Home automation

I have three ‘onewire’ temperature sensors running up from the hot water cylinder and central heating pump to a Raspberry Pi in the loft. These record the water temperature going round the central heating, as well as that going into the hot water cylinder and the temperature of the pipe back to the boiler. The Pi records these every minute.

Nothing whizzy in any of that, it’s all standard stuff. Only I discovered that the temperature readings make a lot more sense if the sensors are actually on the pipes and not sitting in a pile of fluff on the floor! Ah…

Why do they design sites this way!

Another brain dead website, an estate agent this time. Filling in the contact-me form it pops up the usual Google ‘select all squares that may have had a bike in them last week’ thing. Only it’s hidden under the sliding design so you do not actually know. I found it, but the sliding imagery of their website covers most of the bottom three squares and the buttons, so no way to complete the task.

Good grief. I take it the user testing was somewhat less intensive than that which would have been accomplished merely by showing a screenshot to a brick…

Busted phones…

I have not had a good day fiddling with iPhones.

The story started some time ago when one iPhone was dropped and suffered catastrophic damage. And I mean catastrophic. For anyone that has ever had an iPhone SE apart, imagine a phone where the screen had to only cracked but had come completely away from the backplate. All three cables from the screen were torn. The case had bent, the plastic at the bottom was broken, the camera had gone, the plastic at the top of the case was very dodgy and the battery had bent. How on earth – apparently it fell three floors on to concrete.

And of course there was no backup…

So, off to eBay. Having acquired various bits and reassembled it sufficiently to do a full backup this was then restored to a new SE phone. All was well with the world (well, actually the new phone soon suffered water damage and then another catastrophic fall and has since become an even newer phone… but that’s not my problem!).

I had assembled the repaired phone rather quickly as it only had to do the one task of the backup. The camera was not sitting right and was pressing against the screen. So it sat on the shelf waiting it’s turn to be re-repaired. For maybe a year.

Fast forward and one of our older phones no longer receives new versions of iOS. The app used for bus tickets, which originally split into two apps, one for timetables and one for payments, has been replaced by a new version that does everything. Only it does not work on the older iOS. So, the waiting-to-be-re-repaired iPhone came to mind. I wiped it and checked the battery will actually store charge for more than a few hours, and then set about pulling it apart to sort out the camera. It all went back together just fine. I updated iOS, set it up as a new phone and attached it to the relevant iCloud account. All was going well. Well, until I tried to call it. The call worked fine, good audio both ways… but…

…IT DOES NOT RING OR VIBRATE!

Typical. Everything else is fine, but useless as it does not give any audible alert on incoming calls, FaceTime or messages. The ‘silent’ switch and volume up/down buttons are very non-functional, and even setting the ring volume up via the app it does not ring. The assistive touch stuff does not help. I guess it’s stuck somehow on ‘silent’ in a way that the software cannot get round.

So it is destined for eBay as parts.

CDN blues

Interesting week. A couple of days ago we heard of Cloudflare’s issues with a software rollout gone wrong. Yesterday I noticed I could not see one of our iPhones on FriendFinder. It later became clear that the phone had not received any iMessages either and the associated iPad was in a worse mess. It took several cycles of logging in on both to restore normality, and that meant logging into iCloud and FaceTime and message separately. Oddly he iPad had iMessages from 2018 but no later and the iPhone had missed a whole day of messages – I had expected both to pull down the current messages but on checking the o/s is too old (these are old Apple devices).

Then this morning my Mac, which is up to date o/s wise wanted the iCloud password, but putting it in resulted in an ‘unknown error’. I rebooted it and it appeared ok, but then I had to go through the cycle of logging into iCloud, iMessage and FaceTime. For iMessage it would not play ball and suggested that I was not logged into iCloud on my previous account name, changed some months ago. Potentially I’d never had to log in since the change so that may be why. Anyway, logging out and into iMessage again fixed this. My iPhone has not (yet!) had the same issue…

Given the Facebook / Instagram issues yesterday with stored photos and videos not displaying – also CDN based – it gives me an ‘eggs in baskets’ feel. Where you have one large infrastructure provider such as Cloudflare with so many services sitting upon it that provider has to work all of the time. Corners are easily cut (not saying they were here!) and mistakes can have far reaching effects. Of course the solution where everyone has their own infrastructure is not very ‘green’ these days with the proliferation of data centres and such and so these large third party providers make a lot of sense. But when they go down the world goes with them – well, ok, the web goes with them!

Notebook blues

A notebook came in the other day that had had tea poured into it and now refuses to work. I’d never seen inside one of these before and we wondered if the hard disk could be removed and installed elsewhere to recover any files. At that time I’d not been to Google to check on the model etc. because there was a disk-sized lump which surely must be it?

No, it’s part of an odd shaped battery! On inspection I could only see two connections and even though the whole ‘thing’ was connected by a multi-way plug it definitely looked very un-disk-like. Off to Google.

Yup. It’s a battery alright. This notebook has no disk, just some Gb’s worth of flash. All data is stored on OneDrive. Hopefully!

You live and learn…

US now wants your Facebook details when you visit

Lots of chatter today that the US now requires “nearly all applicants for U.S. visas to submit their social media usernames, previous email addresses and phone numbers”. (1) Essentially it requires visitors to give their social media information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for the past 5 years.

The BBC carried a bit about this back in 2017 (2) which also stated that critics considered that checking up on these “could lead to extended, fruitless lines of inquiry or the collection of personal information not relevant to security checks”. Well, yeah, and I would need several continuation sheets to fill all my information in over that period.

