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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

iOS 10.0.2 Concerns and App Store Malware

I’m really starting to wonder what is going on at Apple, Inc.. Allowing malware to propagate through the App Store? Who in the world decided that the Shuffle and Continuous Play buttons should be removed from the Music App? I’m trying to play my music and I’m now stuck listening to each song individually? And the Music app no longer plays in the background? I sort of understand why Apple blocks all other apps from playing music in the background but doesn’t Apple own the Music App on the iPhone? They must have removed the background music play feature to satisfy some judge or EU antitrust commissioner.


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Now I understand there is probably some very, very logical reasons some geek in Palo Alto decided to get rid of or hide the background play or Shuffle features. But I’m less and less interested in an Operating System that slowly strips away the features I and I suspect millions of other users once enjoyed. I’m just guessing that other Music App users liked Shuffle or the ability to listen to songs while playing a game or writing.

In the end I realize a kid still living in his parent’s basement, with hundreds of hours available to just study her iPhone, will discover a workaround or the deeply hidden menu setting, three levels down, that re-enables the Background Music option. I have no doubt Shuffle is hidden, on page 300 of the latest iPhone for Dummies book, under Settings, General, Storage & iCloud Usage, Manage Storage (not the solution) or some such location but some iPhone users actually have a job, a family and other things to do besides seek out every new location for useful features.

I don’t like how my iPhone now turns off my car’s air conditioning every time a GPS app decides to speak some directions. I probably should not have bought a new car but the car works fine, until I do something really crazy like open a GPS App to struggle to find directions to my training site. I literally took a Gazetteer, a large paper maps book, with me on my business trip this week. That’s how terrible Google Maps and Apple Maps have become with the latest updates to the iOS or the app itself. I really don’t have the time to analyze every update to an App or operating system

My iPhone got infected with a virus or malware today. This is a first infection on any Apple product for me, ever, so I’m a bit unnerved today. Something called Everalbum invaded my iPhone, through the Apple App Store, no less. A text from an acquaintance let the beast in and I fought it for nearly an hour. It’s gone but the damage is done. Still have not hard reset the iPhone, after six very technical years at Ma Bell I know how nasty resetting a mobile device or replacing a cell tower can be. I will do so (the phone, not my local cell tower) but not while out of town on business. I’m forced to just turn off Data and use the phone only for SMS and Voice calls until I have the time to repair it.

Yes, I am a corporate and government technology trainer, somebody paid to learn the most complex new tools and hardware and then teach others. And the new iPhone has me crawling the walls, hunting for a simple feature like Shuffle. Or chasing malware, it is starting to remind me of Windows or Android phones. I long for the days when software developers actually conducted User Acceptance Testing before releasing a new or updated application. Those days are over, now they release the product and wait for users to start howling away. Not a good strategy for retaining clients.

UPDATE 9/29/16:  I found the Shuffle feature in the iPhone Music app, but then it disappeared again so I cannot say for certain it is back to stay as a feature. 'Lurking' does not constitute a reliable feature!

The Everalbum malware is still available to download, viciously infect your device and then spam your contact list. Don't believe the ratings, read them closely and you will see they are fake reviews. Apple apparently doesn't monitor app reviews or actual app functionality any more. iPhone users seem to be heading into the Wild West of the Android app store / Google market / or whatever Google calls their crappy app source this week. I'm averse to mobile devices that blow up in my front pocket!

My iPhone's new-found desire to adjust my car's A/C settings, only when I get a call or use GPS, is very unnerving. However autumn has arrived and I enjoy riding with the windows down and the roof open. Perhaps there will be an update before I need to use the heater!

The double-song download issue persists. In the image below you can clearly see Apple Music app's propensity to duplicate downloads. I am surprised Apple has allowed this to go on for so many years:

The red Shuffle All words in the image above do not provide any actual Shuffle control. They are just words on the screen with no function or response whatsoever. I've been exploring alternative music apps from other vendors. I wish the purposeless Love / Dislike buttons allowed an easy app review to be submitted!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Trouble with GPS Apps (iPhone or Android)

As a techie and especially a mobile device specialist, GPS applications have been a mainstay of my business and government training activities and personal use. All, except perhaps for Gas Buddy, are among the most confusing and cryptic apps you can put on your phone. That’s why people literally hire me to teach these apps to their employees that travel often. It is no wonder I still see so many Garmin and TomTom appliances still stuck to windshields.

I would expect any basic GPS app to find major street addresses, if you carefully type in the address. Most apps locate the address, but in the wrong state or country half the time. The app definitely knows I am in Baltimore today so why is it suggesting a street address in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?  Or Toronto, Canada?

