Rant: Geo-specific apps

The iTunes Store went live in 2003, but only for Mac OS X users in the US, that is to say, people with a US bank account. Despite living abroad, I still maintained a US bank account, so I signed up. I’ve moved twice since then and Apple has made many changes with the iTunes Music Store, which is now just the iTunes Store.

My current port of call is Geneva, Switzerland which is literally on the border with France. I happen to live on the French side of the border, like many of the expats here.

Today, I was at the Peugeot garage and saw some information about their MyPeugeot app they have to track repairs, make appointments, etc. Sounded cool, so I downloaded it before even finishing at the garage.

I opened it up and the first screen asked me to select a Country / language pair. France is not listed. Other French speaking countries are listed, but not France. Switzerland is listed, but not France.

I haven’t done the full investigation because I’ll need to find someone with a French Apple Store account and see if the MyPeugeot app there will show France or not, but this is not the first time I’ve encountered these geo-specific apps. I really don’t understand the need/desire to limit an app to a region, not in this age when people travel.

Maybe someone has lived their entire life in one country, but they study abroad for a year, or their company sends them to another country for a two-year stint. During that time there, they will need apps for public transit, movie times, banking, grocery stores, etc. Things that are indeed local, but it is certainly commonplace for non-locals to be using those services/apps. So, why oh why must the companies insist on making the experience harder for the user? I didn’t use Twint for over a year because the only app I could see (that wasn’t geo-specific, it turns out) was a pre-paid version of the app, not linked to my bank account. That’s not useful or helpful. Not at all. Finally, after a client told me how great it was, I bounced over to the Swiss App Store (I already had an ID so I could interact with my bank) and got the app. Wonderful! One of the greatest new apps I have.

But, they should be able to have a global app and then limit who can actually use it, rather than have geo-specific apps. smh

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Windows Safe Mode: Catch-22

I’m really sick and tired of looking online to find things like: “how to boot into Safe Mode with Windows 10” or “What model Surface Pro do I have” only to have the instructions begin with the assumption that the device is actually working.

As an IT repair guy, I work on hundreds of different computers a year. Many of them come to me because they’re not working. They don’t turn on. They are in some startup loop. They get stuck for a long time during startup. Whatever.

When I search for information, almost all of the instructions assume that I have access to a working Windows device, so the instructions start with “Click the Start menu. Select Settings.” Blah, blah, blah. This includes trying to boot in Safe Mode.

For over 15 years, the reason for Safe Mode existing was to diagnose a Windows installation that was, in one way or another, faulty. But, I think starting with Windows 8, the way to access Safe Mode is to select it from a working, accessible Windows session before rebooting Windows. So, Catch-22. This is why I have said before that Microsoft dose really stupid things.

Yes, there are strange, convoluted, inconsistent ways to help coerce Windows into letting you access Safe Mode, but they do not work 100% of the time. I’m sure that once you “figure it out” for a particular device, it’s easy for all subsequent times, but I’ve been pressing on/off, holding power/volume and waiting for several hours yesterday and again several today on this Surface Pro. Why isn’t the procedure for “Force Power Off” simply: Hold the power button down for 10 seconds? Or 20. Or 30. But something simple and easy to guess.

Have I mentioned how much I dislike Windows?

Microsoft Windows 10 S

Microsoft. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.
 
Today, I picked up a laptop from a client because she was stuck in a loop with her brand new computer:
 
  1. Microsoft ID
  2. password
  3. we’ll SMS you a code
  4. enter the code
  5. Microsoft ID
  6. password
  7. Lather, rinse, repeat.
 
As it was brand new, I went into recovery mode, wiped it clean and started fresh. This time I didn’t use an online account – STRONGLY RECOMMEND AGAINST ONLINE ACCOUNTS, ie. accounts attached to Microsoft ID – and all went great.
 
Once done, I inserted my USB key to install the standard suite of software I install for all my clients: Avast, Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware (MBAM), Skype, iTunes, Google Chrome, Firefox, etc. And I saw this:
 
“For security and performance (bullshit!), this mode of Windows only runs verified apps from the Store. This helps protect your PC and keep [sic] it running smoothly.”
Now, mind you, Skype is a MICROSOFT product. Which I downloaded from the Skype website yesterday.
 
