Spam from Spencer Mains and LiveRamp

Continuing in my spammer Hall of Shame series, here’s an persistent (and ongoing) series of spam from Spencer Mains at a company called LiveRamp. Spencer, being the hipster type, is fond of “bumping his way to the top of my inbox”, in an effort to just “circle up” and “hop on a call.”

May 18, 2016

May 25, 2016

June 22, 2016

July 1, 2016

Just another day in Spain

To give you a sense of life in Andalucia Spain, I present to you the short journey from my office in Marbella, to the small restaurant where I frequently have lunch.

We begin with the city employee doing some trimming. As we all know, safety equipment—i.e. a face shield and ear protection—are best left sitting off in the distance somewhere.

You can also see that the weed-whacker has no shield itself, so I feel fortunate to have made it past without having my life brought to a sudden end with a stone shot through my forehead.

(What’s actually surprising about this photo, is that there’s not five other city employees watching this guy do his job. My guess is that they’re around the corner somewhere on break.)

Now it’s time to cross the road. But as you can see, the driver of the Spa Experts van felt the zebra pedestrian crossing made an excellent parking place instead. (BTW, this van is parked here nearly every day.)

One last obstacle before arriving at the restaurant—the Mapfre driver evidently forgot what the purpose of a sidewalk is for.

All in all, just another day in Spain.

Disappointing support from WooThemes

Makalu was recently hired to redesign an e-commerce site running on WordPress, and implementing its shop using the WooCommerce system.

To begin the process, we mirrored the production site to a staging server, and over the course of a week or so redesigned the site using a new theming framework. The customer approved the new design, giving us the green light to launch. Unfortunately, launching wasn’t as simple as flipping a switch.

The problem was that while we were working on the redesign, the production site’s WooCommerce data progressed with respect to the data on the staging site—i.e. some new orders came in, and several of monthly subscriptions renewed. So before launching the redesigned site, we needed a way to selectively update the staging site with just the WooCommerce data from the production site.

But the problem with that is that Woo orders, being just another “content type” in WordPress, are found in the WordPress “Posts” table, and live alongside the short-code based definition of the site’s web pages—meaning that if we copied over the entirety of the Posts table from Production to Staging, we’d lose all of our redesign work! (The architecture of WordPress is so brittle in that regard, but that’s the subject of another post.)

I decided to contact WooThemes support, and after 10 days have gotten nowhere, as you’ll see below.

Here’s the question I posted on March 4th:

Four days later, Constantin Schneider replied, explaining that an FTP client is needed to synchronize files and a database plugin needed to synchronize the database:

So Constantin answered a question I didn’t ask—i.e. how do you completely mirror one WordPress site to another. So I reminded him that I’m asking specifically how to move just WooCommerce data:

Two days later, I got a follow-up reply from Constantin saying he did understand my question, and that I should migrate only the tables containing Woo data. To help with that, he linked to a document which basically lists all tables prefixed with “woocommerce” as belonging to WooCommerce.

Of course, this completely ignores the point I raised about Woo orders being located in the Posts table, and therefore mixed in with the site’s layout information. The needed update isn’t as simple as moving the WooCommerce tables.

So I replied, pointing that out:

Four days later, Mindy Postoff replies, that yes, the Woo orders data does live in the Posts table:

Heavy sigh. Evidently, she didn’t take the time to read the thread’s history; otherwise, she would have known that by answering “yes” to that questions, that my original question remains completely unanswered!

So here we are, 10 days after my original post, and we have no progress at all. This is what happens, I guess, when your support staff try to blow through a backlog of requests at the speed of light. People don’t take the time to understand what the customer is actually asking, nor do they take the time to understand the background context of a thread they’re jumping into the middle of.

So disappointing. Thanks Woo.

Update: Woo makes things right

I notified Woo about this blog article, and credit where credit is due, they responded by acknowledging the deficiency in the process, apologizing for it, and taking some actions that went above and beyond what would be necessary to make things right. Hopefully this experience will allow Woo to re-consider how support is handled (which these days isn’t just a challenge for Woo, but all providers trying to figure out how to scale support), but thanks and hats off to Mindy Postoff for her response, and I’m again a happy Woo customer.

