Netflix Should Offer Single Disc Rentals

I’ve been a Netflix customer for a long time. For the past several years, I have only subscribed to the Instant Watch streaming service. I haven’t had a need for the full-fledged DVD subscription in quite some time. Having said that, it would be nice to be able to rent a disc once in a while.

I propose that Netflix offer individual DVD titles on demand. It would be nice to get a disc from time to time without having to subscribe to the full DVD rental service.

The titles available on DVD & Blu-ray far outnumber what is available to stream over the Internet on Instant Watch. If I want to rent a movie that is only available on disc, I should be able to rent it individually.

When I search for a movie that isn’t available to stream, I’d like to be able to click a button and have them mail me the DVD for a flat fee. They could charge $2 or so and add that charge to my bill the following month. They could set a time span of one week for the customer to watch and return the movie by mail.

Something worth mentioning is that currently, if you are not enrolled in the Netflix DVD subscription, you cannot even see those movie titles listed on their website. A search for a movie unavailable to stream merely displays a message that the title is not available on Instant Watch. The user isn’t allowed to access the list of titles on DVD. I’ve never really understood that policy.

These days, if I want to rent a movie on disc, I have to stop at a Redbox, and then go back to return the disc the following day. I’m not knocking Redbox; I think they offer a great service at a very low price. The only downside to Redbox is that their movie selection is limited to new releases.

I think that Netflix could gain extra revenue and make their customers happy if they implemented a single DVD rental policy as I have described. I think this is a great idea. They should have had something like this in place already.

Netflix mailer

My Twitter Bio Explained

I’ve been on Twitter for almost six years now. A Twitter bio is essentially a permanent tweet on your user profile where you briefly describe yourself. The bio is limited to a length of 160 characters, which is slightly higher than the 140 character limit of regular tweets.

For the vast majority of my Twitter tenure, my bio has remained unchanged.

I don’t remember what I entered for my bio when I first created my account in 2008. I think I used a simple single-word placeholder like “Hello” at the time. Not long after creating my account, I began making the appropriate customizations. I soon settled on a clever bio for myself, which is in fact the same bio that still I use to this day.

I have been asked what my bio is supposed to mean. I shall explain.

My bio reads: “I’m a bluebird on a telegraph line, I hope I’m happy now.”

The line was taken from a song recorded by Elton John in 1973 called “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” The lyric appears in the following verse:

I wonder if those changes
Have left a scar on you
Like all the burning hoops of fire
That you and I passed through

You’re a bluebird on a telegraph line
I hope you’re happy now
Well if the wind of change comes down your way girl
You’ll make it back somehow

I found the line rather fitting for Twitter. As you know, the Twitter logo is a blue bird. Combine that with the reference to a telegraph line, and it began to make sense. In addition, I had toyed with the idea of joining Twitter for months before actually creating my account, hence the “I hope I’m happy now” element.

Using this for my bio was far more about the above references than anything to do with the mood of the song itself. That said, I have long been a fan of the song, and know the lyrics from memory.

I think my bio is a keeper. I don’t foresee changing it, even after all these years. And on a personal note, I am happy now. Twitter has been a great community that I’m proud to be involved in. Now you know.

Searching For 60 Days From Today

I performed a Google search for the phrase: “What is 60 days from today?” I was hoping to see the date calculated and displayed at the top of the search results page, as is the case with math problems and measurement conversions. I didn’t see that.

What I got was some links to various unit converter sites, and a mere four results down, this gem from Ask.com: “60 days from a certain day will depend on when exactly that day is. A calendar will come in handy.” Thanks for that completely useless information.

I Don’t Need An App For That

There is a temptation to load your phone up with as many apps as possible, installing one for everything you think you may ever need. I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone. At one point I had 150 apps on my iPhone.

I began to realize over time that I really didn’t need a lot of those apps. There were some that I hadn’t used in over a year.

When I upgraded to the iPhone 5, instead of restoring my previous state, I decided to completely start over and only add the apps that I really used. I’m glad that I made that decision at the time. It was like cleaning house. That was about a year and a half ago, and since that time, my app count has inevitably crept back up again.

I’ve now reached a point where I’ve decided that it’s time to again get rid of apps that I don’t need. I went in and deleted scores apps I hadn’t been using. I didn’t stop there, though. I even deleted apps for services that I actually use. The reason I did that is because there are a lot of services that have excellent mobile websites that do the same job that the custom app does. I’ll give you some examples.

Bitly. I use Bitly every now and then to shorten long URLs. Bitly has an iOS app but I’ve actually never downloaded it. Browsing bitly.com in mobile Safari or Chrome is perfectly sufficient. It retains my login and I am able to perform every task I need from their website. No app necessary!

Wikipedia is another good example. I had the app installed on my phone for years and barely ever used it. I would always do a Google search on what I wanted to know about and I came to realize that I always browsed Wikipedia using only the web browser. Their mobile website does everything that the dedicated app does. It even looks the same.

Shopping apps are another example. I’ve had the Target app on my phone for years but I can only recall having used it one time. Before I recently deleted the app, I browsed over to target.com in Safari, and as you would expect, they have a very clean mobile website that lets me search and shop for anything I am looking for. Again, no need for the app, or others like it.

I could go on and on. Mobile banking, news sites, and more. All of them have full-functioning websites that allow you to do everything you can do from the app. As a general rule, if the service in question merely delivers information, you’re probably fine just using their website to obtain it.

I created a bookmarks folder on my iPhone for services like the ones I’ve listed above that have perfectly useful mobile sites. To save a bookmark as an icon on iOS, simply tap “add to home screen” in Safari. The icon added usually looks indistinguishable from the native app.