When I click the link to bypass this, the browser opens:
“Switch out of S mode” followed by a nice paragraph explaining what S mode is and that you can leave S mode, but you can never come back. (shades of Hotel California?) But, it’s free to do, so just click “Get”.
I click “Get” and…… please log in to the Microsoft Store, by providing your Microsoft ID. Don’t have one? Create one.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU.

This has NOTHING to do with performance and everything to do with “<sniff> No one uses our Microsoft Store. It’s not fair. Our product sucks and no one uses it.” Maybe you should make it better? “No, we should just force everyone to use it by doing underhanded, heavy-handed, counter-productive, etc. things.”
When talking to people about Apple, inevitably someone will say, “Apple is so locked in.” Well, no it’s not. Never has been. And they certainly don’t prevent people from downloading their own software to install.

Fuck you, Microsoft. In so many uncountable ways.

Client Story 02 – iMac 27″ hinge

iMac 27" 2012-2014
iMac 27″ 2012-2014 is known to have a faulty hinge which can break.

A client recently gave me his iMac because “it was slow.” Standard hard disk replacement issue. Easily diagnosed, easily remedied.

When I picked up the iMac, the client told me “The hinge is broken. It broke shortly after I bought it. I just prop it up and it’s fine.” OK, good to know.

While doing the disk replacement, I looked online to see if I could also fix the hinge. Turns out, the hinge is a factory defect and Apple had stated they would reimburse people who had already paid for repairs and would do the repair for free for those like my client who just ignored the problem.

I contacted the client and asked if he’d like me to have the hinge repaired. He did.

Today, I took it to an authorized Apple dealer (same day appointment vs. waiting until next week. Also, better parking!) who initially said that the offer had run out. “It was an offer for four years,” but I pointed out that the offer was made in 2016, so there should still be time left. He looked it up online and saw that the offer was still valid, but only through 11 January 2019.

Please, if you or anyone you know has a 27″ iMac, check if the hinge is broken. If it is, walk – do not run – and get the free repair before it expires in two months.

Client Story 01 – Bank Fraud

This week, a client (Company MM) called me because of fraudulent banking activity.

The Synopsis

The client is a matchmaker between their clients (Company C) and their service providers (Company SP). In this case, there was a pressing time element – payment needed to happen within five days in order to make a certain deadline. Company SP sent the invoice for their services to Company MM who forwarded it immediately to Company C. Shortly thereafter came a second email correcting a mistake with the original invoice. Same letterhead, same writing style, same bank, etc. But a different bank account. This invoice was also immediately forwarded to Company C, who proceeded to make the payment.

Company MM clicked “reply to all” on the second invoice, sending proof of payment, so that things could keep moving, even if payment wouldn’t be received for another day or two. Emails came from all sides during the next few days, during which time it became clear that the second “correct” invoice had been a fraudulent one and the payment had been made to some criminal’s account. Five figures stolen. Yikes.

Still collecting all the details, but the criminal somehow got hold of the email conversation and created email addresses that were similar to the real ones. The real ones were, say, person1@client.com, person2@matchmaker.com and person3@serviceprovider.com. The fake addresses were person1@cliennt.com, person2@matchmakerr.com and person3@serviccprovider.com. Just one letter different. Barely noticeable. So, devious person sent the “corrected” invoice from the fake service provider email address, which was sent on to the client. It took a day or two before the three realized they’d been duped.

The Phone Call

As soon as MM realized that money had been stolen, they called me. They thought that their email had been hacked. I assured them that it hadn’t been hacked. I know this because last time I did some work for them, we turned on two-factor authentication after having changed their email passwords. Even if someone guessed / figured out their email password, any attempt to use it on the computer or smartphone would generate an SMS to my client’s phone with a code.

“How can we prevent this in the future?”

After getting the details over the phone, after assuring them that their email hadn’t been hacked – at least as far as being able to say, no one got into their account to read/send emails using their account, inevitably the question came: “How can we prevent this in the future?” It’s not something I’ve come across before, but there were two things that I thought of immediately.

Option 1 – Save the relevant email addresses to the Address Book

First, I suggested creating an Address Book entry for every business contact. Instead of just seeing newcontact@newcompany.com in the From: field of your emails, you’ll instead see something like: John Smith <newcontact@newcompany.com> or maybe just John Smith. In any case, if someone sends an email from anything that’s not exactly that address, it will (possibly) be different than John Smith.