Update 2: How we ultimately did the migration

Ah, for those of you stumbling across this article, and interested in how we finally migrated the data: Unfortunately, even with the extensions offered by Mindy as part of their effort to help, it turns out there simply does not exist a straightforward way to migrate only the WooCommerce data from one site to another. This is almost shockingly surprising, since one can only imagine that an occasional re-design would exist as part of the lifecycle of any WooCommerce-based site.

In the end, though, we had to actually take the production site offline, while we manually re-built it according to the work we did on staging. In our case, this was possible because of two things:

  1. The new site is built using Divi, which provides a mechanism to export saved layouts, and then import them in another site. Not quite as convenient as something like “export this whole theme setup”, but certainly better than having to manually re-build each page in Production. So the way this worked was, I exported a saved layout for each page in the site, and then imported that layout into the corresponding page on the Production site.

  2. Our customer’s site only has about 10 pages in total, and so it only took us about an hour (during which the site was offline) to completely rebuild it.

Need to remove PGP Whole Disk Encryption from a Mac

In dire frustration, I just posted the following to the Symantec forums:


I have a mid-2011 iMac, with an SSD startup drive. At some point during the lifetime of this Mac, I installed—and thought I uninstalled—PGP Whole Disk Encryption. Certainly the startup drive has not been encrypted for years.

It’s now 2015, and I can’t upgrade this Mac to OS X 10.11. When I try to reboot the machine after an upgrade, the strike-through circle is shown, indicating that there’s no OS installed. The problem, I’m discovered, is related to this:

Apparently, the startup partition is of a scheme type:

com_pgp_wde_GUIDPartitionScheme_v2

Trying a clean install, I’ve determined that no combination of disk formatting or re-partitioning using Apple’s Disk Uitilities can fix this. It seems the disk is instrumented with WDE in a way that simply can’t be removed.

Trying to get this solved through Symantec support is a nightmare — the support portals have been migrated so many times since 2011, that the account information I see when logging in makes no sense. And just like the work-flow for posting in this forum—PGP for Mac isn’t listed, and I have no idea what “community” to choose—all of Symantec seems designed for large corporation IT departments, rather than individual consumers.

The last PGP product I owned, was licensed back in 2011.

I’m hoping with this post, that someone here might be able to help me figure out how to get PGP definitely off this drive, so that I can upgrade the operating system. Thanks so much in advance.

Best regards,

Matt Henderson


Update — Symantec support on Twitter hooked me up with a great support engineer at Symantec named Mike Ankeny. His suggestion was:

  1. Boot to the OS X installer.
  2. Open the terminal utility.
  3. Run the following command in terminal: fdisk -u /dev/disk0
  4. Install OS X or restore from backup.
  5. Boot the system.

Can clarified that the reason for doing this was:

That command is actually going to rewrite the entire boot sector. The partition showing as com_pgp_wde_GUIDPartitionScheme_v2 is a false positive. The actual issue comes from an incomplete uninstall of PGP. The boot partition still retains some PGP flags, which try to redicrect the boot to the PGP configuration files, which no longer exist, so no operating system is found. Even though new boot information is written to the disk, the PGP data stuck in there gets in the way. A standard reinstall of OS X does not clear the boot partition first. After clearing the boot sector and reinstalling OS X, you should be back to a normal partition scheme.

I tried this, and ran into an error:

Could not open MBR file /usr/standalone/i386/boot0: 
No such file or directory. Do you wish to write new MBR? [n]

I answered the second with “y”, hit return, and was returned to the prompt. Running the fdisk command again resulted in the same thing. All my data remained on the disk, and so it seems nothing was done to the disk.

So I’m waiting for Mike to follow up.

Poor user experience design at CapitalOne

During the past few years, the financial institution CapitalOne hinted at the importance they give to design, through the acquisition of design companies Adaptive Path in 2014 and Monsoon in 2015.

My guess is that they’ve been focusing their efforts on the recently-released CapitalOne mobile app, which I have to say reflects some wonderful design work.

My hope is that in the future, they’ll turn their attention to the website, which still suffers some usability problems like the following.

