommend it.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2?  It was just ho-hum.  Certainly entertaining on a summer’s Thursday evening but it was flat and somewhat annoying at times.  I can’t stand the cinematography: all the slow motion and panning around, etc.  It was obvious they were filming for the 3D version and it just about ruined it for regular viewers.  It felt gimmicky and just got in the way.  Andrew Garfield is OK as Spider-Man but he mumbles his lines and just turns in a pedestrian effort.  Emma Stone was pretty good, as was Sally Field but it wasn’t enough to overcome Garfield’s flat performance.  Whereas Captain America felt real (for a super heroes movie), this felt like it was really trying. If you’re bored, sure, this will fit the bill.  But otherwise I’d just as well skip it.

Safari as my go to web browser

Over the years I’ve jumped between several web browsers.  I gravitate between Firefox & Chrome primarily, although I’ve dabbled in alternatives like Opera.  Ever since getting the iPhone and my MacBook Air, I’ve been using Safari more and more.  While it may be a bit more bloated (or at least it feels that way), I’ve grown to appreciate the little things it does.

Firefox seems so unstable to me – it crashes the most in my experience.  Next up would be Chrome in terms of instabilities although usually only certain pages would crash while the rest would keep on chugging along.  It may be that Chrome starts a separate thread for each page which may explain why it uses gobs and gobs of memory when you have a lot of tabs opened.

Safari on the other hand, seems to use more memory from the get go but then is pretty stable.  I’ve yet to experience a Safari crash – at least no that I remember.  Maybe I’m just lucky in that regard.  However, the feature I love best about Safari is the built-in Reader Mode.  When it’s available, it works wonders at removing clutter and just making web browsing a pure reading activity.  Reader add-ons are available for other browsers but I dislike the fact that they are add-ons.  I just wish that Reader Mode was available on more web pages.  I’m not sure why some pages are not compatible but that would be my only complaint.

The password management on Safari is also pretty good.  Whereas with Firefox or Chrome I would need to use Lastpass, with Safari, it works really well with the Apple Keychain out of the box.  Although that doesn’t have a password generator, I rarely use that feature anyways so it’s not something I miss.  In general, I just appreciate the polish of it more than the other browser out there.  Maybe it’s time I download it for my Windows machine as well!

My MacBook Air

I bought a 13″ MacBook Air just a little over 2 years.  Coincidentally, my MacBook is called the the mid-2012 model – quite appropriate!  At the time I was traveling back and forth every month between Paris & San Diego.  That’s quite a commute don’t you think?  I also made the occasional trip to Saigon, Vietnam.  I really didn’t have a notebook before that and was really either using my iPhone or iPad.  I had owned a Dell XPS m1330 at one point and thought that was small & light.  But looking back now, that was a bulky thing and other Windows notebooks were even worse.

In any case, with all the traveling I was doing, I decided it was time to get a new notebook.  After looking around and deciding that weight was of paramount importance, it was down to either a MacBook Air or an ultra book as they were known at the time.  The MacBook Pro was out of the question; that extra pound was too much.  I read a lot and finally settled on the MacBook Air as I already had a foot in the ecosystem with my iPhone and iPad.  But which Air?  The diminutive 11″ or the 13″ inch?  (Remember, weight & portability was my main concern).  I realize that the kind of work I wanted to do on my computer would require a lot of screen real estate.  I do the occasional development but a lot of photography work.  So the 13″ was it.

A lot of people poo poo’d the MacBook Air for photography work and I had my concerns.  But after using it for quite some time now with both Adobe PhotoShop and LightRoom, I can say it handles both without any issues.  I also worried about the amount of RAM and if I should have opted for the 8GB upgrade.  I can say without a doubt that for my needs 4GB was plenty.  Of course it would be nice to have the extra RAM but I really didn’t miss it.  As for processor speed, the mobile Intel i5 is plenty fast enough.  I only notice the performance lag when I transcode videos which I don’t do enough of on the MacBook Air to make a difference.  But for photo editing and even light games like Starcraft 2 or World of Warcraft (all on light graphics settings) it was fine.

So now after 2 years, I can say that this really is the perfect notebook.  Even now the design is fresh and it still competes with the newest notebooks on weight & portability.  Some things have improved, noticeably the longer battery usage in the newest MacBook Air and the marginal bump in processor speed but this MacBook Air is remarkably up to date even now.  I wouldn’t be surprise if I get another 2-3 years out of this.  Who would have thought that you can get 5 years out of a computer, let alone a notebook?  I strongly believe that the SSD makes a huge difference in that regard.  The computer seems to run really quick with it.  With boot ups and shutdowns taking almost no time, it’s just a joy.  My MacBook has travelled the world yet looks brand new.  If anyone’s in the market, I can’t recommend it enough.  You’re going to be happy and the switching I do between my Mac and Windows machine is a non-issue.

Welcome to Phuoc's Blog! A personal blog of Phuoc Le from San Diego, CA.