Apple Tech

Should the CIA target Apple?

Something worth thinking about. There is spying that we denounce, such as the mass spying revealed by Snowden, but there is also some that we should come to expect, whether we agree with it or not.

Because That’s Where the Intelligence Is — As a taxpayer, if the CIA and every other U.S. intelligence agency doesn’t target Apple products, I want a refund.

Our instinct is to express outrage at U.S. intelligence agencies targeting the products of U.S. companies, but this is far from the first time it will happen, is far from the last time it will happen, and is absolutely essential for those agencies to do their jobs. As the entire world relies completely on technology for all forms of communication, tapping into that technology is critical for intelligence gathering.

via TidBITS

Productivity Tech

Things app

things-mac-black-friday-saleI’m a sucker for productivity apps, but one app that has been highly recommended by many folks that I haven’t tried is Things, mainly due to the price.

The good news is that the iPhone and iPad versions of Things is free for Black Friday, and the Mac App version has a 30% discount until the 28th of November.

Prior to using Things, I was hacking together a similar solution using Wunderlist (which is free). Things feels like a productivity app designed with GTD in mind, but has a nice balance between the simplicity of Wunderlist and the power of Omnifocus (which is also incredibly expensive, so I have yet to try that).

One minor quirk I’ve found is that I can’t set a reminder for a task, which seems like a strange oversight for me, but I just work around that.

If you haven’t tried Things yet, I’d recommend you download the app while it’s still free and give it a whirl. I tried it for a day or so and ended up buying the Mac app. No regrets so far!

Apple Tech

Tablet buying tips

When someone asks me which tablet they should buy, there are few questions that I usually ask in order to help determine what they should buy. I’m going to run through them here with the hope that it helps you decide what to buy.

A few things to note:

  • This is my personal view of things, so don’t blame me if you still end up with the wrong tablet.
  • This guide is written in Q4 2014, so things might have changed by the time you read this.
  • I wrote a tablet buying guide back in Q4 2012. Some things have changed then, but the core concepts have not changed, so there will be some overlap.
  • I’m going to try and keep things as simple as possible, so if it sounds short, it’s by designe.
  • I wouldn’t say the tips below are definitive, but I intend for them to get you thinking about certain key points before you make your purchase.

So here are the few things you should look at:

  • Price
  • Usage pattern and purpose
  • Operating system
  • Your mobile phone and computer
  • Your apps
  • Support


To put it simply, the cheap tablets are horrible. I’d skip them. If your budget supports it, check out Apple’s iPads and the higher end Android tablets.

Usage pattern and purpose

How do you plan to use your tablet? If you’re always on the go, it might be a good idea to consider a smaller tablet and one that also supports a data SIM card. If you’re using it as a desktop replacement, you might want a larger screen size.

Operating system

Do you have any specific preference for Android or Apple’s iOS? If you prefer one platform over the other, then it’s best you stick to it and not deviate due to price or promotion.

Your mobile phone and computer

Devices are increasingly connected with each other, with the caveat that they’re on the same ecosystem (Apple’s, Google’s, or Microsoft’s). So if your mobile phone and computer are already on the a unified platform, you might have some additional benefits to one ecosystem. Perks I’m talking about include better photo syncing, file transfer, etc.

Your apps

Do you have any essential apps that are key to your workflow? It may not be available or works terribly on other platforms. Make sure you check through the respective platform’s application store first.


Who do you usually go to for support? The Apple Store? Your neighbour? Me? It’s good to make sure that whatever you buy, you have someone to help you when you need support.

In conclusion:

Buying a tablet isn’t that hard. I would recommend you decide on a platform first (i.e. iOS or Android), and then see which tablet hardware to buy.

Good luck! Leave me a comment below if you found this helpful or need further clarification.

Productivity Tech

Switching to FastMail

I’ve been a Gmail user and advocate from day I managed to get my hands on one, which was a big deal when it was launched. Since then the email interface has gone through changes, some good, some bad. Of late, there seems to be an increasing dissatisfaction towards Google, the way it treats user data, and privacy concerns of government access to data since the Edward Snowden incident. None of these has been enough to push me over to switching to FastMail.