Curious whether my credit card auto-pay is properly configured, I visited the CapitalOne.com website today, and clicked on “Manage Auto-Pay”. Here’s where that led:

I was almost certain that I already had auto-pay setup, but it looks like I don’t. In that case, let’s click “Get Started” to set it up…

The red alert—cognitively communicating that I did something wrong and, furthermore, am attempting to do something disallowed (adding more than one AutoPay to an account)—reveals that in fact I did already have auto-pay setup, and so all my confusion and frustration was unnecessary.

The Deck’s Updated Privacy Statement

Via DaringFireball, The Deck’s updated privacy statement reads:

On rare occasions, we have allowed specific advertisers to use a simple 1×1 tracking pixel for limited periods of time. Given the current environment, we’re not going to be doing that any more.

Saying your tracking was limited to an itty-bitty 1×1 tracking pixel, is like saying your lie was little and white. Tracking is tracking, just like a lie is a lie.

The Deck forgot that trust is like a piece of paper—once it’s crumpled, it can’t be perfect again.

John Gruber thinks this isn’t complicated

John Gruber wanted Marco Arment to whitelist The Deck, because “it’s not crap”. When someone asked Gruber what Arment should do about other “non crap”, his reply was to whitelist those too, as “This isn’t complicated.”

So what’s Arment to do when the email arrives from the guy in Brazil saying, “Hey, you whitelisted The Deck. Can you whitelist this Brazilian ad network as well? I know you can’t read the language, but take my word for it — it’s not crap either.” And then the request from Turkey. And then the request from China.

Gruber’s view on this issue seems a bit short-sighted to me—It IS quite complicated.

PS: Of course, we all know by now that Arment pulled Peace from the App Store. And as expected in his usual passive-elitist style, he writes (paraphrasing):

What a success Peace has been—amazing! But having earned a bucket of money in 36 hours, I decided to pull the app from the store because—it just doesn’t feel good. I’m getting heat from my buddies. I’m “winning”, but I’ve not enjoyed it. And fortunately for me, I’m in a position such that I don’t even need the success! And in case you’re wondering why I couldn’t figure all this out 36 hours ago—you know, before you all actually bought the app—don’t bother asking, because I’m not going to reply to any mentions on Twitter. (Of course, any of you that have ever emailed or Tweeted to me before with a question about any other product of mine you bought, already know I don’t reply — unless you’re a buddy.)

Oh how I hate Intuit — Awful behavior from QuickBooks Online

Oh, how I hate Intuit. For lack of any decent alternative, I use QuickBooks Online. This morning, when opening the Mac app, I’m notified that an update has happened, and I find this giant un-dismissable block front and center in the UI:

Apparently I’ve been assigned a “Task” to complete some bloody setup. Clicking, I arrive to this screen:

I’m offered two “preferences” for QuickBooks Payroll, neither of which is, “I don’t fucking want this service”. Leaving the default selected, and clicking, “See your plan” leads to:

I don’t want the “recommended” service, but there’s only two links on this screen, “Back” or “Next”.

Unbelievably, “Next” takes me back to the home screen of QuickBooks Online, giving the impression that nothing has happened, and STILL there is no way to cancel that giant damn “You have a task” block.

But here’s the kicker — An email from Intuit arrives confirming that I’VE JUST SIGNED UP TO QUICKBOOKS PAYROLL for $30 per month, and if I want to cancel I HAVE TO CALL THEM!

So a “Next” button actually signs you up. No confirmation. No, “You’re about to make a purchase.”

Fuming that I had to spend my time with this, I called, and was told that the subscription has been cancelled. While they couldn’t give me a cancellation confirmation code, they did say I’d receive a cancellation email in about 5 minutes. Well, 5 minutes later, here’s what arrived:

Un. Fucking. Believable.

Reaching out to @QBCares on Twitter, they tried their best to help, and after DMing them my company ID, they did manage to cancel the payroll subscription, and I did then receive cancellation confirmation emails.

But then, unbelievably, 10 minutes after that I received a new set of welcome emails! OMG, and even the @QBCares people were face-palming. They did some more digging and reported it was a “v2” software bug, and they were immediately rolling back to “v1” to fix it.

I will repeat — Oh, how I hate Intuit.

Unbelievably bad experience with Skype (You just can’t make this stuff up.)

