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2019.10.30Dark Mode All the Rage

This week, the Office team at Microsoft FINALLY came through with something I've been wanting for a long, long time.

Microsoft Office has had a dark theme for a while now, but it didn't quite seal the deal in Outlook, because the theme did not extend to the message pane... until this week.

Microsoft rolled out its new Dark Mode in Office 365, which finally goes the last mile and gives the Outlook message pane white text on a black background.

I'm a huge fan. And very, very grateful. It's just sort of a shame that Apple introduced it in iOS first.



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2019.10.17Safari's New Setting

Do not attempt to adjust your browser.
We are controlling transmission.

 

Lately I've been working pretty hard on a new stylesheet for the iPad. I was pretty happy with it, but it suddenly stopped working. I frantically went through my code to figure out what I broke -- then I realized I hadn't broken anything. Apple did.

...In a way.

The new iPadOS is here. I believe this is actually a fork of the iOS code, now meant to concentrate solely on the iPad as a platform. Along with the new operating system, a subtle change in Safari's behavior: it now requests, by default, desktop versions of websites. Put another way, stylesheets made specifically for devices like the iPad are now ignored by default.

To make Safari stop requesting desktop websites by default,

  • go to Settings > Safari.
  • In the right pane, scroll down to a region called SETTINGS FOR WEBSITES
  • tap on REQUEST DESKTOP WEBSITE.
  • Under the heading REQUEST DESKTOP WEBSITE ON, switch the "All Websites" toggle to OFF.



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2019.10.08Why I'm Now Onboard with Apple Pay

The Apple Pay logo

Apple, you tried so hard and for so long to make me sign up for Apple Pay. In iOS 13, you even went so far as to tie the setup of the new operating system to your beloved Apple Pay. So I signed up for it because I wanted to finally. Shut. You. Up.

I figured that having it didn't mean I had to use it. Oh, but I DID have to use it. And thanks to Jersey Mike's, I now appreciate Apple Pay.

Jersey Mike's sandwich shop is a place where my family and I pretty much always get the same things. I ordered from there online once, and the site suggested I'd receive some sort of reward for using their mobile app... so I downloaded it, and used it the next time I placed an order. The app allowed me to mark the order as a favorite, so on future orders I'd just find the favorite and all would be set.

Six taps.

Six taps and a double-click is all it took to order sandwiches from there today. The double-click was the payment part, through Apple Pay.

And now I appreciate it. Now I get it. Using Apple Pay was SUPER easy. I had the entire order done in 30 seconds. Again, six taps and a double-click is all that stood between me and a #9, Mike's Way, no onions.



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2019.09.27Facebook is Killing off Smart Lists

The Facebook logo

This morning when I opened the Facebook app on my phone, I was notified that Smart Lists are going away.

Smart Lists are lists that Fecebook makes automatically, based on certain elements in your profile that you have in common with friends, like home town, current city, and workplace.

Facebook advises that posts that use Smart Lists for access control will be converted to "Only Me" privacy when the Smart Lists feature is deleted.

For me, I have tons of posts from previous years that have at least one Smart List as part of a custom privacy setting. As a precaution, I archived all of the Smart Lists I have in my queue, hoping to prevent those posts from becoming inaccessable.



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2019.09.27Setting Up the Apple Watch 5

The face of an Apple Watch

My wife has given me an Apple Watch Series 5 (44mm) as a gift to replace my Series 3. I thought I'd offer some thoughts on the setup for others who have found it's time for an upgrade.

Right off the bat, you're asked if you want to set up the Series 5 as a new watch, or to restore from backup. I opted to set it up as a new watch, but my wife advised (a little late) that I should have opted for the restore from backup option. (Happily, I later learned the Apple Watch app on my phone can differentiate between the two watches and control them both. That's pretty slick.)

The first thing I noticed when I pulled it from the box is how much larger the display seems to be. My Series 3 is a 42mm; it shouldn't seem that much different. But when I was asked to add a password once it was on, I was pretty surprised by how much larger the display seems; the digits seem much bigger than they do on the Series 3. I believe the difference is that the display is longer than previous versions were, and this length offers some nice changes to support rectangular faces.

Okay. Let's make with the unsolicited advice. Here are my do's and don'ts:

Don't Push All Your Apps

The watch offers one the option of pushing all of one's phone apps over automagically, or the option of doing it manually. Personally, I don't want everything that has a companion Apple Watch app pushed onto the unit. I use very few of them; there's no need for them all to take up space... or RAM.

Don't Let Content Fill Available Space

I hvae a pretty big music collection. But I listen to it on my phone, not my watch. So while I'm thinking about it, in the Apple Watch app with my new watch selected, I scroll down the list of apps -- not available apps, just the apps onboard by default -- until I find music. When I tap into the menu item, I find that Apple has by default set my watch to download music I play in heavy rotation, plus three different curated mixes updated weekly... it turned all of those switches off.

I then do the same with the Audiobooks menu: I turn off the switches for "Reading Now" and "Want to Read."

Both Music and Audiobooks will automatically fill available space on your watch with content. The problem I have with this is updates to Watch OS won't install if you've no available memory. That's why I ensure these are all shut off.

Don't Let Your Watch Pester You with Everything on Your Phone

If you want to experience how annoying the Apple Watch can be, all you need is one group messaging thread.

As every message comes in, the watch will give your wrist a sharp tap. One very active group thread was enough for me to learn that the watch does not have to tell me about everything happening on my phone.

In the app, navigate to Notifications, then scroll way down to the section that reads "MIRROR IPHONE ALERTS FROM:"; now turn off the notifications from any app you don't feel is important enough to nag you about. Do I want notifications about my flight? Yes. Maps? Yes. Facebook? Nope. Outlook? Absolutely not. Flavor to your taste.

General Settings

The first thing I do here is scroll down to the Wake Screen item and zealously disable Auto-launch Audio Apps.

Monogramming

One of the settings under Clock is for a monogram. I've published instructions in the past on how to set this to the Apple logo, if that's of interest to you.

Now for the Best Part: The Faces

Sex sells. And you can bet these sexy watch faces are a big part of why these units must be flying off the shelves. I have a couple early favorites:

  • Solar Dial. The new and improved solar watch face is completely gorgeous, with the time placed prominently across from the relative position of the sun in the sky and four complications, all displayed in hues of blue.
  • Meridian is the default face displayed when the watch setup completes. One of the really nice things about it is its white face presents when your wrist is lifted, but the face fades to black when your arm is returned to your side. That is, you can still see the hands and its four complications all grouped toward the face's center which are set to multi-color by default, really showing off the beauty of the new face.
  • Infograph is similar to Meridian, except the Infograph face is circular, as opposed to Meridian's more rounded rectangular face. Infograph features a series of up to eight complications -- four circular ones clustered near the center (like Meridian), plus four that appear at the corners. Information overload all right at your wrist.

