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An Obligatory Net Neutrality Piece (2018-01-13)

Snip from the most common header illustration in the electronic frontier foundation's blog articles on net neutrality. Snip from the most common header illustration in the electronic frontier foundation's blog articles on net neutrality.
Image courtesy of the EFF, January 2018

Good obligatory though, not bad obligatory. Net neutrality is critically important. Not just in terms of not allowing "internet service providers" throttle streaming services they don't make money from, but also in terms of getting back on track towards an internet where willing participants are able to do so fully, regardless of sex, race, or class. My purpose with this thoughtpiece is not to try to drag the conversation off onto that goal, because I don't think they are in competition. They are complementary, and right now the immediate emergency is about potential abuse of the ability to block access to services and sites on the internet by slowing them down. Rather, I would like to draw some attention to a strategic screw up that almost nobody seems to be thinking about. The only person I know of who has given a thorough consideration of this within the past few years is Maciej Cegłowski in his 2015 talk The Web Obesity Crisis.

Again, bandwidth is important. Yet because bandwidth has been increased so significantly compared to the days of when I was using a 14.4 modem and my phone line to log onto the internet, much of CegÅ‚owski's critique remains as valid as it was before. Website after website, wordpress instance after wordpress instance, uses gigantic image files and attempts to load hundreds, if not thousands of javascripts from who the hell knows where. I hate to break it to all you folks who paid way too much money for somebody to grab all those javascripts to give your site drop down menus, you wasted every damn penny. It can all be done for free in effect with stylesheets, which also fail more gracefully if the browser can't render them properly. The number of sites that have a ridiculously huge social media logo that loads first, is absolutely huge, then shrinks to something 30 pixels by 30 pixels in size and finally lets the rest of the page load today is – unbelievable. I haven't yet found a way to block those stupid images so I can actually see the site instead, which is why I followed the damn link in the first place. This is something I am seeing with sites that are not streaming videos or music, on a basic highspeed internet plan in a country where officially net neutrality isn't dead or tangled up in numerous lawsuits.

The majority of the conversation about net neutrality has centred on throttling, including the contributions on the subject by such big players as the electronic frontier foundation, whose net neutrality series is definitely worth the time, and the Free Software Foundation, which provides an important summary about how lack of net neutrality also facilitates the expansion of DRM. Of course, throttling could also be used to make it that much harder to download free software, especially alternative operating systems. Right now, even a standard major system update for a mainstream operating system can take between 2 and 4 hours to download on a basic highspeed internet plan.

The strategic screw up that many web developers and developers of businesses intended to somehow make money via internet distribution, is not avoiding sucking up bandwidth when they can. This can be an excruciatingly difficult thing to avoid if you are a blogger who does not self-host, for example, and this criticism is not intended for people using those services. There the fault lies with the provider, not the people who have opted to use it, many of whom may be completely unaware of bandwidth as a potential issue. What seems to be happening online seems to be the same phenomenon as the introduction of more and more efficient alternatives to incandescent lightbulbs. The alternatives are more energy efficient, so people seem inclined to use more and more of them, ending up using the same amount of electricity (or more) anyway. I get the urge to do this by the way, because yes, some of the new lighting set ups I have seen are pretty cool and might even be useful. Providing high fidelity photographs and sounds on a website that people can view and download is pretty amazing compared to what it was like online in the early 1990s. I'm sure there are readers who jumped for joy when they could finally email family pictures and the newest, glossiest internet memes without their email provider bouncing the lot.

Unfortunately, this also means that many of us online will be caught over a barrel if throttling becomes common, because throttling is not a fine grained tool. It doesn't have to be, and plenty of websites that don't actually need much bandwidth relative to say, netflix, can get clobbered all the same if the throttling is turned on based on a range of ip addresses, as seems likely. If the site is not relatively lightweight by default, or has no lighter weight version, that site may as well be gone. The problem is not just the risk of throttling without net neutrality, the problem is that for the moment at least, the net pattern of web and internet development has made throttling a serious threat. Beyond internet service providers potentially abusing their positions, throttling can be imposed by other parties via pressure on those providers at this point, by other technical means, or simply by major natural disaster.