Today I received an email from Skype, informing me that my Skype Number was about to expire, and that I didn’t have enough “credits” to process the renewal:

My first inclination was change the payment method, but clicking that button in Safari did absolutely nothing.

Next, I tried to purchase some credits. Amazingly, the site doesn’t tell you how many credits you need, so I tried purchasing $25, returned to the page, and it continued to report that I don’t have enough credit. Same thing after another $10 purchase. And again after another $10 purchase!

When my account finally had $51 in credits I thought, “Jeez Louise! How much does one of these Skype numbers cost!?!”

At that point, tired of losing time, I thought I’d give Chrome a try, and see if the change-payment button issue was a browser incompatibility. Sure enough, it was, and I switched to credit card payment for the renewal.

Wanting to get my previous Skype-credit purchases refunded, I started a chat session with Skype Support, during which I was actually told that:

  1. It’s not possible to know how many credits are needed to renew a Skype Phone number
  2. Even after purchasing enough credits to cover the renewal, the website will continue to report that you do NOT have enough credits.
  3. She’s going to report this to the developers, so they can “add that feature“.

You really have to read the following transcript yourself to truly appreciate the insanity.

You are now chatting with ‘Karen E’:

  • Karen E: Hello! My name is Karen. Welcome to Skype Live Support! What can I help you with today?
  • Matt H: Hello, to understand the problem I’m having, please see this screenshot: http://d.pr/i/1beKy
  • Karen E: Hi there! I do apologize but I cannot see any screen shot here.
  • Matt H: Are you telling me, you are unable to use a web browser while we are talking? The link I sent is to a web page that contains an image
  • Karen E: Yes, I can use it, however, the screen shot you provided is blocked here in our end.
  • Karen E: But I can send you an email now and you can reply to it and attach the screen shot.
  • Matt H: Can you just try to open the link in your web browser?
  • Karen E: I already did that, but again, it is blocked.
  • Matt H: Ok, please sent the email.
  • Karen E: Sending it now. By the way, may I have your Skype name and email address?
  • Matt H: Before entering the chat, I was asked for my Skype name and email address. It seems sad that you don’t have access to that information.
  • Karen E: I understand. However, since we have new process now, we do not see your account information now. That’s why we need to get your Skype name and email address. We do apologize for the inconvenience.
  • Matt H: OK, you’ll now sent the email? Can I attach the screenshot image to that email in reply?
  • Karen E: Yes, please. I already sent the email and you can reply to it now.
  • Matt H: OK, you should now have it. So here is the problem: When logging into Skype, I’m alerted to the fact that my Skype Number will expire in 2 days as I have insufficient Skype Credit. So my first question is: How much credit is needed? But guess what? — There’s no way to know how much credit is needed.
  • Karen E: As I can see here, your skype number is worth $24.00. You will not be informed on how much Skype credits you needed. This is because Skype credits has fixed amount. Do not worry, I will take note of this and will forward this to our developers.
  • Karen E: As I have also noticed on your screen shot, you mentioned that when you click on change payment method, nothing happens after. Does something pop up or did you get any error messages?
  • Matt H: Nothing happens. It’s broken in Safari on the Mac. You would imagine it would be tested on such a common browser, but evidently not.
  • Karen E: Oh I understand. Do you have any browser? Can you try to change the payment method again using IE? This is for us to isolate the issue.
  • Matt H: Since the website doesn’t inform the user how much credit is needed, I started purchasing credits, hoping to eventually see this screen update with a message like, “OK, you now have enough credit.” Eventually, after two purchases, the website reported that my credit balance was $51 And this screen STILL reports I don’t have enough credits. So I finally tried it on Chrome, and found that the Change Payment Method works And so I switched it to credit card.
  • Karen E: Oh okay, I understand.
  • Matt H: So now, I would like my purchases refunded, as I don’t need $51 of credits.
  • Karen E: All right for your first concern, yes, you will not notified if you already have sufficient funds. For Skype number that’s payment method is Skype credits, you just need to add credits on your account (make sure that it will cover the amount of your number) then your number will automatically renew within 24 hours.
  • Karen E: I am adding this now to the lists that I can forward to our developers. And for the browser, we really cannot assure that your browser will work, so if that happens we highly suggest to use different brower.
  • Karen E: I can process a refund for you. Do you have an order number for those Skype credits?
  • Matt H: There were three orders, for $25, $10 and $10
  • Karen E: Thank you very much, is that all? Let me refund this for you now.
  • Matt H: I still have a question: If you’re going to tell the user that they don’t have enough credits to renew their number, and you’re not going tell them how many credits they need, then why doesn’t this alert clear itself after they’ve purchased enough credits? You said my phone number needs $24, but the alert remained active even after I purchased $51 of credits.
  • Karen E: As mentioned, Skype credits has fixed amount. Meaning once you purchase it, it will show you the amount you purchased. No worries, I have already forwarded this to our developers, currently, Skype does not have the option to alert you once you have reached the amount of your number.
  • Matt H: What I’m saying is, once my credit balance was $51, why does the alert still say, “You don’t have enough credits”. If the balance on my account is $10,000 would it continue to report that I don’t have enough credits?
  • Karen E: Yes, that is correct, that option is not available in Skype yet. But do not worry, we are already aware of this and our developers are working on this feature. We do apologize for this inconvenience.
  • Matt H: Ok, well, it will be really great when that feature is available, so that if I have enough credits on the account, the website will not report that I do NOT have enough credits. Please tell the developers I appreciate the effort for going the last mile to consider such subtle details.
  • Karen E: I do understand that. Thank you for raising this up. Hopefully, this feature will be added soon.
  • Matt H: I hope so, too. And thank you for your the help today.
  • Karen E: You are most welcome Matt 🙂 It’s been a pleasure assisting you today. I hope you continue to enjoy Skype. Have a great and safe day!