Functionality

The new Watch OS does behave differently based on which version of the Apple Watch you have. One nice improvement I noticed on the Series 5 is that it will show you the time even if the last thing you were displaying was something other than a watch face.

Say you're doing what you do when a summary of a news story pops up on your Apple Watch. So you read it and drop your wrist back to a natural position. When you next look at your watch, a clock appears over the blurred image of that news story you didn't dismiss. I think it's a nice touch... I feel it was somebody's pet peeve -- it seems rather a specific use case, no?

What Next?

So now I have my super shiny Series 5. What do I shop for next? More watch bands? Well, maybe. Happily, I'm told the bands I already own from my Series 1 and 3 will fit it. But I'm actually thinking about screen protectors instead.

The screen on my Series 1 smashed when the watch fell from my wrist. My Series 3 has a few scratches from bumping the face against various things. I don't want this Series 5 getting the same kinds of scratches, and a screen protector might prevent the screen from smashing from a fall. I'll be placing an order through Amazon here shortly.

Summary

The Apple Watch Series 5 is a beautiful, beautiful machine. I've found these watches to be very reliable, and indispensable. If you're careful about balancing the software and content you'll actually use against the software and content you have available, you should be able to perform upgrade after upgrade without complication (pun totally intended), and enjoy it for years.



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2019.09.23Why I Love iOS 13

The Apple iOS 13 logo

iOS 13 installed very smoothly on my iPhone X. Between the new OS and my new glasses, I feel like I have a brand new phone.

I'm not a power user or anything, but I've been an iPhone customer since the iPhone 3G, so I think I know a fair amount about how the product has evolved, and how I use it. Based on these, I'd like to tell you what I LOVE about iOS 13.

Dark Mode

I'm a programmer. I'm on a computer (full disclosure: a Dell PC, not a Mac) for over eight hours each day. I'm a big fan of software that lets me run in dark mode on my PC, so you can imagine how happy I was to learn that iOS was also coming to the dark side.

Now I just need the app developers to implement the new capability into new versions of their apps.

Improved Share Sheets

Select a photo from your library and opt to forward it. Instead of seeing a share sheet with an open area for AirDrop and some other options, you now see forwarding options for the people you're in touch with most often as a top row, a list of applications as a second row, and other options in a scrollable list below that. This new format is far more useful than was previously available. I'm really glad Apple rethought this.

Memojis

The introduction of personalized animated emojis ("memojis") was a very nice novelty--- cool that you could animate them using facial tracking. But I don't know how widely used they ultimately were. Bringing up your memoji then recording yourself responding in conversation was kind of a lot of work, so I think they were largely ignored. In iOS 13, Apple introduces us to some preset memojis with various common emojis as facial expressions -- that is, YOUR memoji's epressions -- all ready for you to use. It seems many of the most commonly used emojis are represented here. Very slick.

Plus, memoji construction is more advanced. I could finally add my single hoop earring to my left ear!

Integration of Bedtime Clock with Other Clock Functions

The bedtime feature has been pretty nice, but it always seemed weird it wasn't integrated in with the other clock app functions (like timer, countdown, and the other alarms). No more: this is rectified in iOS 13. The bedtime alarm may even be disabled and enabled on the alarms form. Still, it's not fully integrated: the bedtime alarm sounds are still exclusive to the bedtime feature.



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2019.09.13My Ego Needs New Glasses

An image of blurry text.

Summerland in my past
Days were full and I knew it would last
I never thought there was anything else but you
Summerland
The wind is getting cold
Summerland
You're finally getting old

About two weeks ago I noticed a significant shift in my near-field vision. At first, I thought I was just tired from having spent too much time working that day, but when I noticed this was happening evening after evening, and that adjusting the text size on my phone made very little difference, I realized I had become dependent on my glasses for reading just about everything up close. The glasses made things manageable, but not clear.

New glasses are on the way. My prescription now includes a Near Add value of +2.00. Holy shit. I'd never had additional correction before. Suddenly I'm... Suddenly I do.



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2019.08.25Nerd Work is Killing the Will to Nerd Hobby

Low battery

 

Years ago, I had a really powerful PC, loaded with all of my programming stuff as well as a bunch of "kill-kill-kill" games. Packed with RAM and processing power, it was a really sweet machine.

Fast forward a few years. I was in a different place in my life -- both figuratively and actually. Eventually, my "promance" with my PC fell apart, and for three reasons:

  1. I stopped playing the kill-kill-kill games because I had a four year-old in my house and usually attached to my hip;
  2. If I wasn't playing PC games, what was I doing with it? Paying bills, mostly
  3. Occasionally I'd have to use it to connect to work and troubleshoot system problems in the middle of the night.

I also found that not only was I avoiding my computer, but I was avoiding the desk it was on, too. My computer desk used to be where I'd go to have fun. But at that point, it was where I would go to sort and pay bills. In short, that wasn't a fun place anymore, so I began to avoid it. And that's when I figured out how wrong it was to actually avoid anyplace in my home.

Years later, I had a work-from-home job for a company near DC. THIS time, I put my desk someplace in my home that I wouldn't normally go -- someplace I would deliberately have to visit to do work: in a corner of my basement. Great idea -- but execution was a little lacking. I spent hours and hours each day in a musty basement.

Present day. As a contractor for my current company, I do my work by remote connection through my personal equipment. Happily, my "office" is in a part of my home that isn't in the usual stream of life here -- and not in a basement (they don't build basements in this part of Texas). My client has a ton of work and is very eager to my current project "under our belts," so I work 9-hour days for them... my weeks seem long, and so the zeal I normally have for working on my website on the weekends has ebbed.

And that hurts.

I spend so much time in this chair each day -- working through a punch list, tracking my time, taking calls, making notes... no wonder I don't want to sit here on a Sunday afternoon, even if its to do fun things.

This is a signal to me that I need to slow down, or slog less, to get back to wanting to fire up QUAKE and mess around for a few minutes. I'll get back there -- I usually do -- but right now I just need a little space.

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2019.07.08UPDATED: "Burner Phone" Apps are the New Spam Email Accounts

An image of apps on an iPhone.

I'm starting a position with a new company next week. I'll be working remotely, which means I'll be depending on my personal mobile phone for voice calls. Not that I mind that so much, but over the past few years I've learned the value of keeping my private number private. So I thought back to the days of Google Phone, and wondered whether a present-day app could do the same.

I'm considering two apps - Burner and Hushed. I'm reading reviews of both, and I'm leaning toward Burner. But then it hit me -- these apps provide exactly the same kind of service that keeping multiple addresses does for e-mail: lets you quickly separate "spam" and solicitations from content you actually want.

