Today marks the 17th anniversary of my joining the SETI@home distributed computing project that uses internet connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Even though now I only tend to crunch in the winter and spring I’m still doing my bit for the cause.
Today I’m the leader of the SETI.UK team, a group of individuals who have banded together crunching work units. With over 1000 members the team has grown beyond my initial hopes and expectations.
I’ve taken the plunge and removed Flash player and Java from my Windows systems completely. To be honest I could have taken the step years ago but I became comfortable with my setup. Aware of security issues I felt reassured with my constant updating of plugins, browser and system software as well as having Firefox set to ‘Ask to Activate’ each time one of the plugins was called on.
The Java plugin I did not see asked for too often and mainly only when I expected it, so I got used to it. Flash on the other hand was at first constantly asking to be activated, on sites from YouTube to BBCiPlayer to sites with flash based advertisements and the such. Over time, I opted into HTML5 trials on multiple websites and over time many sites started offering HTML5 offerings to browsers. The requests to activate became less frequent and again I got used to it.
What Changed my mind?
I came across an article from the Mozilla Firefox Future Releases Blog which made me rethink. With NPAPI plugin support being dropped from Firefox by the end of 2016, why don’t I drop those plugins right now. I removed the software and associated plugins from my systems.
I’m more secure and finally got away from the last of my plugins. HTML5 and native offerings have allowed the escape.
So far I’ve come across just one website still insisting on Flash: Google Play Music through the Firefox browser. The HTML5 audio option is disabled by Google. I know I can use it in Google Chrome but I don’t want to install it for one website. I mainly use Play Music through its Android app with its Chromecast support so this is only a minor inconvenience.
Why did I stick it out so long with Flash player and Java?
I just got used to my setup. Also for many years I used the BBC iplayer Radio website daily through Firefox on the PC. I’ve since switched over to the Android version as my daily driver and the website today has HTML5 offerings.
Last November I magaged to get a few days away in York, England. I took in many of the local sights and attractions including Clifford Tower, York Castle Museum, York Minster and the National Railway Museum York. I also went to a double recording of the Autumn 2015 series of “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” at the Grand Opera House for broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
When I was growing up in England we had the main 4 terrestrial TV channels. My dad was one of the first people in the area to buy a movable satellite dish which allowed us access to many television channels. Over the years with Sky, BSB and ONdigital even more channels became available.
Sky+ brought the PVR into our family home. Now we could build up our own stack of recorded programmes to watch at our leisure all without adverts. Then something happened. I found myself watching less TV.
How was this possible? I had the opportunity to watch everything I wanted when I wanted. The launch of the BBC iplayer catch up service and other on demand services meant that I did not even have to record the programme in question or scroll through the TV guides to see what I wanted to record.
I found myself recording stuff I would never watch. Overwhelmed I would purge masses of recordings.
When I got my own place the pattern just repeated itself. With total control with what was on the TV and I found myself watching old repeats or just channel surfing for hours on end.
Over the years I have often reread a book called Get A Life by David Burke and Jean Lotus which brought together lots of my thoughts about television in general. A good read if you have the chance. Not only was I wasting my time a whole industry was in place to battle to keep me doing just what I was doing.
At first I thought I’d get rid of the TV altogether. One sticking point was that I like to keep up to date and watched the live news channels a lot. Then I came to realise that I didn’t need live TV for this. Yes, live TV news does a great job of covering major events but a lot of the time it’s just filler. I found myself switching to online content.
With this out of the way I decided to pull the plug- completely. My Sky TV subscription was cancelled and I was saving a small fortune. Shortly after I cancelled my TV Licence sacrificing live broadcast TV and the BBC iPlayer saving more money. I used the money saved to pay for a faster internet connection.
I still have the TV with a Chromecast and a PC hooked up. Occasionally I may take out a subscription to Netflix, NOW TV or Amazon Instant Video if there is something in particular I would like to see. But often those subscriptions go to waste as I don’t use them as intended after the first few days. I always cancel the auto renewal as soon as I subscribe to avoid unwanted charges.
This would have been much better if I had written this at the start of my plan, instead of over half way through it. I could have detailed my research and thoughts and how I came to my decisions. But to be honest today most of that information would have been out of date and of no use for today. Next time then.
I started thinking about how long I use devices when I was considering purchasing a smart phone at the end of 2012. When I was growing up technology was moving so fast that upgrading computers, mobile phones and other devices became habit. I often sold components and devices on, gave things away or stuck them in a cupboard never to see daylight again. Previously I had often opted for mobile phone contracts which came with the latest and greatest phone featuring new at the time features such as a colour screen, 3G, touchscreen, WiFi radio etc.
This purchase was going to be an expensive business and I worked out the monthly cost, looking at contract and purchasing the device on its own. I then started to think about the environmental impact of my choices. Changing mobile phone every few years can’t be good for my pocket or the environment. I’m into technology and like to have things not just for the sake of having them but for things which will make some contribution to my life.
I came to the conclusion that if I was going to get a smart phone it would have to serve its purpose for five years. That’s a long time in technological terms and I knew I would have to choose wisely. I did not only have to think in terms of specifications and physical durability, I had to think in terms of software. How long would the software be supported and updated? A hard question to answer. I had been bitten before when I chose a HP Pre 3 running WebOS; A a great phone and OS unfortunately abandoned very quickly on launch by HP.
My choice: The Nexus 4
In the end I chose the Nexus 4 smartphone brought out by Google and LG. It was generously priced and the specifications beyond what I had thought achievable given my budget. For Android I thought that with it receiving Android updates directly from Google it would be well supported for. Obviously today the phone is outclassed by newer hardware but the software is still updated by Google. It does not have a usable 4G radio but at the moment 3G and WiFi serves my needs.
I know that I’ve been very lucky that the Nexus 4 has been supported in terms of software updates for this long. It’s been over two and a half years since I first got my Nexus 4 – the hard part is still to come.