A quick trawl through the visa waiver website suggests (a) that it is out of date because it does not indicate the requirement is now absolute and (b) clearly they will use this information to check up on you i.e. if your Facebook page marks you out as undesirable you’re out of luck. I did not delve further.

So your social media profile may now exclude you from entry. Of course, no undesirable type is capable of creating a fake Facebook profile are they…

So, is a blog social media? I’d argue not, yet I know this blog is spidered by Google (other spiders are available) regularly!

1 – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/state-department-now-requires-us-visa-applicants-to-share-social-media-accounts-2019-06-01/

2 – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-40132506

Hacking Instagram

So I caught sight of a TV programme tonight regarding someone’s Instagram account being hacked and the difficulty in getting the account back. The suggesting is that Instagram should have been presumably instant at helping. But it missed the point by a country mile. Here we have something that is essentially free to use, and trusts you to be you. What I mean by that is there is no global ID scheme proving you are you so the only thing to rely on is, for example that when you subscribe with an email address you actually receive an authorisation email and take some action.

How you can point the finger at something which exists primarily to process your personal information while providing you a service for free, and says as much when you sign up to it, defeats me. IT’S FREE. Don’t expect 24/7 service if you are paying nothing at all for it. This is the real world. Make sure your password is strong and turn on 2FA where available.

Oh yeah, and if some scrote hacks my Instagram account you can keep it! I’m quite sure that my followers, few that they are will realise that anything odd is simply not me and should be ignored. QED.

Marketing

Politics has no place in this blog and that is not about to change. But something made me laugh today.

In days of old when techies ruled the web we’d use whatever domains we thought were best. But back then there were few, basically .com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov, .mil and a couple of others. Or course, everyone wanted a .com. Later we got country codes, thus .co.uk, .org.uk, .ac.uk and so on, and every other country did similar. And here we are today with zillions of domains, some restricted, others not so. At one stage I had a .museum domain but my project didn’t get very far and the domain costs were too high. To get that I had to fill in all sorts of proof.

A lot of my work in name and brand protection saw me acquiring domains which could be used against us, and domains which we could use for marketing in other countries. I had loads including permutations of our name as well as our actual name in other countries and regions. For example, I had China, Asia, Europe, US, may generics, and others in the organisation had India and Japan. I could throw domains up literally in seconds if we detected an issue, for example a name very close to ours but being used in a scam or some fakery. All were directed at relevant information or at our main websites or region specific parts thereof. These were all tools both for me in my work but also for marketing as we had them available for extraterritorial projects.

So it did amuse me to see that some party had purchased a .org domain but no others. Immediately someone else grabbed the .com and .eu versions of the same name and put up opposing views. Many others are also taken but are parked. An individual grabbed the .org.uk version and some enterprising person even grabbed the .party (one of the new TLDs) domain and parked that.

If you have an idea, a name, a party, or whatever, speak to your marketeers about it before anyone says anything. Listen to them but also advise them. It can save you, and them a lot of embarrasment.

Cookie consent

Seriously, when are website designers going to realise that setting lots of cookies and then asking for consent is the wrong way round? I mean, surely the concept is clear. Unless the cookie is strictly necessary, for example to carry out the function requested by the user, don’t set the darn thing until consent is gained. To me this is like someone plastering advertising stickers all over your car and then finding you and asking if it’s ok, versus someone asking ‘hey can I put these advertising stickers on your car?’

As I’ve said before, there are some truly excellent cookie consent mechanisms out there now, and some truly awful ones, and every mix in between. I’ve seen one recently that sets out your options at the bottom of the page rather than send you off to another page, and they were all pre-unchecked. And another, a cookie wall this time (to be banned soon!) where you either accept or go off to a completely different website run by an advertising agency, only to be told you then need to tell your browser to reject cookies. One had a list of about 400 partner sites and you had to deselect each, one very similar had the same but you could deselect them all in one go. But in each case they were selected by default and consent is gained basically by user frustration – click Yes just to get somewhere, anywhere.

Of course, you can always empty your browser’s cookie cache regularly as I do. But then you run the risk of Google asking you to go through their consent stuff for the umpteenth time because you deleted the cookie they set that remembers your answers. That’s understandable, but still frustrating. Browsers could use a mechanism by where you clear out everything except a few you chose specifically to persist, and have a button on the menu bar to clear them too so you do not need to go diving into the menus.

Those pesky cookie consent notices…

Those that know me probably know I do go off on one when it comes to annoying uses of cookies. Well, I came across two allegedly GDPR-compliant consent pages today, each of which amazed me but for diametrically opposing reasons.

The first of the two threw up a box obscuring most of the website telling me it uses cookies, that I can find out why in the privacy notice, and then saying “You are hereby requested to accept the use of these cookies”. No other options.

Ok. First off, the privacy notice had just about zero information about what cookies it set and what these were used for. Fail. Next, there is no way to consent or refuse. Fail. The only way to remove the annoying box is to accept. Fail. Oh, and by the way it had already set the cookies anyway regardless of if I accepted or not. Major fail!

The second example I came across was so different. Here, and in just three sentences at the bottom of the screen, it told me what it used, why it used them, and below this were a series of 4 tick boxes for Necessary, Preference, Statistics, and Marketing, all ticked except Marketing. I didn’t even need to read the linked privacy notice nor anything else to know that the options it was offering were the ones I would have chosen anyway. This is by far the best implementation of a cookie consent popup I have ever seen! YMMV.