This was sort of a bellwether moment for me -- the idea that as communications technologies emerge, we'll always develop a need to fight unwanted traffic. It didn't take too long to catch onto the idea that you should have two email accounts: one for transactional use -- buying stuff online, for example, because you're going to get spammed the moment your purchase is made -- and one for personal use. Fast-forward to the smartphone era, when early adopters got onto apps like these to separate their personal line from whatever else they were doing (one reviewer of Hushed identified as running a "strictly-platonic cuddle business"). These apps must be becoming more popular -- within the past couple of months I saw some press on the mobile phone carriers being given the authority to crack down on robocallers.

The same is obviously true for social media -- Facebook got called on the carpet for not doing enough to combat the emergence of accounts spreading Russian propaganda in advance of the 2016 presidential election, and still gets blasted at the federal government level for leaks of private information (think Cambridge Analytica).

Tumblr, another social media platform, saw a huge percentage of its user base leave late last year because Verizon was having trouble monetizing the platform. Put simply, Verizon updated its acceptable use policy to drive out the porn communities so they could sell ads; but then they found they didn't really have anybody left to sell ads to!

It seems that in the digital age, regardless of the platform, somebody always has to be the reason we can't have nice things. PCs got viruses. Email has spam. And phishing. And spear phishing. Voicemail? "Vishing." Phones? Robocalls and other assholes out to trick the elderly, and people "calling from Microsoft because my computer has a virus." It's just absurd, the shit people do.

People get new technology, and then they have to think of ways to protect themselves while using that new technology. Protect themselves from everything from invasive advertising to bad actors. In a world where YouTube actually interrupts a video to show you an ad, I'm afraid that's just how it's going to be. Forever.

And the "bad actors" thing brings me back around to burner phone apps. You know, with GMail, all of the data you receive and send via GMail is available for them to do whatever they want with: 1

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.
Personal assistants monitor you all the time. And anything that gets recorded is stored and tagged and analyzed by a legion of linguists who will do who knows what with the data they capture. So as I think about something like a burner phone app, I have to wonder: who owns the data?

Who Owns the Data?

Ad Hoc Labs is the maker of Burner. Their privacy policy, dated 2015, explains that they do collect personal data "when you use certain services" (which they do not identify), and that they will "use your Personal Data to provide you with access to such services and to monitor your use of such services." In short, whatever you're saying over that line or text is being captured on your phone, sent to Ad Hoc Labs, and shared with other companies:

By voluntarily providing us with [personally identifiable data, aka] Personal Data, you are consenting to our use of it ... you acknowledge and agree that such Personal Data may be transferred from your current location to the offices and servers of Ad Hoc Labs and the authorized third parties referred to herein located in the United States.
Interestingly enough, the privacy policy says that you can use the app without providing any personal data, but that you may not be able to use "certain services" as a result.

Try Before You Buy

I have decided to try Burner.

After reading some of the reviews, I was a little worried that the app would try to trick me into signing up for some sort of premium service, but I found the setup to be pretty straightforward. I'm on a two-week trial that has limited services -- 20 minutes of phone time and a maximum of 40 texts. I chose the number from lists of about ten numbers associated each area code I selected.

One thing I'm really excited about is that the Burner app appears to interface with Nomorobo, a subscription service I have that notifies me in real time of calls from numbers reported to be bad guys.

Burner also reports it integrates with other serivces. For example, Burner shows how I can use its Developer connection to integrate with IFTTT and Zapier. But when I tried the IFTTT integration, it appeared that IFTTT had no idea what Burner is, and had no intention of connecting with it. Granted, this is nerdy advanced stuff that isn't critical, but, if it SAYS it can connect with IFTTT, I expect it will connect with IFTTT. Burner will actually integrate with Dropbox, which I think is a very nice plus.

So I'm going to publish the Burner number on my outgoing messages, for the client to use. So far, I've received no robocalls, no texts, no messages, which is a great sign -- I interpret the silence as the line has probably not been cloned or the target of suspicious campaigns.

Tempus Fugit

So, it's Monday, and Burner is already trying to tell me my trial expires tomorrow:

For reference, when I created the number on Saturday, the app showed that it expires the following Saturday. The app still shows the number expires in five days, regardless of their poorly-implemented popup message.

Things like this are irksome. I don't tolerate them well. Maybe I'm predisposed to be aloof because of the reviews I read, but telling me two days into a 7-day free trial that my trial expires TOMORROW certainly doesn't read like an honest mistake.

Not cool, Burner.

 

I'll update this post as warranted.



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2019.06.08Apple Watch OS

Apple Watch OS 5

 

Thank you, Apple.

I'm loving your most recent WATCH OS 5 update (5.2.1). The other day, I was out doing some walking and returned to my car. The watch showed me a message which basically reminded me to stop my workout -- I'm HORRIBLE at remembering to do that.

Then this afternoon, I was in my pool when the watch detected I was probably swimming, and asked if it should start a workout for me.

Damn convenient updates, Apple!



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2019.05.22Ransomware Hits Home

An image of a computer ransom message.

Ransomware is software that gets introduced to usually a company's data systems by a malicious actor (who wrote the program) and a generally unwitting victim (who downloaded or activated it). The victim clicks a link in an e-mail message or a web page, and that click connects that person's computer to a computer elsewhere, which transmits a file back to the requesting machine. Like almost any computer virus, the file spreads itself to all the other machines on the local network. Ransomware programs differ in that they encrypt the contents of the hard drives and advise the victim that they must follow a series of instructions to purchase the decryption key. Some versions demand payment be made within a specific amount of time; others increase the cost of the key as time passes. Given the strength of modern encryption algorithms, the data is lost without the key. In this way, the affected machines are being held for ransom by the software -- hence, "ransomware."

Ransomware is also something that I read about in tech news stories and summaries. It's... it's a far-off thing for most -- something we've heard of like so many bad things in our world, but it's never close enough to be... real.

Well, here's reality: I've just learned of a friend whose company was struck by a ransomware attack. I don't know any details beyond that, except to say that if the company is unable to meet the captor's demands, it could go under.

I don't want to see my friend out of work, especially due to something like this. In the IT world, the job market is volatile enough without threats like these. Why, in my own resume I mention, as a final bullet under certain employers, the circumstances of my departure: layoffs, end of contract, that sort of thing. Way back in my history I do have an instance where the company I'd worked for for several years closed. It's far enough back now where I don't generally have to reference it, but back when I did, it was always awkward to have to say "I did all these great things for this company, but you can't contact them for a reference because the company is gone." It caused problems for me for years.

I wish him and his company great luck. I don't know how many people the company employs, but I seem to recall it's a small shop. Hopefully law enforcement has been engaged, and they'll resolve it without the company suffering too greatly. I'm convinced all these captors want is money; but in situations like these, they get no money AND they ruin lives. Is that really acceptable collateral damage?



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2019.03.27Apple AirPods

Apple AirPods

 

In it's initial announcement about the AirPods, Apple promised:

  1. AirPods would sound great,
  2. AirPods would power themselves off when taken out of the ear,
  3. AirPods could be used individually, and
  4. AirPods would recharge quickly.

