Disney continues to throw money at their live-action adaptations of all their classic animated films, and Aladdin is the latest. Unfortunately, judging from this special preview, they might have mucked things up a little.

Now, it’s important to note just how terrible trailers and “special previews” can be. It’s really difficult to gauge how good a film is going to be unless you actually go and see it. Having worked in VFX where it was often all hands to the pumps during trailer time to get work completed so it can be used, I can wholeheartedly sympathise with those working on this film. But alas, Will Smith’s genie just feels .. dead. And blue. Like a dead smurf.

As an example of deceptive trailers, back in 2014, the live action version of Paddington suffered horribly when he first made an appearance on the internet. He looked terrible. He looked.. creepy. Memes were generated in abundance. But people (including myself) absolutely loved the film. I’d even go and say that it’s some of Framestore’s finest work. The second film too is wonderful. I’d never thought I’d say that, but it’s true. Go see Paddington and Paddington 2 (available on Prime Video).

Blue people in film & TV #10323 – Tobias Funké, Arrested Development

For those of us that remember, ILM did a marvellous job with The Mask, taking Jim Carrey’s character and bending and twisting him into all sorts of madcap characters. Then “Son of the Mask” came along, and it is, without doubt, the worst visual effects I have ever seen in a movie. One can only hope that with Aladdin, ILM have erred on the side of Jim Carrey rather than the sequel.

Blue people in film & TV #23213 – Papa Smurf

The rest of the VFX in the Aladdin special preview feels “meh”, like it could have been done by any vendor. Jafarr seems strangely far less malevolent than he was in the original animated film too. Nothing to me in this special preview or the trailer before that makes me think they have done anything special with this other than to plonk live action people amongst animation of a different type. Seems a massive waste of money to me.

The only two live-action Disney remakes that I have been impressed with so far have been:

In the end, however, does it make any difference? This is just a family film aimed at younger kids. And younger kids will watch anything. In fact, Disney could have saved substantial amounts of money and have had the entire film shot with glove puppets, or brightly covered twigs. The kids don’t care. As long as it’s bright, moves around a lot and makes noise, they’re entertained. They’re the ones not going to write up reviews of the film.

I gave up on WordPress.com because I felt I wasn’t getting value for money. Unless I forked out more money than I’m paying now – and annually upfront no less – there was no Google Analytics access and I disliked having to give up the ‘www’ subdomain. Then there are other technical matters which just couldn’t cut the mustard. So I’ve gone back to using CloudFlare, a CDN (content delivery network) and WAF (web application firewall), which sits in front of my VPS (virtual private server) to protect the server and WordPress application. As an added bonus, I was able to enable DNSSEC too.

However, one of the problems I have had with CloudFlare in the past is making it play nicely with WordPress.com’s Jetpack plugin. This provides additional features which are nice to have, but more importantly, allows me to use the WordPress iOS app to create and edit posts on the fly. Very handy if I have my iPad Pro with me and have the urge to write a blog post.

One of my favourite (relatively) new features of CloudFlare is the Firewall. This allows anybody to create a series of rules which grants or denies access to the underlying application. This is a big step up from the simple whitelisting/blacklisting feature which was very limiting and as a simple $20/month Pro subscriber didn’t allow me to block entire countries (a few of which are almost always entirely responsible for attacks and dodgy bots).

To get the Jetpack plugin to work properly, I had to create a brand new rule to allow a series of IPs from Automattic (who make WordPress) to access the blog.

CloudFlare’s new firewall editor is a big step up from simple whitelisting/blacklisting

The rules page is very simple:

We allow access only from WordPress.com IPs & to two URLs

The /?rest_route= URI was a result of examining the output of the firewall logs. I’ve not seen any other calls from WordPress.com using that URI as yet (but then again, I haven’t used it in anger fully as yet), so it might not be necessary. But certainly WordPress.com will use xmlrpc.php.

It works!

Prior to this, whenever I tried to associate Jetpack with WordPress.com, it would fail authentication, refresh the page, seemingly authenticate and that would be it. Nothing else would work. By applying the above firewall rule has made everything work as it should.

Yesterday (24th January) was the 35th birthday of the Apple Macintosh. It was a revolutionary machine which has certainly changed the way we look at computers.

A 2018 Macintosh in laptop form – the MacBook Pro

What a WIMP!

Back in 1984, personal computers were great big lumbering beasts that didn’t have much in the way of a GUI – it was practically all text based. The Macintosh changed all that and gave the user a WIMP environment (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) and presented a virtual desktop on which the user can manipulate files and programs.

It took Microsoft a good year before Windows 1.0 was released for PCs. It didn’t have the same refined look and feel as the Macintosh operating system, and even to this day, MacOS still feels like it is a far better thought out OS than Windows will ever be.

Big Mac and Chips to go!

Now there are many iterations of the Mac today. Laptops and desktops of various shapes and sizes. And as the Mac line has progressed, it’s one of the few brands that has evolved throughout its life to change its whole architecture whilst retaining the same familiar user interface. From processors made byMotorola to IBM, then to Intel, and soon.. Apple itself?