Next I would expect most apps to automatically remember common directions for places, if you sign-in to the application. Most apps do not do this. OK, so you will not remember where I go automatically, why not let me show you? Nope, they might have a Favorites function but it does not let you give easily give it a name or a shortcut. Good luck finding these favorites when you need them most. I understand if you stand on one foot, tell the dog to get off the couch and let a 4-year old name the location, it works. But if you, yourself, want to add a location and give it a custom name, while you are parked at a Rest Area or sitting at a desk, you will only succeed 5% of the time.

I would expect most apps would default to showing you the driving directions. Wrong again. Google Maps prefers to give me the walking directions to New York City and the bicycle directions to Virginia Beach, from my home near Washington, DC. Dare I touch my phone for any reason during a journey. Many apps will quickly figure you wanted to turn around on the way to the store and suddenly drive to Miami Beach. I guess I should be glad they don’t have an option for directions by horseback.

Don’t get me wrong about GPS mapping. I love it. It works great on my iPad and on any laptop computer. These things are just a little too much to use while on the front seat of my Cadillac behind the steering wheel (while parked at a Rest Area). This raised another issue, do the app developers even understand that these apps are used by drivers in real cars? Every GPS app I’ve tested drains the battery to 0% in about an hour. All the GPS apps I’ve tried also go silent if I plug the phone into any power source. Other than power consumption, lack of correct directions, and not consistently telling me the next turn most apps are just fine.

Perhaps all this is because the app developers want you to buy the paid version instead of use the free app. I understand that logic entirely. I like to get paid for my work. Unfortunately that is not the case. Buying an app only removes the ads from what I can tell. I purposely bought several of the highly recommended GPS apps when doing a project for a major car rental firm. All the apps failed at the basic steps, all the Help sites for these apps provide excellent step-by-step instructions, except the instructions were all wrong.

Google Maps tells you to press and hold a location. Do that and it automatically picks a different location around the corner from your intended destination.

The GPS tools built into most luxury cars are great, if you have a few hours to carefully type everything in using some weird miniature keyboard. Oh, and don’t forget you need to subscribe to the GPS service at $25/month after the first year.

I’m sure all these apps function fine for the Application Developers and the committee of computer programmers that join their office focus groups. What happens when you test your GPS app with actual humans instead of programmers? Does anybody take the time to test any product with real humans anymore?

I realize that with enough practice humans can learn to use any application. I’m sure the harpsichord creator found it a very easy instrument to play back in the day. Millions of people learned to play piano over the years, with plenty of lessons and time. Most people do not have years to learn the minuscule controls of a GPS application. Even learning any application in detail is worthless exercise, because the developer will release a completely different version a week later.

Voice commands are not a solution, at least not until phones learn how to recognize plain English, that is expected to occur sometime around 2050. I do dictate to my devices, I have since the first versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking came out long ago. It is a great way to get a laugh out of a somber audience. I compare voice recognition software to the old Mad Libs game played with a special pad of paper. It’s better now but still very risky to use for any document your employer expects to be correct.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often brought up as the solution to all of the world’s major problems, including mapping. The problem with AI is that people still do not have a grasp on what constitutes normal human intelligence. We don’t stand a chance of figuring out what a computer-driven intelligence should be capable of, if we don’t know how we do what do now.

The firm that comes up with an easy-to-use GPS application that doesn’t cost $25/month will probably become the next unicorn. I would just like to see that happen sometime before all humans are replaced as drivers, by Uber, next year sometime. In the meantime I’ll keep using the maps function in Gas Buddy, and save hundreds of dollars in fuel at the same time.

Note: I am not directly paid by any of the firms or apps mentioned in any of my articles. Most of my income comes to me indirectly, through strategic stock market investments (90%) and technical training classes (10%).

New Apple OSX and the Leaning Tower of SFO

NOTE: Briefly, if you tried to upgrade to the new iPhone through apple.com in the days after the new iPhone release announcement you knew the stock would be going up. I do that a day or two after every new iPhone goes up for sale. When I saw an expected ship date of November for a jet black iPhone 7 Plus 128GB I immediately stopped the purchase process and switched over to my brokerage account to buy more shares. Works every time.

Apple has a new operating system (iOS 10) out today. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Do not run an update this large until you have backed up your iPhone or iPad to iCloud or a computer. Go to Settings, iCloud, Backup, Back Up Now.
  2. Do not try to run this update over a limited GB mobile hotspot. Use a broadband solution like cable Internet, FioS or high-speed WiFi with the iPhone plugged in to an AC power source.
  3. Do not try this update at work, unless you are fine with not having access to your phone for 30 minutes to an hour or more. The amount of time for the update can vary based on your Internet connection speed and the amount of memory in your iPhone.
  4. Do not upgrade without giving yourself some time to learn about the new features after the upgrade completes. There are many, many new features.  Apple provides some of the improvements at this site: https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-10/   There are many changes
    shown in Apple’s OS update details.
  5. Expect to run Updates to most if not all major apps after the software update completes. For me this involved another gigabyte of download

Wish List:

The loss of reliability with the fingerprint scanner has been a disappointment. I prefer that security feature over entering a code. Unfortunately my iPhone 6 keeps forgetting all my fingertips. If I power cycle the phone some Fingerprint functionality returns, but only for a short while. I am doing nothing that is altering my fingerprints like woodworking, long soaks in a tub or soldering electronics.

