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Sentence Saver for Beats Music

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Ever since I made my little Clojure wrapper for the Beats Music API, I was on the lookout for a companion project where I actually use the library the make an app. I know, a totally 100% novel idea.

I just deployed a little web app I’m calling the Sentence Saver for Beats Music, and it solves the problem of being able to enjoy the Beats Music “The Sentence” feature (basically their radio feature) while offline by giving you the ability to request a sentence and then having those tracks made in to a playlist. That playlist can then be optionally saved to our local device and then go ahead and board that plane…or enter that military missile silo…or go to your grandma’s farm…or other places that don’t have or allow internet access…also, probably Denny’s.

Update: I also threw in a little feature that I’m still amazed Beats doesn’t have in their app (Update x2: They do have that feature, but they stashed it under the playlist filter menu.)…the ability to delete playlists! Flip to the Playlists section of the app to see all of your playlists and delete any of them you want.

The app is a self-contained Clojure app with the API and HTML served from the same jar file. Not something I usually do, but I wanted to try for this project. The UI is done with Bootstrap, the UX with ReactJS, http-kit and compojure for the web server, and of course I’m using beats-clj for the API interface. It’s all pretty simple and it’s open sourced on GitHub. The app is also 100% mobile ready and functions wonderfully as a standalone web app on iOS (using the save to home screen feature).

Please shoot any bugs or requests to @thatmikeflynn.

Enjoy!

Beats Music Likes My Clojure Library

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I’ll do a full post on the library some time soon. In the meantime, check it out: http://mikeflynn.github.io/beats-clj/

A Follow Up on the STLToday Paywall Story

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Yesterday’s post about how to bypass the weak STLToday.com paywall has gained a fair bit of traction over the last 24 hours. Here’s the story on the Riverfront Times (the alt newspaper in St. Louis).

Before this gets further out of hand I wanted to address a few points that I didn’t hit in my original blog post and weren’t in the RFT article:

  1. To call this “hacking” is…well…it’s not. It’s just a user script that manipulates the web page you downloaded from STLToday.com. I never touched anything on the STLToday.com servers. It’s no different than other scripts that change the look and feel of Reddit or that tweak the interface of GMail.

  2. As I detailed in the previous post, their method of implementing this paywall, running code on the client machine to check and redirect, is a very very thin barrier in front of this content. It’s as if they sent you a book in the mail and stapled the last few pages together. They know this.

  3. It seems quite clear that this was a trial as not much of their content is behind the paywall and they implemented it with the easiest possible client-side solution. My sincere hope is that they take this result result at face value and see how many people are using it to assess what they can or should do going farther based on the data. I’ve already supplied a few solutions and I’d be more than willing to help them more if that’s something they are interested in.

STLToday's Paywall is Weak

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I’m originally from St. Louis, and in fact spent my last few years in St. Louis working with and taking on the media in one form or another. I’ve since moved on and no longer concern myself with the day to day craziness of St. Louis’ bizarre media scene…but I do like to check up on the sports.

STLToday is the website of St. Louis’ prominent newspaper, The St. Louis Post Dispatch and it’s always been kind of a mess. Horrible designs, way too big pictures that take too long to load, crazy ads all over the place, etc…basically the standard crazy failing “old media” company stuff. Today they added: “Paywall” to that list. There’s countless articles about why paywalls don’t work and they are at best a way to delay death rather than anything close to a solution, but frankly I just wanted to read the excellent sports coverage supported by ads! Luckily it only took about 5 minutes to bypass the paywall.

When you load a STLToday.com article blocked by the paywall you’ll notice that the content is shown for a few seconds and then it will redirect you to the pay screen. Interesting. At first I thought this might have been something along the lines of a enticement plan so you can see what you’re going to miss if you don’t pay up…but knowing the history of this particular website it made more sense that this was some drop-in paywall script that is loaded after the article and redirects once it reads your cookies and the content and determines you haven’t paid. I took a quick look at the page source and found a meta tag named ”__sync_contentCategory” it was set to “premium” on the article I wanted to read, but set to “free” on the article explaining their new paywall. Luckily their site is still slow as hell with all the ads and stuff they are loading, so if I just manage to change that meta tag to “free” on every article I read before their redirect script (probably loading on DOM ready) fires, will that short circuit the whole system?

Yup.

Here’s the script (in the form of a user script that can be added to Chrome or Firefox): https://gist.github.com/mikeflynn/11379028

So what could STLToday do to make this a lot more secure?

  1. Well they could not use javascript for one and simply have the backend read the user's information and the content type, but I suspect that their CMS isn't setup to do this and it's probably something they licensed so they can't make any changes to it, which explains the drop-in solution.
  2. They could also make their site faster (a good idea anyway) but one could still figure out a way to inject my script before their's runs.
  3. They could not rely on a meta tag for content tagging and instead ping back to the server to request the content type (premium vs free). This could still be bypassed by spoofing the server's response to your browser, but it would be a lot harder to write a script like the one I did earlier. This is probably a good enough solution, but if they still can't figure out how to write a server-side response on their CMS it can't happen.
  4. They could just not care. I very much doubt that they will see a lot of "digital subscriptions" and those that would be interested probably aren't the type to know what a User Script is or follow me on Twitter.

