Trimming spending on digital subscriptions using privacy-friendly DNS

Why pay for something if you don’t need to?

When I subscribed to YouTube Music, it was because I needed a music subscription service. I’d been using Spotify for a few years, but I wanted to change things up a bit, and it seemed like a pretty good deal to be able to get the Family version of YouTube Music for $14.99 a month and then pay $3.00 more per month to have an ad-free YouTube experience that I could share with a few relatives.

There’s a bit more to YouTube Premium than that, like having background play on mobile, but just not being bombarded with ads was what really mattered to me. I have an ad-blocker on my browser, but I don’t have one on my TV, and I was playing a lot of YouTube videos through my TV at the time. So, it seemed worthwhile.

Trying to pare down the things I own, the things I spend money on, the things I wear, has been something I’ve been working on for months or maybe years now. I’ve been trying to simplify my life so that I can regain some freedom to just sit and enjoy life without being burdened by the mental weight of all the things I own, subscribe to but don’t use, bought but can’t find time to use, and so on.

I’ve made a lot of progress with removing items, so I started thinking about other ways to minimize. One easy way is to limit the number of subscriptions for digital services I have. It’s easy enough to put Hulu on pause when we’re not using it. I still need to take a look at Netflix and see if I can do something similar. I probably won’t be renewing Disney+ when my annual subscription ends. Instead, I’ll just wait about a year, pay for 1 month, and then catch up on the few things that I actually want to see. We also have Amazon Prime, which includes videos. Oh, and HBO Max.

It’s kind of annoying, but they seem to be in collusion with each other, to always be offering one or two shows that most people would really want to see so that you can’t get away with just having one subscription or another. Or not having a “pause” option so that you can easily bounce back and forth without losing your watch history and watch lists.

So, for paring down digital services, I went after the low-hanging fruit first, which in this case is YouTube Premium. Of all the services I use, this one provided the least return for the money I was paying, and I think I found a way to retain most of the benefit of the subscription (to me) without having to actually pay for it.

I was doing some research and came across an article that was talking about setting up a Pi-Hole, a Raspberry Pi (a type of single board, small computer) that has been configured to block ads and monitor your home network. I don’t want to put money into more hardware at the moment, but reading up on Pi-Holes clued me in to DNS providers that will block ads, scams disguised as ads, and some forms of malware by just changing the DNS settings on my home router.

Some of them charge money after a free trial period, typically about $20 per year, but Adguard provides this service for free, for now. So, I figured, why not use AdGuard to block the ads on YouTube instead of paying a subscription fee to accomplish the same task? It would save me $17.99 + tax per month and give me an excuse to cut off a service that I wasn’t really using enough to justify the cost.

I don’t listen to as much music in the car as I used to. I generally listen to audiobooks that I borrow from the New York Public Library or Brooklyn Public Library or podcasts that I download before leaving the house. For what music I do want to listen to, our Amazon Prime subscription should pretty adequately cover our needs. That’s another problem: overlapping services.

Anyway, hopefully AdGuard will block any advertising that may be included with Amazon Prime Music at home and we won’t notice much of a change in our daily routines. Eventually, I’ll set up a Pi Hole here at home, but that’s going to have to wait. Before that, I want to figure out a home network storage solution for backing up our important media and making it accessible from anywhere.

Museum Challenge: The New York Transit Museum – Fun and Interesting

No pole dancing allowed

Of all the museums I’ve visited in New York City, the New York Transit Museum was the most fun, even though it’s also (so far) the smallest. The museum is designed in a way that allows for interaction with many of the exhibits. There was a whole class of children on a field trip playing with the turnstiles when I first got there. I think the museum staff was aiming for making the place a popular field-trip destination. Besides all of the interactive exhibits, there is also a cafeteria/classroom area.Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though.

Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.
Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.

Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though. On the first floor or first basement level, depending on how you look at it, there are old buses or portions of buses that you can walk into and sit in. The driver’s seats are accessible and you can have a friend take your photo through the windshield. The newer buses are definitely designed better. The driver’s seat and the angle of the pedals were much more comfortable than an older model I tried out, which required me to keep my leg elevated all the time to press the pedals. I have no idea how people actually drove those older buses all day. Their right legs must have been twice the size of their left legs.