If you have apps on your phone that you don’t use very often, it’s worth it to browse the mobile website for that service and see how close the experience can be to using a native app. You may be surprised. If you’re using push notifications, however, you need to continue using an app for such interactivity. For example, if you use eBay and rely on the app for notifications about items and auctions, you’ll want to keep that app installed.

Go forth and do some digital spring cleaning. It can be very liberating.

iOS Push Notification Permissions Are Not Always Honored

The first time you launch an app in iOS, you are usually asked if you want to allow the app to deliver push notifications. A box pops up asking your preference, and you can either tap “Don’t Allow” or “OK.” Half the time when I select “Don’t Allow,” notifications are enabled anyway. I am not exaggerating. In my experience over the years, I would say that this happens about 50% of the time.

When I install a new app, I almost always deny push notifications for it. After using an app for the first time, I’ve been in the habit of going to the iOS settings to look at the notification settings. Sure enough, I often have to go in and manually disable Badges, Sounds, and Banners for the app I just installed. This needs to stop.

I only allow notifications on apps that I use for communication. In total, I only have notifications enabled for about five apps, most of which are instant messengers. It simply isn’t necessary for other types of apps to use them, certainly not games and other such trivial nonsense. Notifications can get annoying and I imagine that they probably tax your battery if you have too many enabled.

I don’t understand why the initial permissions preference is broken half the time. Are app developers deliberately programming so that notifications for their app are allowed no matter what the user chooses when they launch it? I suspect that they are. I don’t have any other explanation for the behavior. It can’t be an iOS glitch because half of the apps I’ve encountered honor it correctly.

If developers are in fact doing this on purpose, I’d like to see Apple crack down on the practice. Evildoers should be rejected from the App Store. There just isn’t any sense in developers getting away with this, if this is what they’re doing.

I would advise that everyone check their iOS settings from time to time to see if any apps have sneakily turned on notifications without their knowledge. I think we should all collectively begin giving poor ratings to apps that don’t honor the preferences of the user.

iOS push notifications permission

Security Alert: Port 32764

SECURITY ALERT! Make sure that your Internet router isn’t exposing port 32764. It has been revealed to be a major security hazard, potentially leaking your router admin data and wireless encryption key to hackers. Use the link below to check your port status. Make sure the result on the probe below is STEALTH or CLOSED. If the result of the port scan is OPEN, you should log in to your router administration and change your settings to block that port immediately.

I’ve heard about this security alert two weeks in a row on one of my favorite podcasts, Security Now with Steve Gibson. If you want to hear the details, this was discussed on the latest episode 438. The conversation about this security alert begins at precisely 52:10 in the show.

Check your port: bit.ly/port32764

Siri Has Become Unreliable

Has anyone had problems with Siri lately? I’ve used it occasionally for the past year, but lately it has been very hit and miss. Mostly miss. I don’t know if it is iOS 7 related, network congestion, or what. Siri has become completely unreliable, whether I am accessing it on LTE data or my home WiFi.

For the past month or so, when I voice dictate text, it takes an unacceptable amount of time to complete. It regularly takes 20 seconds or more, much longer than it would take to type out the text by hand. And when I ask Siri a direct question, at least half the time she says she can’t take any requests at the moment. And when it does work, it regularly takes up to 30 seconds to respond. Unacceptable.

When I need directions on the go, I’ll ask Siri to navigate to a location or to a contact in my address book. That has always worked well for me in the past, but lately it just spins its wheels, often not responding at all. A few nights ago, I had to pull over and type in where I was trying to go.

I can’t be alone in this problem. It’s getting on my nerves. This has not been an issue for me until about a month ago. Siri has become nearly unusable. It’s a possibility that the millions of new iPhones sold since the release of the 5S are clogging up the pipes. Apple needs to address this immediately or risk alienating their users.

The Disconnects of a Forgotten Phone

Yesterday morning I rushed out the door and left my phone at home by mistake. I didn’t realize it until I was at work. Beyond the sheer inconvenience of not having it, I became a little worried because I was supposed to meet a friend after work, and the details were not finalized.

I have darted out the door without my phone a few times in the past, but I assumed I wouldn’t be completely disconnected. I can always access the Gmail and Google Voice websites from my work computer to email or text someone if I need to.

Not so fast! For security, I had recently enabled 2-factor authentication on my Google account. I hadn’t logged in to Google on my work computer in a while, so when I went to the Google Voice website to text my friend about my lack of a phone, I was hit with the 2nd-factor verification. Somewhere at home on my pillow, my lonely phone lit up with the code I needed to authenticate the untrusted computer. Crap. My security conscious nature had locked myself out of my own account, which included my personal contacts.

No worry, I figured. I could just dial my friend from my work phone and tell them my dilemma. Nope! I have no idea what their number is…or hardly anyones number for that matter. How many phone numbers do you know from memory these days?

This experience got me thinking about how I could better prepare myself for the next time that this inevitably happens, or worse, if my phone were lost or stolen.

Perhaps it would be a wise idea to simply print out a short list of phone numbers of important contacts and stick it in my wallet. If I don’t have my phone and need to actually dial someone, this could be a lifesaver.

Alternatively, if you are confident that you will have access to a computer of some sort, I suppose you could store important contact info in the cloud using a service like Evernote. I also found out that it is possible to print out a list of 2nd-factor authentication codes for your Google account in the instance that you lose access to your second device (phone.)

Either of the above alternatives are potentially good backup plans, but for simplicity sake, I like the list of printed phone numbers as a simple old school solution.