Two years on, all four are still true. Battery life was a concern I had going in, and today I took a measurement to figure out how long they would play before giving me the warning beep.

1 hour, 52 minutes.

When I wrote my first post about them in January 2017, I estimated about 1 hour 45 minutes of service, which forces me to consider that they haven't lost anything on battery life at all.



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2018.12.312018 Year in Review

Posts about politics and national issues dominated the interests posts in 2018, with some healthy side-effects: posts on books rose 500% from last year. There were maybe some not-so-healthy side effects too: fitness posts were way down, and I started a new topic about whiskey (!!).

TopicCount
books6
car1
cooking/food4
family/kids9
fitness3
gaming5
geek10
leadership0
movies4
music1
nation/politics21
texas life5
whiskey3

 

I published far less interests content this year than I had in 2017 -- and for good reason: I spent far less time in front of a keyboard this year. We moved to Texas (the inclusion of Texas life and whiskey topics should have provided a prtty big hint) and I spent every day I could in our pool with kiddo, reaching all the way into NOVEMBER. Between the move and the sun, it's little wonder I'm not seeing the numbers I saw in 2017.

The nature of my posts were different this year, too. Those national interest posts were typically very long and very involved, with a lot of research behind them -- most of the time, they were news articles (The Washington Post is my main source because I'm a subscriber), but in some cases, the sources were books that I'd read from cover to cover. So, fewer posts, but with much more behind them. I wouldn't call it a format change; I'd just say it's a function of the content -- it demanded greater discipline and effort.

Finally, I split some content out into new topics this year. Kids/Family was used for probably most things family-related, and eventually I split out the posts related to our move and adjusting to life in Texas into its own topic. The cooking topic was renamed to food, so I could talk not just about dishes I prepare, but others I got to experience not of my kitchen (I still miss forkly). The new whiskey topic is separate from food, because I wanted to highlight our new discoveries in their own topic.



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2018.12.04A Few Words on Test-Driven and Behavior-Driven Development

I was lucky enough today to sit down with a solutions architect who walked me through a simple test-driven development (TDD) and behavior-driven development (BDD) exercise.

My mind was blown. It was everything he said it would be: it's challenging, because you have to think differently about the problems you're solving -- first and foremost, you have to partition your mind to focus only on the test -- it's givens and the outcome you're looking for (this is the test-driven part) -- and THEN to focus on writing the code to satisfy the outcome (this is the behavior-driven part).

The net result is amazing and mind-bending. By making yourself think in this way, the code is reduced to the means of satisfying the tests. In that sense, it is pure.

I've worked for several organizations that all said they wanted to move to TDD, but couldn't. One reason: clients didn't want to pay for it. TDD pushes out the time to produce an application, but the benefit is the code doesn't fail. Add to that a continuous integration server that runs your tests and re-runs them when others check in their test-driven code...

I guess I want these guys to understand how lucky they are that they actually get to engineer in this way. I think it's super amazing. I'm SO grateful for the demo I received today.



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2018.09.18Upgrading My iPhone X to iOS 12

The Apple iOS 12 logo. Copyright Apple, Inc.

This post is going to be quick, just like the upgrade: My upgrade went super fast, and I didn't even have to log back into iCloud or anything. Even after I shut the unit down and restarted it. My upgrade experience couldn't have been smoother.



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2018.05.19Virtual Desktops in April 2018 Windows Update

The Windows 10 Timeline icon

Windows 10 users who have experienced the April 2018 update (a long update process with multiple reboots) may notice a different icon where the Task View icon used to be.

The new icon seems to resemble a film strip with a slider bar to its right. It actually suggests some new functionality inside of the task view: the ability to recall certain applications or documents you had open recently and insert them into one of the virtual desktops.

The new feature is called Timeline. It tracks all of the applications and documents you had open recently. Paired with Task View, you can select a virtual desktop, then click on an application in the timeline to load it into the virtual desktop.

Thankfully, one still switches among desktops using the same key chord (Ctrl+Win+(left arrow or right arrow)).

I suppose Timeline could be useful for setting up all of your virtual desktops at once from the Task View. Personally, I don't think I'd work that way, but then I'm fairly regimented in how I use them -- I tend to always use certain applications within certain desktops (so you'd think I'd find Timeline useful).

Now, if I had a way to run a PowerShell script to set it all up for me at the start of a session, THAT would really be something. Of course, I'd need suitable resources (RAM) to support it.

Of course, I'm coming at this from the perspective of using Timeline on a single machine. The real power of Timeline, as PC World reports, is for users of multiple machines. Timeline will sync your history to the cloud, making it available for you to use from any Windows 10 machine.1

Also nice: you can turn Timeline off if you want to. Navigate to Settings > Privacy > Activity History. Two checkboxes should be visible at the top of the form.

The Activity History settings menu

Let Windows collect my activities from this PC is likely checked by default, and allows the machine to record the applications you've had open so they can be shown in the Timeeline feature. Let Windows sync my activities from this PC to the cloud may be unchecked by default, and is required to present your Timeline on different PCs.1

Unchecking Let Windows collect my activities from this PC is not enough to clear the Timeline. In the testing I did, I found I had to scroll down further on the Activity History form and click the button to clear the history to erase the Timeline.

My original post about the Windows 10 Task View and virtual desktops may be found here.



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2018.05.09The Power of Power BI

I started looking into Microsoft Power BI for work, and thought I'd use some data from my website as a test. I was very impressed at how powerful and easy to use Power BI is.

There's a lot of functionality packed in there by default.

For example, date data is imported in a heirarchical nature, so the graph, which is currently showing the number of posts by year, can be reorganized to show posts by month and posts by day of the month. (The graph showed me that I tend to post significantly more to interests topics on the 7th of the month than I do on any other day. I wonder why that is?)

One can also highight certain topics on the graph by clicking on them in the legend. Clicking on a topic will fade the other topics in the graph, which helps the data you want to see stand out.

There are some things I could clean up inside the data here (like the legend), but considering I threw this together with raw data, I'm really impressed with how easy this was to make!



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2018.04.10Facebook Privacy: It's About Who You Know

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Facebook privacy, and how one can examine and change settings related to the data you're giving to third parties through the use of Facebook authentication (that is, using Facebook to log into third-party applications and websites).

This morning I realize that everything I put in that post will not be enough to significantly help you keep your information from being leaked to third parties. The reason is the entire point of social media: connection with other people.

Yesterday, I was confident I wouldn't be seeing the warning banner that Facebook talked about displaying to the 87 million affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This morning, I can reproduce for you exactly what that banner said. Despite my elaborate system of lists to compartmentalize my Facebook relationships, my account is among the 87 million whose data was provided to Cambridge Analytica, and here's why: even though I never logged into the "This is Your Digital Life" app, a friend of mine did. Facebook explains:

As a result, the following information was likely shared with "This Is Your Digital Life":

  • Your public profile, Page likes, birthday and current city
A small number of people who logged into "This is Your Digital Life" also shared their own news feed, timeline, posts, messages which may have included posts and messages from you. They may also have shared your hometown.