The secure apps that used to run with fingerprint scan are back to requiring complex passwords.

Gazelle is only offering $168 for my iPhone 6 64GB. Better to gift it to a family member.

I sure hope they repair the Wallet application so that it works with more than just one credit card.  Standing there at a cash register while all my credit cards just whirled around and then landed on a random credit card, just like some slot machine, is unacceptable. When those I advised raised the same issue I knew it was not just me. Setting a Primary Card was no help with the ‘spinning credit card” issue.

For a short-term workaround I deleted all but the credit card I primarily use and the issue went away. I have not reviewed all the items included in the new OS version but I sure hope Wallet was fixed.

The Leaning Tower of SFO

You think you have problems?  A $400 million 58-story condo building built out on landfill in San Francisco Bay is turning into the U.S. version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. To build a tall building on a landfill instead of bedrock was absurd. I’m sure the architects and engineers were all qualified but even the experts will sometimes make mistakes. Blaming it on the building next door is not entirely a poor strategy. More weight on the same landfill is bound to exacerbate the issue.

The Millennium Tower has sunk 16 inches in just a few years since completion. It is sinking more on one side than  the other. The rate the structure is sinking may even be increasing. Condo owners cannot be pleased with this development. Personally I would either ask for my money back or find someone more desperate for housing to buy it (maybe not so tough in SFO).

I have never felt comfortable with high-rise structures in common earthquake zones. I know about population density and land-use issues but building a tall building where the earth is known to shake violently is just plain stupid. Driving piles 80 feet down into the landfill instead of 200 feet down may be part of the problem.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek

It will be possible in a few more years to build radio controlled rockets which can be steered into such orbits beyond the limits of the atmosphere and left to broadcast scientific information back to the Earth. A little later, manned rockets will be able to make similar flights with sufficient excess power to break the orbit and return to Earth. - Arthur C. Clarke (1945)

Revenue for satellite services last year was $127.4 billion… -  New York Times (2016)


Satellite in Space Shuttle 0006

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Robocalls as a D.O.S. Attack: Bombarded By Robocalls

In talks with co-workers I am learning that literally everyone I know gets 4 to 5 robocalls every day, often including weekends. These calls are all very much the same. An automated woman’s voice starts talking about credit cards or a fake IRS audit. The phone numbers that appear in caller ID are always fake, unusual area codes, with Canada area codes common. Frequently the phone number displayed is just like your phone number or just one digit off. Lately robocalls have even been going so far as to leave fake voice mail messages.

I assign robocall phone numbers to a contact called DO NOT ANSWER. I edited this contact so that it is added to a Blocked Caller list in my iPhone. But the robocallers keep using new numbers.

I understand that the FCC is doing what they can, within the laws, to reduce this problem. There are industry groups, composed of the largest tech firms, working on this issue too. Yet, when I researched the scope of the robocall issue, as a person trained in cybersecurity processes,  one thing stands clear. Mass robocalls are a Denial of Service or D.O.S type of attack.
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A Denial of Service Attack is generally accepted to be an attempt by some individual or group to shut down a web site by overloading that site with requests. In the case of Robocalls, the organizations doing this are directly impacting the productivity of millions of people. Think about it for just a moment. Millions of people getting 3 or more fake phone calls every day. These people are often at work when such calls arrive. Even if the fake call only distracts you for 2 minutes, three times a day, that’s a total of 6 minutes. Multiple that times one million or more people impacted.  That is 100,000 hours stolen from us as a society. Every day.

Just consider the load on the cell phone network. Most of us are on unlimited minute plans, but not everyone. But the cell phone network itself does not have unlimited capacity, and it costs money to process every single call.

If you are applying for work, you must take calls from phone numbers unfamiliar to you. All too often that callback from a recruiter we are expecting turns out to be just another robocall. Time lost when you could be revising a resume or searching job postings.

In these and other ways Robocalls are costing the U.S. economy possibly a billion dollars each day.

 This is big money that cannot be used for salaries, new equipment, or other productive uses. For all we know this assault is being orchestrated by a government or private entity with exactly that goal in mind. Even if it is not an orchestrated effort, the impact is still the same. Our nation is being publicly robbed, with so far very little we can do about it.