Women in Tech - Lets Keep the Anger Gun Pointed in the Right Direction

Two nights ago Jason Calacanis posted this on his Twitter account (@jason):

It’s not overly shocking as this is Calacanis’ standard schtick of getting attention anyway possible, usually with a thin facade of caring about whatever the current issue is. That being said, many women who have been working hard on trying to crack the gender issues in tech after the latest GitHub firebomb were understandable upset. Calacanis is trying to steal the focus of the horrible RadiumOne story and take over a discussion that was never and should never be his to own.

I came upon all of the intense conversation that followed a few hours late. By then the primary voices had taken a Twitter break but as I was catching up on the conversation one thing someone said struck me as unproductive (out of the many many good things everyone said). Here’s the exact tweet:

At the time I too was fired up by Calacanis’ decision after being fired up about the latest from GitHub and I had a gut reaction to that tweet. I thought that generalizations of women is a core element in this tech gender madness, so having the side of reason throwing around generalizations about ”almost no / all men” seemed misguided at best and at worst, counter productive to the goal of getting more men to speak out on this issue. I replied:

After I had a moment to calm down I thought about the original tweet and thought that maybe I fired that off a little quickly as, she wasn’t ridiculously far off the mark (sadly) and the restrictions of Twitter may have made that seem like a stronger generalization than it was probably meant to be…but I still think we should be very very careful of generalizations so I cautiously left it alone. Moments later, I was called out on it in nearly the same way I called out myself internally:

I quickly consented:

What followed was what I considered a great conversation about the issue, Calacanis is particular and what can be done to get more men to speak out on the gender issues in tech. I felt a little attacked or misunderstood at some points along the way, but I knew the issue was a hot one, especially at that moment, and one that women will always naturally have more ownership of, so I made an effort to stay focused on the discussion.

…and then, 24 hours later I get this:

Feel free to click the link, but here’s a pull quote:

I’ve heard this counter-argument almost every single time I’ve tried to bring up a feminist issue with a man: “but not all men are like that!”

I know.  Not all men are rapists.  Not all men abuse their significant others.  Not all men actively oppress women.  I get it.  Moving on.

However, generalizations about women–along with misogyny as a whole–can lead to rape, murder, abuse, belittling, harassment, wage gaps, and handfuls of other harmful things.  Generalizations about men cause hurt feelings.

Having to point out that not every man exhibits explicitly harmful behavior allows for oppression to continue because having to say “some men do harmful things” gives oppressors peace of mind.  It reassures them, falsely, that only a small portion of men behave in a way that is detrimental to the liberation of groups outside of white men (so, most people).  It reassures them that said white men don’t have to critique their own behavior or think long and hard about why their shitty behavior is damaging to everyone else.

When you say, “not all men are like that!” what you’re really saying is, “I don’t want to have to think about my privilege as a white man, so I’m going to try to defer the blame to other guys because I clearly don’t act like that.”

To equate this to what I said (and took back) is superficial at best, and to say that generalizations about men only cause “hurt feelings” is displaying the same bullshit that this article is claiming to be fighting. Try asking a guy who was on a sports team or fraternity in college that people said “they are all rapists” if there was more than hurt feelings. Naturally throughout history there are more hurtful things that can be said about women than men, but that “article” is a logical leap too far…but who cares? If that author wants to believe that, she can. What was bullshit is someone out there who doesn’t know a fucking thing about me other than the fact that I stood up and was 100% in agreement with her on the issue at hand, and then turns around and paints me with this “white man guilt” brush?! How is that any different than some one saying “All women talking about gender issues in tech are just pissed off about not knowing enough to kill the technical interview?” I didn’t even come close to saying that every time you say something about men you need to say some men, but implying “no men” or “almost no men” care about the issue isn’t helpful and minimizes those that do care and are helping. To bring it back to this exact conversation, if you want to imply anything, why not imply more men disagree with sexism like that? Further more, why does it have to be one generalization or the other? Generalizations are bad. Period. And finally, I would agree that someone who’s only argument is “not all men” is arguing less than the minimum, but 1. that’s not what happened in this situation, and 2. I wasn’t arguing! I was on their freaking side!

Yes, there were definitely hurt feelings that came with that association. I’ll get over it. What is even more sad is that this is the same group that is asking over and over again about why more men don’t stand up and help on this issue. How many men won’t stand up now in fear of having shit like this happen to them? It won’t stop me from speaking up again, but even if it stops one man from speaking up, then this is a huge fuck up and hurt the cause. It sounds obvious, but maybe not: You can’t ask for help and then shit on the people who come to help. Not everyone on one side will 100% agree, the important thing is that you agree on the primary goal. It’s like asking for someone to put out your fire and then complain about the brand of bottled water they had on them. Most men will never say the 100% right thing on this issue because empathy is the best we can do as we don’t know exactly what it’s like to be in that situation, but any kind of in-fighting is just sad and takes away from the very issue we are all working so hard to fight for.

mikeflynn @ GitHub thatmikeflynn @ Twitter