The bottom floor of the basement is where all of the old train cars are. They had everything from A trains, supposedly mid-90s to 2010 (some of which I still see on the A line, not sure why it’s in the museum), to trains from the early 1900s. A lot of the train cars looked similar inside. Even some of the same advertisements spanned decades. It was interesting to see how the seat configurations changed over time. I also thought it was interesting to see ceiling or rotating fans in some of the older train cars. Once a year, New York City runs some of these older trains on the 7 line (I think).

Vintage train advertisement.
Vintage train advertisement.

What really interested me, though, were the old advertisements. I’d like to go back and just spend a few hours studying them. You can tell a lot about people during a certain time period based on the products they were buying and how the appeals made by advertisers were framed. It’s also just neat to see the artwork styles.

Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.
Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.

 

More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.
More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.

Another awesome exhibit in the museum is of signs meant to regulate the behavior of passengers. The signs are from multiple transit systems around the world. Some of them are hilarious; all of them are necessary. Or at least, the ones for the New York transit system are necessary. I remember being shocked by how clean the trains and buses in Singapore were when I first moved there. The trains were so clean that sometimes people would sit on the floor, something that is totally out of the question in New York City trains. The buses in New York City are usually just as filthy as the trains. People litter everywhere here; they spit everywhere here. It’s a shame. The city would be so much nicer if people would take care of it, but they don’t. They just complain about how dirty the city is while contributing to the problem.

Anyhow, the New York Transit Museum is pretty awesome and I’ll definitely be going back at least one more time in the future. Take a look through the photo gallery below for more images of exhibits in the museum:

 

The New York Transit Museum//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

A Very Clever Snail Mail Marketing Trick

A few days ago I was looking through the mail and I saw an envelope that was addressed to me.  I scanned the return address and I thought to myself, ‘Who do I know in Connecticut?’  I couldn’t think of anyone off the top of my head, but the envelope was shaped like a greeting card so I went ahead and opened it.  I thought that perhaps it was a relative I’d forgotten about, that had sent a late Christmas or New Year’s greeting card.

Junk mail disguised as a greeting card.

I was actually a little shocked by what I found inside:

Junk mail that was hidden inside an envelope that looked like a greeting card.

I went back and looked at the envelope again, more closely this time, and I realized that what I mistook for a woman’s well-written handwriting was in fact a font, and the words were actually printed.  In fact, they didn’t even spell my name right.

I suppose I should have caught all that right away, but I didn’t expect physical spam mail to catch up with me this fast.  I’ve gotten really used to seeing spam online, and I can avoid it with ease, but I suppose I’m out of practice with real junk mail.  I’ll have to pay more attention from now on.  Not that opening physical junk mail could infect me with a virus, unless someone decides to start mailing weaponized anthrax again.  It’s just the principle of the thing.

As for what was in the envelope, I couldn’t say, other than it’s about jewelry.  I don’t like being tricked into looking at advertising so I tore it up and threw it away.

Using Geisha Imagery To Sell Modern Products

The following image is of a soap that appears to be popular in the Philippines, where most women (and quite a few of them men) are obsessed with whitening their skin and maintaining a fair complexion.  The image of a painted geisha face very effectively communicates the idea of a fair complexion and the purpose of the soap.

DSC04776

It also puts across the idea that by using the soap you will be sophisticated, artistic and elite, which are all qualities possessed by true Japanese geisha.  Contrary to what most people believe, the highest class of geisha do not sell sex but are instead entertainers who sell their skills with instruments, gaming and conversation to high class clientele like politicians and wealthy businessmen.

Triple Homicide At Tampines 1

When we walked into Tampines 1 earlier this evening, there was a large crowd gathered around the opening on the first level, looking across to the other side.  We were curious to see what was going on, so my wife and I quickly joined the crowd.

On the other side of the opening there was a crime scene, cordoned off with yellow tape.  Three bodies were on the floor, surrounded by tape to mark their positions on the floor while a photographer was taking pictures and people in Crime Scene Investigation vests were examining the area.