There's no mention of a time period, except to say that it stopped in 2015. This still means that potentially several years' worth of my "digital life" -- more precisely, the time between 2015 and whenever I connected to this person -- was exposed to Soviet-born Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica and whomever else copied it simply because one of my Facebook friends used the survey app.

Perhaps it might be best if we paused and thought about our Facebook relationships as we would consider a sexual partner: We now know we have to trust our Facebook friends to protect and minimize the data they provide to others, because their data could include information about us. I imagine this isn't too dissimilar to the trust we must place in a potential partner to protect their bodies from diseases we could contract. In both cases, we have to determine whether these other people have been reckless and put themselves and us in jeopardy -- whether they knew it or not. There are things we can do prophylactically in both cases to reduce, but not eliminate, our risk.

Make good choices.

 

P.S.: Gizmodo apparently feels similar frustration.



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2018.03.26Let's Talk About Facebook

I've a friend who started a thread about leaving Facebook. Now, I don't know what his Facebook habits are, like (get it?) how much time he spends on it daily, but I've never thought he posted too often or was particularly combative on threads I've seen. But the point he made wasn't really about politics and associated vitriol that has seemed to sully everybody's Facebook experience since 2016 -- it was about Facebook as a steward of its users' data.

In the same thread, another friend posted a link to a neat commentary by Shelly Palmer about precisely that sort of thing. My favorite few words from the post get straight to the point:

Right now, you get to use Facebook, Google, Gmail, Waze, and other “free” apps for the cost of your data. If you don’t want to pay with your data, you are welcome to make other choices.
That's really the bottom line. Palmer's post also recounts for us the Cambridge Analytica scandal and observes, "The silver lining ... is the fact that you are becoming aware of what data you create, what is collected, and how it is used."

And by the way, let's be clear about what this Cambridge Analytica mess really is -- It's about Facebook and their privacy practices. This wasn't a breach like Equifax, Anthem or MySpace. Data wasn't taken. Facebook gave CA's researcher the data, because in part the researcher lied about its use.

Let's move on.

Inspect Your Facebook Settings: Facebook Authentication

Facebook is more than just a social media platform. It's also a very convenient authentication platform. Loads and loads of phone and web apps offer authentication using your Facebook credentials as a way for you to access their content. But, as stated above, there's a price to using Facebook authentication elsewhere, and that price is your Facebook data.

Do me a favor. Open up the Facebook app on your mobile phone. Right now. Let's take a look at the permissions you've given the apps that use Facebook authentication. Jeff Rossen did a piece on this on the Today Show last week, and I was grateful for the walkthrough. Here's how -- at least, on the iPhone:

  • Open up the Facebook app's settings by clicking on the icon in the lower right corner of the Facebook app's screen -- the one that looks like three horizontal lines. Don't confuse this with the iPhone's settings.
  • Once the form loads, scroll to the bottom to the region marked "SETTINGS", and tap on the word "Settings" to the left of an icon that resembles a white gear against a gray background.
  • A menu should pop up with a few different headings. Tap "Account Settings."
  • On the Settings screen, scroll to the bottom and tap on "Apps."



  • You'll arrive at Facebook's Apps and Websites form. Tap on "Logged in with Facebook".



Spend a few moments taking this all in. This form is now separated into regions by sharing settings, in increasing order of privacy. In other words, the group of apps that are shared only with yourself are at the bottom, and the group of apps that are shared with the public are at the top.

Just spend a few minutes surfing this Apps and Websites area and make certain you're good with your settings, or change them. Different apps will request different data -- some of them will take absolutely everything they can get:


In exchange for logging into this app with your Facebook account, the app is collecting information on your friends, your posts, your likes, your birthday, and more.

If you're not comfortable with the Facebook data you are providing this third-party app, you can change those settings here. Personally, I've set all of my apps and websites to share data with only me, and have limited the particular data to my public profile and maybe my email address, but that's it.

Inspect Your Facebook Settings: Posts Privacy

When I think of "Facebook" and "privacy," the privacy of my posts is the first thing I think of. In a time of change, a couple of years after I joined the network, I figured out how to use Facebook's lists capability and came to use it exclusively, despite whatever other controls Facebook introduced in the years since.

The key to the effectiveness of the list method is in your post security. You have to be certain that the visibility of every post you make is restricted to your lists. That means at least the posts you make from here on out, but could include modifying every post you've ever made (as far back as your wall goes) if you want to be thorough. The choice is yours.

Imagine two lists, for the sake of simplicity. One is your "white list", with ALL of your Facebook friends on it. The other is a "black list," for putting friends in "time out" on occasion. Let's say you have a friend who has been getting particularly annoying of late -- maybe you've tired of her constant Candy Crush posts, or you're just done with the poltical rancor he is spreading. Put them in the penalty box by adding them to your "black list." Just make certain the privacy on your posts is set to only include the "white list", and to specifically exclude the "black list." Doing this for all subsequent posts effectively denies "black list" members visibility to anything you post (except for profile picture changes) until they're off the "black list." If you chose to change the settings on all of your previous posts, people in the penalty box will see none of your posts on your wall.




You'll likely have multiple lists. I do -- life isn't as simple as black and white (lists). The more lists you make, the greater the demand for maintenance. For example, every new friend you take on must get assigned to a list with view permissions for them to be able to see any of your posts on your wall. I started with a "white list," then branched out. Some lists are confined to my neighborhood, and some are confined to family. I also have a "children" list, so posts that aren't appropriate for younger eyes can exclude that group. You get the idea.

Creating, populating, and maintaining lists is much easier using a PC browser than on a mobile device. So log into Facebook on your browser, and look down the left side of your News Feed for a heading called "Explore." Click on the item titled "Friend Lists." You may have to click on "See More..." to reveal it.

You should land at this URL: https://www.facebook.com/bookmarks/lists/. You can create and manage lists here. Clicking on an existing list will show your wall, filtered to the list you clicked on -- but you can see and manage the list's membership on the right side either in the header or in a section titled "On this List".


The screen shot above is my actual "black list." There's currently one person on it, and this list has been in existence for over ten years. Notice the list has zero access to any of my posts on my wall. Toldja it's a penalty box!



I find it's much easier to manipulate the permissions of a single post using a computer browser than to attempt it through a mobile app. I think the way to go is to find a custom permissions set that will work well for most of your posts and to revise permissions once posts are made, than to mess with the permissions prior to creating the post. This is largely because a change in the permissions settings before you make a post will be retained until you change it again.

