Apple Pay Mac

Yesterday I was doing some payments online and was offered to use Apple Pay on my Mac.
Apple-Pay-Mac

The setup was fast an easy. You either scan or manually type in your credit card info, then confirm the setup with a one-time code sent via SMS - everything the same as you would set it up on your iPhone or Apple Watch.
Apple-Pay-Mac-2

After adding Apple Pay, you can use it on checkout by putting your finger on the Touch ID sensor on your Mac or typing your password. It's just as easy to use as on any iOS device or the Apple Watch.

Easier to recommend before

As I recently mentioned in my iPhone portrait and camera zoom posts, previously it was easier to recommend Apple products to people around me.

I've touched this topic few days ago by saying how for many years I was amazed and blown away buy the sheer technical accomplishments Apple was able to achieve.

MacBook
I remember the days of the Sony Vaio laptop series, how it had the thinnest, lightest and most powerful Windows devices at the time. And when I learned about Apple's MacBooks which were even more slick, powerful and compact I couldn't wrap my head around on how that was even possible. Being a teenager at that time I was very lucky to get a white polycarbonate MacBook as a gift from my dad. And that was truly an exceptional device for that time, far ahead of the competition in every imaginable manner.

iPod-nano-2
But my first actual Apple device I got a year before my first MacBook. It was an iPod Nano 2g with 2GB of ram which was leaps and bounds better than my iRiver mp3 player that it replaced. The iPod was so thin and so well built and so comfortable to use with the click wheel, I to this day wonder how two similar but so different (iRiver and iPod) products could exist at the same time. The difference and superiority of the iPod was uncanny.

MacBook -unibody
After my first MacBook in few years I again was lucky to upgrade it to the first unibody aluminum MacBook Pro. It was such a huge upgrade in terms of look and feel and it pushed the MacBook so far away, since not any other competitor could match the quality even of the previous white MacBook, and this new device with a chassis milled from a single piece of aluminum was just lightyears ahead of anything on the market.

iPhone-3g
And then came the original iPhone. First, I was like 'eww, it can only run 1 app at a time when my Nokia can hold 32 apps in the background no problem'. But then, when the iPhone 3G came I finally understood how good that 1 app at a time were. At that time, I was already using one of the Sony-Ericsson smartphones with a stylus and the transition to using a phone with your finger went incredibly smooth. Since the iPhone 3G I owned each version of it, since all the internal (not always the external) upgrades were compelling to push me for the latest version each year.

Both the MacBook and the iPhone was a pain to use in an environment of Windows computers and smart and dumb phones of that time. On Mac OS I had problems printing, working with office documents, working with network devices. On the iPhone I couldn't send anyone files via Bluetooth, I didn't have MMS for a while, first few iPhones had to be unlocked via a proxy sim card to work outside of US.

But all of that was worth it for what you were getting. On the MacBook there were no viruses on Mac OS (still almost virus-free), it had a stellar trackpad (still the best among all laptops), long battery life, insane build quality. The iPhone was just an all-screen device, with one of the best cameras since the 3GS era and most importantly it had a fluid intuitive UI and new, best, innovative 3rd party apps when the App Store launched in 2008.

Though the years under Steve Jobs Apple kept innovating and being far ahead of the competition in many aspects: great hardware and software design, build quality and materials, newest technologies, seamless ecosystem and hardware+software integration, first platform of choice for desktop and mobile developers. But I guess it's hard to keep the lead forever. This is why in my opinion Apple gradually lost a few of their advantages to the competitors and this is why it's now harder to recommend their products anymore.

Purposeful limitation

After being misled on the promise of the 2x camera on my iPhone I felt the same thing with portrait mode.

On the iPhone Xs (and previous 2-camera lens setups) portrait mode supposedly is possible because of the second camera whereas on the Xr you can get them with one camera. Google for example does portraits with one camera on their Pixel 2 and 3 for few years already and does actually a quite job with that. The same as with digitally stabilizing video on the original Pixel which turned out to be really good comparing to OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) at that time.

Don't get me wrong, I like portraits, even the fake ones you would get from a mobile device. They look noticeably better than regular pictures we had all this time and I'm glad the whole industry moved into that direction. But forcing buying a two-camera phone for portraits is just pure marketing, the same as forcing to upgrade from an iPhone X to Xs for Smart HDR which essentially is a blown-up saturation software-wise possible on the X as well.

Previously the push to new hardware was with actual improvements in it. Now it's just purposeful limitation accompanied by better selling marketing shots. Just like with the new butterfly keyboard on the Macs (which no one actually asked for) that made the product look better on photos but made its operation worse on a daily basis. People keep dealing with it, which let Apple not to fix the flawed keyboard much for three years already. The same reason of people accepting everything lets Apple charge for features on newer devices that technically could have been on older devices as well.

All that said Apple doesn't feel being a pioneer in technology like when I started using their products twelve years ago. Nowadays formerly known copycats like Xiaomi or some even less known Chinese brands are pushing the envelope by building ideas that market leaders can't deliver. Maybe it's not Apple's fault in particular, but it's just what happens with companies that get big. Just recall the huge Nokia back in the days overrun buy a considerably small at that time company from Cupertino which was so far ahead in everything and so easy to recommend to switch to.