It only took a few moments to realize the whole thing was staged.  The large speaker playing club music to draw attention was, of course, the main giveaway, but there was no blood or signs of trauma on the bodies.  Plus, they were uncovered.

Later, while walking through the other end of the mall we saw that there was a similar scene being set up with a different group of people, one of which was a fairly attractive woman who had her legs cocked open, offering a scandalous view up her skirt.

What I’d like to know is what the point of the whole thing was.  Unless I was really being unobservant, I couldn’t see any signs for obvious branding, other than the Crime Scene Investigation vests.  I suppose it’s possible that it was a hip new recruiting technique spearheaded by Singapore’s police force, but I didn’t see anyone handing out flyers either.  My wife suggested that it might be for a fashion magazine, which makes a lot of sense.

I took a few photos of the first ‘scene’.  Sorry, no upskirt porn!

Does anyone know what was really going on here?  And how much does a person get paid to take naps on the floor all day?

On another note, the center area in the bottom floor by cold storage is completely closed off.  You can see the green barrier in some of these photos that’s hiding it from viewing from above.  I’m curious to know what they’re going to open there, and whether or not it’ll be done before I bid Singapore adieu.  The area was previously used for seating and also held an upside-down Christmas tree over the holiday season.

Excuse Me Sir, But You Have Soup On Your Shirt

I saw this set up at Bossini a few days ago in some mall or another.  I don’t remember where.  At first I was like, hey that’s pretty neat.  I looked at the shirts and I was even thinking it was pretty cool.  Then I realized that it was a move to pull in suckers.

I understand the desire people have to wear branded clothes, and that’s cool.  I don’t mind having Levi’s on my shirt, or Esprit, or whatever.  If you’re paying top dollar for a branded item, why not let people know it?

Where this effort by Bossini goes wrong is that the logos aren’t the Bossini logo. It’s Campbell’s.  So, if you wear this shirt you’re not really showing that you’re wearing Bossini.  You’re endorsing Campbell’s soup.

If you buy one of these shirts, you’re paying good money to be a walking advertisement for a soup company.  You’re not sporting a label.  You’re sporting an ad.  On top of that, I doubt Bossini is illegally using the Campbell’s trademarked logos, so this has to be a deal, meaning that Bossini probably got paid to market the shirts already.  On top of that you’re paying to wear them.

In the end you’re being made to look like a fool to have the opportunity to advertise for a soup company.  Oh, and Bossini makes lots of money.

Using Swine Flu to Sell Your Product

Swine Flu has to be the most covered and most talked about event in the last two years, and it’s not even that serious. From what I’ve read, the fatality rate is only 0.1%, which is less than the fatality rate of actual flu.

It’s a new disease though, and it’s in the media limelight, so everyone’s heard of it, and the more people hear about it and ask about it, the more the media covers it. I think it’s past the point of informing people and bordering on propaganda. Sure, people should be informed, but hasn’t it gone on long enough? I even question the extra scanners that have been set up at airports and such, if the swine flu isn’t even as bad as a regular flu.

Now, H1N1 is even being used to sell products! Dettol is a common cleaning agent company here, selling everything from hand soap to floor cleaner. The following pictures are from a can of disinfectant spray, similar to Lysol.

Cosplay and Dance Routine Mascots at Tampines 1

We were walking out of the Tampines 1 mall to take a shortcut down to the lower level and heard loud music playing and saw a crowd gathering. I ran over to see what was going on and immediately got my camera out. This is kinda weird, and not something I’d ever expected to see going on as a mall promotion. I’m not entirely sure it was the mall they were promoting, though. I saw a Tampines 1 logo on one of their suits, but the wading pool in front of them had a message about renewing energy, so it could have been a mall sponsored energy conservation promotion.

[Update: I found out that the mall has a blog and that these guys are promoting the Amore Living store on the 5th floor, which has an outdoor pool on the roof, as part of their fitness complex.]This second group surely had something to do with a toy store. I quickly took a few pictures. Then a woman asked if I wanted my photo taken with them. She looked like she was wearing a jacket with a business logo on it so I was scared she was going to ask for money. I politely said no and then quickly retreated!