This is not fool-proof, but is a first step.

Option 2 – certificates

This is really the way to go. By creating a free certificate with an issuing authority like Comodo, you encrypt your emails. When you send an email to some one, it’s encrypted and the certificate is saved on the recipients computer. And the email client shows that the email has been encrypted.

For this to work, both parties must have their own certificate.

I just created a certificate for both of my primary email addresses – business and personal. Took about 2 minutes to create it, receive it, install it, and test it with by sending an email and then getting a reply. It’s worth it.

Security is up to you

A few years ago, these levels of security were a bit technical and you could be excused for not having the confidence to delve into it, instead thinking the risk was not that great or indeed not even being aware of the risk. But, these days, it’s just too easy and ignorance is no longer a reasonable excuse.

If you’d like help with this or any other matter, please feel free to contact me directly. I’d be happy to help.

 

1000ordi.ch online

One of the stores I use to buy hard disks, memory and so on, is 1000ordi.ch. But, they are my *second* choice for one major reason.

Look at a partial listing of some Apple memory they sell. The price is not important, but the little colored bullets are.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-13-35-16

Upon first glance, I see a green bullet and a red bullet and I think “they’re using the stoplight metaphor! Green must mean ‘in stock’ and red must mean ‘out of stock.'”

But, you’d be wrong. The first time I went to their site, I found what I wanted, it had a green bullet, I ordered it and drove to the store.

“We don’t have that in stock. It’s on order.”

“But, I saw it had a green bullet! How could it be out of stock?”

“Green means we can get it in 24-48 hours.”

“What?!?”

“Green with a checkmark means it’s in stock.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. But, sure enough, this is how they do their site:

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-13-44-02

UI and UX matter. If you are going to use an existing metaphor, you *cannot* deviate from it. If you’re going to use a new metaphor, it has to be provide something materially better than the old one, or else you will just confuse or infuriate customers.

As a result, I only shop here when their competitor doesn’t have what I need in stock.

 

Moving Abroad? Sell your printer.

I’m fuming. I can’t believe this has happened and the company reps are either too stupid to know or don’t have the balls to ‘fess up.

A client of mine gave me a Canon PIXMA MX-347 printer they no longer used because they had upgraded. I tested it out, seemed fine but the ink was low. No matter.

Last month, a friend said they needed a printer. “I have one I can sell you.” So, I did my checks. Went online to find replacement cartridges. Determined that the currently installed 810/811 XL were no longer produced, but the 510/511 were the ones *for this printer*.

original

Went to the store, bought the two cartridges, installed them, and… “Check ink U140”

Back to Google. Researched, read, posted, asked, tried every “trick” to reset the printer, cleaned the heads, blah, blah, blah.

Contacted Canon Support Forums, Canon Facebook page, email, etc.

Today’s response: “That’s a model for the Asian market. We here in Switzerland don’t know anything about it.”

Give me a break. The box says it’s compatible with the MX340 series, which clearly the MX347 is part of. I replied to them “certainly the fact that it’s from Asia has no bearing on the ink, right?” Because that would just be anti-consumer.

More Googling. Yup, the printer companies region code their cartridges. Of course, you only find this out after you’ve bought the new cartridges, opened the box, installed them and… oh, now you can’t return them. Brilliant.

So, if you’re moving. Be sure to sell your printer first. Because otherwise, once the ink runs out in the new country (or if they dry up during the move), you’ll be stuck with an ugly paper weight.

HP, Canon, Xerox, Lexmark, Epson – this is a really shitty thing you’re doing. It’s not for the consumer. There is no protection. There is no “better for the customer.” It’s you deliberately being assholes so that we, the customers, are forced to buy/sell your products.

I know that many people in this world don’t move around that much, or not that far. But, there are a fair few who do. And you have deliberately designed your business to prey on them.

You are terrible.

 

iPhone Hint: Accessing the Camera from the Lock Screen

Recently, I was watching a performance and noticed a woman in the row in front of me taking photos from time to time with her iPhone. Each time she wanted to take a picture, she:

  1. Pressed the on/off button to show the Lock Screen.
  2. “Slide to unlock”
  3. Typed in her 4-digit code
  4. Found the screen with the Camera app (as it was not in the permanent bottom row)
  5. Clicked the Camera app
  6. Took her picture.