Recently, many of our clients on RubyCoded require an email system where they can manage the users themselves. There are free solutions to this issue, such as allowing client access to the CPanel; forwarding the emails to Gmail; or some other hackish solutions. None of those seemed to be the right way to do it. There were alternatives such as Google Apps and Office365, but they’re more expensive than FastMail, and can sometimes seem like overkill. So I’ve since switched our RubyCoded emails to FastMail. Hopefully our clients will appreciate using FastMail too.

So far, aside from an irritating situation where my Mail client on OS X and iOS randomly asks me for my password when I try to send an email, everything else has been just fine. In fact, the FastMail web interface itself feels extremely fast, clean, and snappy. It’s also refreshing to not have to see advertisements. I guess advertisements are something that you don’t notice until they’re gone, and it’s nice that they’re gone.

For my personal emails, I’m still alternating between my Gmail and iCloud accounts while deciding what to do. One of the main reasons I’m still giving my Gmail address out is that everybody knows what “at gmail dot com” sounds like, so I can mumble that to phone support and they’ll usually get it right, as opposed to me spelling out my custom domain. It’s a lazy man’s excuse, but hey, I’m being honest here. Eventually I assume I’ll move my email to my custom domain and put it on FastMail.

Some things I want from my email provider include:

  • Fast web interface. This is key to me as I like being able to check my email on a public computer if needed.

  • Works well on mobile. FastMail doesn’t have a mobile app like Gmail, but recently I’ve grown to like the iOS Mail app, and FastMail works just fine on it with IMAP.

  • Reliable. So far so good.

On privacy
FastMail has issued a statement explaining their stance on government surveillance requests. I don’t entirely agree with their views on not having to hand data over to the US government if they’re asked to, but then again, I don’t expect 100% privacy for an online service anymore. It’s 2014 after all.

It’s probably worth a read to check out the views of some tech guys who have switched over to FastMail too:

On referrals
I don’t earn a cent from this blog so far, but I every now and then I put in affiliate link (like the FastMail link above) just to see if some day I’ll actually earn more than $0 from an affiliate link. Consider it a personal experiment, and if you’re adverse to those affiliate links, you can go to the FastMail website directly.


I use 12VPN and VPN.AC in China

I originally wrote a very lengthy post about comparing various VPNs that I tried in China, but after some deliberation, I don’t see the point of writing a lengthy post just for the sake of being long winded. I’m going to keep things short here and nix the back story. The bottom line is that I’m in a China for a week or two every now and then and need to get access to the uncensored Internet.

Here’s what I’ve found:

  • 12VPN: Expensive, but the best solution to bypass the Great Firewall in China. It actually makes me feel like I’m using the Internet outside of China. Very strict about their no-torrent policy though. I accidentally launched uTorrent and was blocked on the server I was using for two hours immediately even though I closed the app within 3 seconds. The other downside is that while they offer a 14-day refund policy, they don’t offer single month package, rather you’ll have to opt for a 3, 6, or 12-month package, depending on which plan you choose. Well worth the money though. I also couldn’t seem to easily find a discount code online.

  • VPN.AC: Cheap and functional. Sometimes sites take a frustratingly long time to load, but in general it works. You’re also allowed to use Bittorrent on some of their servers too, so that’s a plus point. If you’re in China for a week or so, you can sign up for their weekly trial at $2 on their FAQ page and even Google for a discount code.

I also tried VyprVPN and BolehVPN, but they didn’t work as I needed.

Also do take note that Internet speeds in China are generally very slow, so after you add in the overhead of a VPN, Internet speeds will feel even slower, but at least it’ll work. You just need to be patient.

Update 30 June 2014: I’ve since switched to ExpressVPN. I noticed two things about 12VPN and ExpressVPN. The speeds I got from both upon sign up were amazing, after that it became much slower after a day or so. I’m not sure if that’s due to the service provider or the Great Firewall in China. In the end I preferred ExpressVPNs result, so I’ll give that a try again when I’m next in China.

Update 23 August 2014: VPN.AC worked but was pretty slow this trip. I switched to ExpressVPN and the speeds are bearable. At least I feel like I have a slow but reliable connection back in Malaysia, which allows me to do my work. So far ExpressVPN is the way to go.