Let's say you're going to post some pics for your motorcycle buddies. I find it's better to leave permissions as they are, make the post, then edit the permissions on that one post, than to edit the permissions at the start, make the post, then have to change the permissions back to the way they were; particularly if your standard custom set is complex or if you're posting from your mobile phone.

Think about it this way: using the latter method, you might easily change the permissions to being only viewable by your motorcycle buddies list and make the post from your phone; but if you forget to get onto your laptop later and correct the custom permissions set, everything you post until you get it corrected will default to go only to your motorcycle buddies list.

A few years after I started my list scheme, Facebook created several automated lists, like "Family" and "Acquaintances" and so forth. The premise is exactly the same --- consider these as "starter" lists. They'll require the same maintenance as the lists you create.

Use Facebook's Privacy Checkup

Facebook has created a privacy checkup wizard. Apart from an appearance on your wall from time to time, you can also access it from your iPhone by tapping the Settings icon, then scrolling down to the SETTINGS region and tapping on the Privacy Shortcuts menu item.

The Privacy Shortcuts screen is also where you can verify your posts settings and even explore Facebook's data policy.

You Own Your Facebook Data

Remember that you can always request the data Facebook has on you. Log into Facebook on your computer or phone's browser -- not the app -- then go to Settings. The easiest way to do this is to click on the downward arrow at far right on the blue banner at the top, then click "Settings." You'll land at the General Account Settings. You'll see a series of rows of data -- Name, Username, Contact, et cetera. Below this is a link you might otherwise miss: it reads, "Download a copy of your Facebook data."

Conclusion

  1. The Internet is forever. Be careful about who can see what you post.
  2. "If you don't want to pay with your data, you are welcome to make other choices."
  3. Check the permissions you've given to third party applications by using Facebook's authentication.
  4. Check the privacy of your posts. You can use lists if you've got the drive to see it through.
  5. Facebook has a Privacy Checkup wizard available for you to run at will.
  6. You can download a copy of your Facebook data at will.

Finally (if this hasn't been bad enough), check out this Twitter thread from Dylan Curran where he reviews all of his data from Facebook and Google.



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2018.03.18I'm bored

Welp, this is silly.

A couple of weeks ago I had a period of a few days where seemingly everything I had been working on achieved their desired end states. It was weird. And now I'm on the downside of all of those achievements: I'm kinda left a little listless because I finished it all.

Years ago I really wanted an HP LaserJet printer. A model was introduced that was designed for the home or small office, and I really wanted it -- but the price was just too high for me. For well over a year I kept a close eye on the price -- I'd make a bee-line for the printers section whenever I walked into any technology store -- but the price never dropped. Then one day I got brave and looked online at eBay. There I found them, new, in-box, for a better price than I was finding in retailers. So I created an eBay account and bought one. For a long time after that, I'd just feel lost when going into a technology retailer because the thing that had driven me to go for so long wasn't a thing anymore. I remember stopping myself when I'd get to the printers section and actually ask myself what I was doing -- the search had become habit, but now that the search was over, I just felt... empty. Listless. Wondering, "Well, now what?"

Here I am feeling much the same, because so many different things all ended within those two days. Major upgrade to my website is completed, in production, and I'm really happy with it. I've had really good interviews with several potential employers. I'd even finished Wolfenstein II and finally reached level 30 in Pokémon GO!.

Now all that remains on the website work is some maintenance items; I have an offer from one of those firms, and I've barely the motivation to even open the Pokémon GO! app: Before, If I was driving by the local cemetery (a major location for Pokéstops), I wouldn't have missed an opportunity to pull in, open the app, and pick up some items or maybe join a raid. Lately, I can't be bothered. And it feels really weird. I'm just so used to working so hard at it.

I guess I'll just await the next bit of "brain candy" to devour.



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2018.02.14UPDATE: Will the AirPods Case Erase Mag-Strip Cards?

The Apple corp. logo. Image credit: Apple

I've been staying in a hotel for the past week. After two days here, I discovered the key card to the room was erased. A couple of days later, I discovered both of the key cards had stopped working, and had them reprogrammed by the front desk.

This was when I figured out I had been carrying my AirPods in their case in the same pocket as the cards.

I don't seem to have any trouble with the room key when I don't have the AirPods case with me.

I remember from my NEETS modules days that anything that generates an electrical field also generates a magnetic field. The AirPods case is a small capsule that acts as a charger for the AirPods, hence it generates electric and magnetic fields.

With the case and the key card in the same pocket, I can't help but wonder if the magnetic field created by the AirPods case is at least partially erasing the data recorded on the key card's magnetic strip. Apparently, this is a thing.

I'll simply leave this here: If you're an AirPods user, consider carefully where you carry the case in relation to things like key cards, bank cards and credit cards which use magnetic strips.

UPDATE:
We're now in our third week at this hotel. I met a guy this morning at breakfast who was wearing AirPods and had his case out on the table. I told him about my experience, and then showed him the big dumb credit card case I bought as a defense against the constant card erasure. Surprised, he admitted that he kept his room card and the AirPods case in the same pocket (as had I). He thanked me for the advice and left after a few minutes.

About ten minutes later he came back to our table and told me that his room card wasn't working!



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2017.12.312017 Year in Review

Posts about fitness, family, geek stuff and national events dominated the interests posts in 2017.

TopicCount
books1
cooking4
family/kids34
fitness45
gaming7
geek35
leadership4
movies2
music10
nation/politics24

 

Technically speaking, I did a lot on this website over 2017:

  • Added a crawler atop the welcome page
  • Made a cryptographic class
  • Upgraded the professional section to include an interactive resume, a reworked certificates and certifications form to include a coverflow-like interface, and the introduction of a technologies list
  • Implemented a major change to post favoriting to prevent records from being overwritten by production pushes
  • Numerous fixes and other minor enhancements




Link to this

 

2017.12.27Got Cats? Consider PawSense

the Business Cat meme image

We adopted two kittens from the shelter over a year ago. The male has matured into just a bundle of love -- I adore him. The female has matured into a standard cat, who does not care one whit about people and everything has to be done on her terms. As I said, a standard cat.

One can definitely tell the difference between the two cats when they're around my laptop. The boy will very carefully walk around it and other obstacles in... whatever he decides his path is. The female simply can't be bothered, and will walk straight over the keyboard.

If you have a "keyboard cat" like I do, I've a software suggestion for you.

Keyboard Cat

PawSense is the brainchild of BitBoost Systems, which seeks to solve the very problem of cats walking over your keyboard. PawSense monitors keyboard input for values typically distinct from human typing -- cats' paws typically strike more than a single character at a time -- and locks the keyboard until a human unlocks it, either by clicking in a particular spot or by typing specific input.

PawSense likely runs as a service on your Windows computer, monitoring the keyboard for unusual input. The software can play a sound as an attempt to startle your visitor and to train her (or him --- my bias) to keep off your keyboard.