I remember having an iBook G4 (PowerPC) before transitioning to one of the first x86 Mac laptop lines. The transition was actually quite smooth, and certainly, Apple had been thinking about this for a long time. Given how powerful and successful their own silicon has been in the iPhone and iPad products, I have no doubts in my mind that Apple will move the Mac to their own design of ARM processors, providing the same or better performance than Intel.

The future of the Mac line continues to look bright. Here’s to another 35 years!

One of my all time favourite online backup services has just released version 6 of their backup client which not only increases the backup speed up to 50% through the use of threading.

But what has got me interested most with this release is the ability to create snapshots of any part of your backups – at any interval – and keep them forever. Backblaze will keep 30 days worth of versioning for each file before the older versions are deleted. In order to get around that problem, Backblaze now connects to their own cloud storage system (B2 – significantly cheaper than Amazon’s S3 and Google’s Cloud Storage) and can save restored files to it, creating a permanent copy of those files. To keep 127Gb of photos and videos forever will cost me just $0.63 per month. As Backblaze costs $5 per month per computer, I consider this a bargain. All costs are shown up front before you commit to a snapshot.

And one can download the snapshots at any point (it’ll cost about $1.27 to retrieve the whole 127Gb zip file – if you’re just restoring from the regular Backblaze backup itself, restoration costs are free), or if there is a significant amount of data to retrieve (either from the snapshot or the computer backup itself), Backblaze can ship the data to you on a hard drive (up to 8Tb). You pay for the hard drive and can get a refund if you ship it back to them.

The only other thing I’d like to see from Backblaze would be local data centres – for example, in the UK, Ireland or Amsterdam. At the moment Backblaze’s data centres are based around the West Coast of the USA.

As always, I do recommend that people back up their computer data locally to external devices as well. But having an online backup gives you that bit of extra piece of mind (providing you continue to pay them, of course).

Internet security has never been more important. We’re getting to the point where everything has to be encrypted to ensure that prying eyes are kept well away from our data.

Even so, that still doesn’t stop data leaking, with the latest leak of 773 million records containing 2,692,818,238 rows of data having been released to the internet at large. I highly recommend using Have I Been Pawned? to check to see if any details (email or passwords) have been gathered across the plethora of public leaks.

VPNs are becoming more important when on the road where public Wi-Fi is inherently insecure and dangerous.

Now, it’s unlikely that any of the leaks are the responsibility of unencrypted traffic from your computer to the server, with man-in-the-middle attacks slurping your credentials when you’re at home and using your own router and ISP. But it’s possible but unlikely (though more likely if you’re connecting to terribly insecure public Wi-Fi). Most of the time these are going to be a combination of things: malware, unpatched exploitable security holes allowing attacks to access servers and their data directly, terrible methods of storing data, stupid password policies, stupid sysadminning, and everything else in-between.

But this still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take additional measures to ensure your online safety. A VPN can help you to protect your online privacy. Data will leave your device encrypted through your ISP’s (or public Wi-Fi) connection and exit through to the internet through a dedicated server. This makes it difficult to track back traffic to your computer, tablet or phone and stops your ISP (or Wi-Fi provider and any other potential third party threat) from spying on you.

VPNs can also bypass geographical restrictions. There are many US news sites that haven’t sorted out their EU policies and just block any EU user from accessing their web sites.

NordVPN offers 5,200 endpoints across 62 countries and 6 continents for a very low monthly price based on annual payment. And they also offer dedicated IP facilities where ISPs cannot

I’ve not been a big user of VPNs until now. But there is one big advantage of using a VPN service. And not all of them offer this particular feature: a dedicated IP. In my job (and as my hobby, running this server), having a dedicated IP makes it much easier to lock down a server and access it from specific IP addresses. IPv6 doesn’t seem to be making the kind of impact it should be these days which would make it much easier for ISPs to give each user a dedicated IP. Sky, my current provider, used to do this – but they then withdrew the service by the time I came back to them from Virgin.

I picked NordVPN for my VPN service. They’ve been advertising quite a bit on UK TV, and have had some very good reviews. I tested them out a couple of times via iTunes subscription, but have now committed to three years (paid up front) for around £100 (including VAT). Their dedicated IP service costs an extra £66 a year, but it allows me to use my own OpenVPN client across any device (so it’s on my iPhone and iPad Pro as well as my Mac). So far it’s been extremely useful, and most importantly, reliable.

I can still use my regular NordVPN account with random servers (they have over 5,200 servers (or endpoints) across 6 continents and 62 countries. They provide their own VPN client which makes it very easy to select different countries (and servers within those countries) along with speciality servers such as Onion over VPN.

Support is good, with live chat available. Most problems are easily fixed through the chat. It took a couple of days to set-up the dedicated IP, but that’s to be expected.

The only problems I’ve encountered with using NordVPN overall is that some WAF/CDNs tend to flag the IPs from some of the hosting providers that NordVPN as potential troublemakers. There were a number of occasions connected via a non-dedicated IP connection where “Access denied” popped up from an Akamai hosted site, and WordFence – a popular WordPress security plugin – also seemed unhappy with the IP I was using.

The problem is that with VPN connections, they will appear to come from a dedicated hosting company rather than an established broadband ISP. This can potentially have a negative impact as, in my line of business, this can potentially be flagged up as a potential bad actor or a bad crawler/robot – hence Akamai and WordFence’s response.