Safeguarding net neutrality by means of regulation of both companies that control internet access and infrastructure and preventing governments from creating a non-neutral internet for their own purposes is a key insurance policy. However, it is also necessary to decentralize internet access and internet infrastructure and return to treating bandwidth like the precious substance it is. (Top)

So, You'd Like to Reinstall An Old iOS App (2018-01-06)

The current iTunes logo, which frankly I despise, but haven't yet gotten around to swapping back to the less gross old blue one. Hell, I;d be happy if this one was in greyscale. The current iTunes logo, which frankly I despise, but haven't yet gotten around to swapping back to the less gross old blue one. Hell, I;d be happy if this one was in greyscale.
This logo belongs to apple, and is here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, October 2014

Okay, fair enough, if you don't, in which case, feel free to skip this thoughtpiece completely. For the rest of you out there, I thought it was only decent and fair to write up how I managed to do this, because the application that went awry for me is one that I like very much, but it has become wildly buggy on the latest version of iOS on my incredibly old but still chugging second generation iPad. Originally I was completely stymied as to how to sort out the issue, especially when a full restart, reinstall, and a couple of gesture tricks that sometimes shake things loose all failed. (The newer iOS versions can trigger odd gesture problems in older applications – or the older applications can trigger odd gesture problems in the newer iOS.) Then my luck finally ran out in the grim world of iTunes, and my library became so utterly corrupted I had to trash the lot and reimport all my music and apps. This rendered my music library into a complete shitshow that still hasn't finished stinking (no, I'm not bitter), but did lead to a surprisingly useful thing.

I found myself with a handful of older and newer versions of my purchased iOS apps. Unfortunately this did not include preservation of my very few in-app purchases. Word to the wise folks, if you have an in-app purchase, the developer screws off somewhere, and you have to reinstall the app, your in-app purchases are gone and irretrievable, so far as I can determine. This may not be a real risk for most, but, for what it's worth, there is my warning. I'm actually less irritated about the loss of a small in-app purchase as compared to the mess my music library is in.

Anyway, as igeeksblog.com noted, on older devices, you can sign in to the iOS app store and reload older versions that can still run on an older version of iOS. This worked great when I needed to restore my even older iPod with the few apps I still use on it, and kudos to apple for making the process transparent and easy. The big problems came down for the iPad, because it can officially run the latest version of the application in question, so the app store will not offer any older version, even as a "Well, we don't agree with you at all, and it's on your own head if it all crashes. Don't call apple support, they will laugh at you. You suck. Fine. Here it is." sort of option. That would be a very rude option, but still, as a last resort, bearable. The folks like me whose cell phone service provider's system sign off sounds utterly disgusted with you for ever checking your voicemail will recognize the style.

(For those wondering why I don't just submit a bug report, the difficulty is that the software company has retired all development and support for this version of the app, and based on other tests I have worked through, the bug is on their end not iOS's and I don't need the mass of features in the latest version of the app which I would have to purchase at full price.)

The folks at igeeksblog.com suggest digging around in your iTunes backups, or asking a friend if they have a copy of the app. Except, logically I don't think you could use your friend's copy, because it will be watermarked for your friend's iTunes account, not yours. So, best to stick to a copy from your own backups. Then you just have to drop it into your app library in iTunes, click "ok" when it complains you're replacing a newer version, then drag and drop it onto the icon for the iDevice you are working with. However, it turned out in my case that the oldest version of the app I could pry out of my iTunes backups had the same problem as the most current version. I was close to giving up. But then I found myself wondering about my Time Machine backups. By some wild chance, could there be an earlier copy of the app wedged in there somewhere?

The answer is yes, but the key is to dig around starting from the top level of your home folder. If you start from the Mobile Apps folder in your iTunes folder itself, Time Machine will insist you have no backups whatsoever beyond the current year. This is a strange and unnecessary behaviour, and may be a bug. After all, if you purchased the app there really should be no issue, and I have happily used this app for years. In any case, after a couple of reinstalls of successively older versions of the app, I finally have a working version again. All you have to do on locating an older version in Time Machine is restore the older version, then follow the same directions as the igeeksblog.com article linked to above provides.

Hopefully the likelihood of anyone else seriously having to do this is very small. However, iTunes is such an alarming and lumbering behemoth you really can't count on that forever. The best thing to do is to back up all of your music, apps and so forth on a separate drive as well as taking advantage of Time Machine. I back up my music independently of Time Machine, but had not done the same with my apps since this particular combination of issues had never occurred to me as a possibility. Alas, it is always the most creatively weird things you never thought of that cause the most headaches. (Top)

A Funny Way to Talk About a Person (2017-12-31)

Snip from one of the wallpapers for download still accessible from the Wayback Machine's Archive of the sanctuaryforall.com site. Snip from one of the wallpapers for download still accessible from the Wayback Machine's Archive of the sanctuaryforall.com site.
Snip from Sanctuary wallpaper at sanctuaryforall.com via the wayback
machine
, August 2017

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Copyright © C. Osborne 2017
Last Modified: Monday, July 24, 2017 0:00:55