PawSense is available for download for $19.99. BitBoost uses Paypal to handle transactions. One word of advice: the download form requires two inputs - one is associated with the name of the purchaser, and the other is a purchase ID. That purchase ID is displayed on a screen during the transaction, but it is not included in the confirmation email coming from Paypal. Do yourself a favor and copy down or take a screenshot of that purchase ID while it's displayed on the screen so you'll have it when needed. Otherwise you might find yourself e-mailing BitBoost support for assistance (like I did) -- and by the way, BitBoost support was very responsive. I had reached out to them yesterday afternoon, and had the fix waiting in my email this morning.

One more thing: PawSense was last updated to run on Windows 8, though it's running fine on my Windows 10 machine.

Perhaps an unintended additional benefit of PawSense is that it could make you a better typist. I've triggered the PawSense software twice since typing this, telling me my accuracy could improve.

Learn more about PawSense.



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2017.12.22Yes Virginia, Apple IS slowing down older iPhones

An image of Apple iPhones.

According to CNET reporting, Apple has released a statement this week which verifies a long-held suspicion: Your older iPhone or iPad really IS getting slower.

The statement was in response to an observation from Primate Labs. Published in a blog post from its founder, Primate Labs' testing showed that iPhone performance did not remain constant as the unit ages, contrary to the public's expectations.

It's a Feature

Apple's response, reproduced here, was included in the CNET article:

"Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.

Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We've now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future."

I admit, I'm in that camp -- I've wondered why, after the release of a a newer model, my iPad suddenly seems like someone replaced its chip with a Pentium 60. My suspicion has been that AT&T had been throttling it's network performance. Happily, I've never had a problem with a unit (iPhone or iPad) simply shutting itself off. Thanks to this article, if that happens, I'll know one reason why.

Read the full article.



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2017.12.21University of Michigan Developing "Unhackable" Computer

An image of a Rubiks Cube. Image credit: grubiks.com

MICHIGAN NEWS, a publication of the University of Michigan, reported their computer science department is working on a new computer hardware design that moves information rapidly and randomly within the system, destroying the data occupying the previous location. "The technology works to elude attackers from the critical information they need to construct a succcessful attack."

Todd Austin, who leads Project MORPHEUS, offered this simile: "It's like if you're solving a Rubik's Cube and every time you blink, I rearrange it."

Austin is excited about the program, because he believes the design offers a solution that is "future-proof." The article argues that MORPHEUS could protect against future threats, because zero-day attacks that focus on software vulnerabilities require fixed locations of the vulnerability and the data. Under MORPHEUS, the locations of everything -- the vulerability, the data, passwords, everything -- would constantly be changing. In such an environment, vulnerabilities won't matter, because an attacker would not have the time or resources to exploit them.

Read the full article.



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2017.12.20Windows 10's Fall Creators Update... Update

The Windows 10 logo. Image credit: Microsoft Corporation

I noticed the other day that my Windows machine went through a GIANT install -- on the order of the Fall Creators Update: installing a percentage of the update, then restarting, then installing another percentage, then rebooting.

It turns out it actually was the Fall Creators Update -- again. An update to the update, if you will.

I watched a video that offered a summary of updates, and found one thing that seemed useful to me directly: the ability to save a link right onto your taskbar.

Yeah, yeah, it had all kinds of other updates to Paint 3D and so on, but I don't use those. I don't need them in my life right now. But I can get behind the URL thing.

Why? Because as it happens, I have a client for whom I'm doing a lot of work using a Web form on a specific development server. It'd be nice to have a link to that URL directly on the taskbar instead of having to open the browser, fight with it while it tries to load the home page the client has set, to get to the dev box.

Luckily, Microsoft implemented a version of the feature in IE. If I was an Edge user, I should see the feature shown in the video. The implementation in IE is a little different. Under Options (the gear icon in the upper right corner) is an option titled "Add site to Apps." After clicking, I found the shortcut (pictured as the Internet Explorer "e" logo against a white background) right at the very top of my Start Menu (the first entry under "Recently Added.") Right-clicking on the menu item gave me the option to pin it to the taskbar.

You can go as far as view the properties of the shortcut from the taskbar, but you can't edit the shortcut icon. Somewhat interesting: The shortcut is of a type called "Pinned Site Shortcut" -- not just "Shortcut."

I think it's a nice-to-have feature, because it keeps shortcuts off of my desktop and down on the taskbar, where I live. One can create a shortcut on the desktop to an internet URL, but about the best you could do to get it onto a taskbar in Windows 10 is to pin it to a browser taskbar icon. Not bad, but not quite as handy.



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2017.12.16UPDATE: iPhone X's Face ID is a Pain in the Neck

The Apple Face ID logo. Image credit: Apple Corporation

Since the iPhone X was announced, Apple has marketed its Face ID feature as purely a security enhancement, designed to increase the security of the unit tenfold over its earlier fingerprint ID technology.

But I believe Face ID's hidden purpose is to combat distracted driving -- or at least provide a mitigation strategy for the company. Intentions aside, Apple has made using an iPhone in a car significantly more inconvenient than ever.

"1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk."


Do Not Disturb While Driving

iOS 11 contains a key enhancement in this regard -- its Do Not Disturb While Driving feature activates automatically by default when your phone connects to a Bluetooth system in a car, or when you're traveling at a relatively high rate of speed (determined through Location Services). While the service is engaged, use of the phone is permissable only after you signify that you're not driving -- performed through an extra tap on the phone's lock screen. Players of Niantic's Pokemon Go! might recognize this from the game -- if location services detects that you're moving rapidly, the game makes you acknowledge an "I'm a passenger" alert.

Face ID Demands Your Attention

Face ID completely ups the ante on Apple's anti-driving campaign because, by default, Face ID requires you to look directly at your phone before unlocking it (Apple calls this "requiring attention"), and applies attention awareness to other features, like dimming the phone's display. (See Settings > Face ID & Passcode for the settings.)

The new unit also forces requirement of a passcode immediately, without any other option or the possibility of disabling the requirement (see Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Require Passcode). What this essentially means is you can no longer just unlock your phone, keep it in your lap and casually use it in the car. The iPhone X and iOS 11 demand you bring the phone up to your face to unlock it, OR make you unlock it by typing in your code if you're not using it continuously.

Cheap Sunglasses

Another note for mobile users (pun intended): Face ID probably won't work if you're wearing sunglasses (it doesn't work when I'm wearing mine). So now, in addition to having to bring the unit up to your face and to look right at it, you've also got to take off your sunglasses.

Who wants to have to do all of that stuff from a car seat?

"Apple has made using an iPhone in a car significantly more inconvenient than ever."