How to use PPTP VPN on Mac OS Sierra and later

In iOS 10 and Mac OS Sierra Apple removed support for PPTP VPNs from their major OSes and technically had the right for it since PPTP is not secure and outdated. But in case you still have the need to connect to a VPN that works only via PPTP and you're rocking Mac OS Sierra or later you're out of luck. Unless you try using Shimo or Flow VPN which both for me didn't work at all, you're really out of luck 🙂

Thankfully guys at Apple removed only the GUI part of the PPTP client, and you still can use the pppd daemon throught Terminal. But before that you'll have to create a configuration first:
sudo nano /etc/ppp/peers/vpn.example.com

Next, fill it with this info, replacing vpn info with yours:

plugin PPTP.ppp
noauth
# logfile /tmp/ppp.log
remoteaddress "vpn.example.com"
user "username"
password "password"
redialcount 1
redialtimer 5
idle 1800
# mru 1368
# mtu 1368
receive-all
novj 0:0
ipcp-accept-local
ipcp-accept-remote
# noauth
refuse-eap
refuse-pap
refuse-chap
refuse-chap-md5
refuse-mschap
hide-password
mppe-stateless
mppe-128
# require-mppe-128
looplocal
nodetach
# ms-dns 8.8.8.8
usepeerdns
# ipparam gwvpn
defaultroute
debug

Save the file and then start your connection via:
sudo pppd call vpn.example.com

To stop the deamon, close the Terminal with the PPTP session, open a new one and enter:
sudo killall pppd

Custom DNS Servers

In my summary of iOS adblockers I brought up a topic of using custom DNS servers as a better way of limiting ads and tracking and here's why. On iOS this method allows to limit them even outside Safari, which is very good news, since there are no actually working ways of keeping other apps and services from tracking you unless you jailbreak your device.

DNS

I'll be getting into details of setting custom DNS Servers and DNSCrypt on iOS since it's the most limited platform in terms of options. All of the steps below are available on Windows, Mac and Android as well, which makes it the most versatile option for the most devices possible.

So what is a DNS? DNS is abbreviated from Domain Name System - it's a special network of servers which purpose is just to resolve domains. What that means is that when you enter any address in your browser, or any app or service that you're using connects to its service via a domain, your device which allows that connection connects to its DNS server and asks for the IP address of the domain you're connecting to. If you open google.com, your computer or mobile phone asks the IP address of the domain, receives 216.58.215.78 and connects your browser to it. But if for some reason the DNS server doesn't resolve your DNS request, your browser won't know where to connect and as a result you won't see anything. This is exactly what can be used not to see ads.

DNS is a hierarchical network with few root servers at the top. The system is built to be fail safe with backup servers in each node, but from its nature there were times when a portion of them went down making parts of the Internet inaccessible to some users. For that reason ISPs (Internet service providers) have their own copies of the main DNS servers in case they might temporary fail. They keep those copies up to date with the main servers so when there's an outage the IPSs' users won't feel anything since their DNS queries will still resolve on the ISP servers. Also potentially resolving your DNS queries in place speeds up your loading speeds comparing to the situation when your DNS query would go further than your ISP servers which would just take longer to do.

Usually when you connect your device to any router, it will give you static IP addresses of the DNS servers the router is set up to share. The routers of your ISP are pre-set with their DNS servers, the same happens when your phone gets cellular connection - phone's DNS servers are also set for you. And most ISPs in order to keep users away from messing up with their Internet keep those DNS IP addresses hidden from change.

But why would you want to change your DNS servers? Well there are few reasons for that:

  1. Your DNS provider (most often your ISP) has his own non-objective interests in mind. If it's a governmental ISP in Russia, they might wanna block their subjectively harmful websites, and not resolving the DNS query for those domains is an easy way of doing it. Your browser would just tell you that it 'couldn't resolve host name'. Or if your ISP provides additional services, they might just block their online competitors that way, leaving you out only with the options they want you to have. These examples are a bit extreme, but worth mentioning since all of the scenarios are easily possible. Even though when blocking, ISPs do a bit further and just block all the traffic to specific resources and not just DNS queries. And in that case only VPNs are your only option to get around the limitations.
  2. Your DNS provider has less incentive than you on blocking ads and trackers since it sometimes might break the website you're watching or maybe your ISP shareholders are also partial owners of an advertising group, etc. And this is where your custom DNS server might help you out when your ISP won't, by setting up few rules not to resolve the domains which usually serve ads or track your online behavior and identity and afterwards sell that information again to advertisers.

As mentioned before the DNS system consists of root and other big servers that resolve people's queries from all over the world. But not only your ISP has a copy of the domain names and their IP addresses. Any private company or even regular people can set up their own DNS server. The only difference is that the root servers are operating mostly independently, following objective rules and are considered safe to be used by everyone, unlike some Joe's public DNS server. Big companies also have their own DNS servers, in particular Google with its 8.8.8.8 and CloudFare (cloud service provider) with 1.1.1.1. And even though Google is a trusted company, I wouldn't trust them to resolve my DNS queries, even though they probably filter out malicious ones for good reasons, but their core business is about ads, so they may be doing that for competitive reasons, filtering competition out, and leaving only their own domains responsible for tracking 🙂

That's why after CloudFare revealed their DNS few months ago I started using them right away, since their core business relies on making the Internet faster and safer not as a byproduct of serving ads. I couldn't switch my router to serve their DNS to all my home devices since my ISP hid the option, so I had to setup all my devices manually.

DNS-Mac

It's very easy doing it on Mac OS: you go to Settings.app -> Network, push 'Advanced' on your connection of choice (Wi-Fi, Ethernet, etc.) and on the 'DNS' tab add 1.1.1.1 and confirm the changes - that easy! You can repeat it on all of your Macs and PCs and this setting will stay even while connecting to other wireless or wired networks, neat!

On Android and iOS the DNS setting is per each wireless network. So if you use few on a constant basis - unfortunately you will have to repeat this process for each of the networks: open Settings.app -> Wi-Fi, tap on the 'i' icon next to your connected network and then on 'Configure DNS' at the bottom, select 'Manual' and enter 1.1.1.1 as well. Save changes, enjoy your faster and more secure Internet 🙂

DNS-iOS

The setup on Android is almost identical and I'm sure you will find it after going through the same sequence.