All of this took several seconds and I could tell that often she had missed the picture she wanted to takeIMG_4133. Some time ago, Apple recognized the benefit of quickly accessing the Camera app, so they have created a shortcut, starting from the Lock Screen:

  1. Press the on/off button to show the Lock Screen.
  2. Press and swipe up the Camera app icon in the bottom right corner. (see image)
  3. Take the picture.

This procedure takes only seconds because it does not require the passcode nor all those steps. This means that even someone who doesn’t know your passcode can take pictures, like at a family gathering and your phone is on the table in the kitchen but you’re outside playing and the perfect photo opportunity presents itself.

For the security minded, the iPhone will *not* let you look at the full Camera roll of the phone, only the pictures that were taking using this method, this time. This means, if you use this method and take two pictures and then the phone turns off again, when you use the method again, you will not have access to those two photos without the passcode.

Update 2018-10-28: Since I posted this article, Apple has made it even easier!

  1. Show Lock screen
  2. Swipe right-to-left
  3. Take picture

iPhone 6: Slow Motion (slo-mo)!

When I got my new iPhone 6 in October, I was merely trying to get a new iPhone because my old 4s was in such a sorry state that it was becoming unreliable and therefore unusable.

After the ordering and waiting fiasco I’ve written about earlier, it finally arrived and I was excited and couldn’t wait to having a working device. I went through the set-up, entered my Apple ID, sync’d it from backup and voilà! I was back in business.

I had a look at all the new apps, the new look to the old apps, and played around with everything little by little, day by day, app by app. Naturally, it was such a big update, that I didn’t discover everything immediately.

One thing I stumbled on fairly early was something I had never even heard mentioned before but was more exciting for me than anything else I’ve seen on the iPhone: slo-mo!

We were dog sitting during the late summer, went biking at a local park with a pond. At the end of our bike ride, we were in the gravel parking lot. I had shown my son how to skid the back wheel and he was practicing. I thought I’d get a video of it.

iPhone > slide up for Camera > landscape mode > scroll from Photo to Video and then….Slo-Mo! What’s this?!?!

I took the video and he skidded two feet away from me. We watched the video and saw the gravel flying up and it was simply beautiful!!! I was ecstatic! It was so easy, so awesome, so cool!

Needless to say, I’ve been taking slow motion videos of everything I can think of since then: eggs breaking, water balloon breaking, hitting a baseball, driving through a puddle, breaking big pieces of ice on a frozen lake, dogs running and playing, swans landing….Every day, I think – ooh! That would be so much fun to see in slow motion!

If you haven’t discovered it, try it out! You’ll be amazed.

iPhone 6 pre-order with Swisscom: follow-up

In my previous post about ordering the new iPhone 6 with Swisscom, I expressed my disappointment with the ordering process: how ill-prepared Swisscom was for the surge of orders, despite having a history of record sales, etc.

I did complete my order the next morning, but I asked the question: where am I on the ordered list of clients who will receive their phones? Did those 7 hours cost me 2-3 weeks or were they inconsequential?

I received an email from Swisscom later that day with details about my order, including a link to track the status of my order. Naturally, I clicked the link immediately to see what it said. For the first few days, it just said “Your phone will be delivered to the address you provided” and not much else.

A few days later, I saw “Expected delivery date: 03 October 2014” Whoo-hoo! That’s awesome. I can wait that long. Oh, happy days!

On 01 October 2014, I clicked again (I had checked several times in between, as well), to see if the phone had been sent so that it could arrive on the expected day. And I saw, “Delivery date: unknown”

WTF? It is simply unprofessional to say one date and then take it back. It’s not that hard to see how many were ordered, how many units you received from Apple and do the calculation. If you can’t do it, then don’t put an expected delivery date!!! This is the most unprofessional, frustrating pre-order system I’ve seen and I’m none to happy about it.

Today, I’ll go to a Swisscom store directly and see how easy it is to get an iPhone 6. I know others have theirs, so I’m curious why I don’t have one and why I have no idea when I will have one. Will it be days? Weeks? Months?

Why did I spend over two hours on Swisscom’s faulty, poorly designed pre-order page that wasn’t able to handle the traffic that they should have anticipated 6 months in advance? What is the point of pre-ordering if that doesn’t gain me anything in terms of receiving my unit faster than going to a store?