Distracted Driving

So now I feel obligated to insert some data about traffic fatalities related to distracted driving and mobile phone use, to highlight the problem. To be fair, the numbers are alarming. According to statistics offered by a personal injury law firm, quoting the National Safety Council, "1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk." 1

With figures like these, it seems petty to argue whether Apple is acting to protect consumers or to protect itself. Besides, one could also argue that Apple is incentivized to make these changes to their products to keep people alive so they can buy more of their products -- or, in the case of younger consumers, appeal to their parents. (Cell phone use is highest among 16 - 24 year olds.) 2   I'm not saying these things to act in poor taste; I'm merely exploring Apple's rationale for making the changes I'm griping about.

Not Yet Sure How I Feel About It

Yes, this makes me one of the 660,000 guilty of using a mobile phone in some way while in a car. I also wrote some software called "AUTOreply" several years ago for my Android phone because I was tired of constant text messages while I was driving.

Typically if I'm using the phone, I'm answering it over the car's stereo in a hands-free way. Sometimes, I make calls, too -- and Apple's now made it really difficult for me to do that, because dictation doesn't work well through my older car's system (hmm.... are they trying to boost sales of CarPlay-equipped units too?) I'm still against texting.

The design changes of the iPhone X absolutely discourage any active use of the unit while driving or even just being in a car, and for good reason.

Over time, I'm sure I'll get used to them; right now, I guess I'm too familiar with the relative convenience my 7 Plus offered, and find myself wanting it back.

 

UPDATE: There is one setting change you can make to make your life a little easier. I found it after I'd published the original article (of course). You can modify the Auto-Lock setting to give you a little breathing room. Find it under Settings > General > Display and Brightness, at about the middle of the screen. I believe my machine was set to 30 Seconds as a default. Set that value to something higher to give yourself a little more time before having to reverify your identity to your phone again.



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2017.12.14STAR WARS TONIGHT

Image of a Star Wars: The Last Jedi promotional poster. Image credit: Lucasarts

We've tickets to the first showing of The Last Jedi in just a couple of hours.

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG



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2017.12.06iPhone X's Face ID is a Pain in the Neck

The Apple Face ID logo. Image credit: Apple Corporation

Since the iPhone X was announced, Apple has marketed its Face ID feature as purely a security enhancement, designed to increase the security of the unit tenfold over its earlier fingerprint ID technology.

But I believe Face ID's hidden purpose is to combat distracted driving -- or at least provide a mitigation strategy for the company. Intentions aside, Apple has made using an iPhone in a car significantly more inconvenient than ever.

"1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk."


Do Not Disturb While Driving

iOS 11 contains a key enhancement in this regard -- its Do Not Disturb While Driving feature activates automatically by default when your phone connects to a Bluetooth system in a car, or when you're traveling at a relatively high rate of speed (determined through Location Services). While the service is engaged, use of the phone is permissable only after you signify that you're not driving -- performed through an extra tap on the phone's lock screen. Players of Niantic's Pokemon Go! might recognize this from the game -- if location services detects that you're moving rapidly, the game makes you acknowledge an "I'm a passenger" alert.

Face ID Demands Your Attention

Face ID completely ups the ante on Apple's anti-driving campaign because, by default, Face ID requires you to look directly at your phone before unlocking it (Apple calls this "requiring attention"), and applies attention awareness to other features, like dimming the phone's display. (See Settings > Face ID & Passcode for the settings.)

The new unit also forces requirement of a passcode immediately, without any other option or the possibility of disabling the requirement (see Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Require Passcode). What this essentially means is you can no longer just unlock your phone, keep it in your lap and casually use it in the car. The iPhone X and iOS 11 demand you bring the phone up to your face to unlock it, OR make you unlock it by typing in your code if you're not using it continuously.

Cheap Sunglasses

Another note for mobile users (pun intended): Face ID probably won't work if you're wearing sunglasses (it doesn't work when I'm wearing mine). So now, in addition to having to bring the unit up to your face and to look right at it, you've also got to take off your sunglasses.

Who wants to have to do all of that stuff from a car seat?

"Apple has made using an iPhone in a car significantly more inconvenient than ever."


Distracted Driving

So now I feel obligated to insert some data about traffic fatalities related to distracted driving and mobile phone use, to highlight the problem. To be fair, the numbers are alarming. According to statistics offered by a personal injury law firm, quoting the National Safety Council, "1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk." 1

With figures like these, it seems petty to argue whether Apple is acting to protect consumers or to protect itself. Besides, one could also argue that Apple is incentivized to make these changes to their products to keep people alive so they can buy more of their products -- or, in the case of younger consumers, appeal to their parents. (Cell phone use is highest among 16 - 24 year olds.) 2   I'm not saying these things to act in poor taste; I'm merely exploring Apple's rationale for making the changes I'm griping about.

Not Yet Sure How I Feel About It

Yes, this makes me one of the 660,000 guilty of using a mobile phone in some way while in a car. I also wrote some software called "AUTOreply" several years ago for my Android phone because I was tired of constant text messages while I was driving.

Typically if I'm using the phone, I'm answering it over the car's stereo in a hands-free way. Sometimes, I make calls, too -- and Apple's now made it really difficult for me to do that, because dictation doesn't work well through my older car's system (hmm.... are they trying to boost sales of CarPlay-equipped units too?) I'm still against texting.

The design changes of the iPhone X absolutely discourage any active use of the unit while driving or even just being in a car, and for good reason.

Over time, I'm sure I'll get used to them; right now, I guess I'm too familiar with the relative convenience my 7 Plus offered, and find myself wanting it back.



Link to this

 

2017.12.03Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity Watch is Obsolete, says Citizen

Image of the CITIZEN Eco-Drive Proximity W760. Image credit: SBNATION.com

Citizen's Eco-Drive Proximity line is a series of watches that are designed to be semi-smart, in that they tie in with your smartphone to provide some very nice functionality. For example, syncing with your phone means never having to set your watch manually again. The best use of this that I can think of is when you're flying across time zones -- a touch of a button and your watch is set to the correct time. It's also able to alert you when you receive new e-mails and when your phone goes out of range (e.g., you've left it someplace). Syncing with your smartphone obviously requires a smartphone app. The application communicates with the watch over a Bluetooth connection.

I received mine as a gift several years ago and loved it. It's spent the last couple of years on the shelf with my other dress watches because I favored my Apple Watch. But since I dropped it and smashed the screen, I'm back to my other watches again.

I downloaded the Citizen Proximity app onto my new phone (running iOS 11) and couldn't get the watch to connect, so I contacted Citizen support.

Some three weeks later, I received a reply, which basically told me that my watch -- the W760 -- is obsolete, compatible with iOS versions up to 9 (two major versions ago). The more recent W770 models are still compatible with the current operating system.

I have a problem with having only some percentage of its functionality available because the watch won't sync anymore. So I replied, asking if Citizen is doing anything to upgrade the W760 owners to a W770. Who knows when I'll receive a reply --- with the holidays coming, I might not get a reply until sometime in January.



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