Poor 4G network performance with my iPhone 6

While traveling this past week, and staying in a hotel with awful wifi, I tried working with my MacBook Air tethered to my iPhone 6. The network performance seemed almost as bad as the hotel wifi, even though presumably I had a good 4G connection.

By chance, I tried tethering to my iPad mini, connected to the same Vodafone 4G network, and the performance was much better.

Running SpeedTest on both devices revealed terrible performance on the iPhone, compared to the iPad:

As you can see, download speeds of 37 megabits per second on the iPad, but only 0.5 megabits per secondfor the iPhone. And a similar story with upload speeds.

Both devices are connected to the same Vodafone 4G network. Both are running iOS 8.4. The only difference I can see is the carrier profile settings — version 20.0 on the iPad and 20.1 in the iPhone.

After resetting my iPhone to factory settings, which allowed me to revert to carrier settings version 20.0—a process, btw, that took a few hours, since a full restore-from-backup is required—the network problems went away, and I again had 40ms ping times, and 50+ Mbit of download and upload.

A few days later, though, getting tired of having to cancel the carrier update alert, I allowed it to update the carrier settings to 20.1 and immediately experienced the networking problems again. I noticed, however, that if I activate a VPN over 4G, everything is fine.

A friend of mine has an iPhone 6 with the 20.1 carrier setting, and his iPhone’s 4G networking works fine. So it seems to be some problem with version 20.1 settings specifically on my iPhone.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any way to revert carrier settings, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to reset and restore the phone again. 🙁

Awful experience ordering from Timbuk2’s European distributor

Update — Timbuk2 is really a great company. After posting the story below, the head of Timbuk2 European operations reached out to inform me that the company operating the Timbuk2.eu website is unaffiliated with Timbuk2, and that later this year Timbuk2 will have its formal Europe-wide distribution channel in place, hopefully putting an end to this confusing situation.

And in the meantime, they’ve dispatched to our office the bag that my colleague intended to order. Even if it’s not their fault, they don’t want any such situation to be associated with their brand. What great customer service!


As a long-time satisfied Timbuk2 bag carrier, all purchased back when I lived in the US, I convinced my Finnish office colleague to give their products a try. As we live in Spain, he ordered a bag through what appears to be Timbuk2’s European distributor, timbuk2.eu. The experience was absolutely awful.

  1. One hour after placing his order for an XS-sized bag, he realized that the material was different than the same-colored S-sized bag he had been looking at when deciding what to order.
  2. He immediately emailed Timbuk2 to change the color of the order, so that his XS-sized bag would at least be made of the material he wanted.
  3. His email, and three follow-ups went unanswered.
  4. Doing some googling, he found a second website apparently operated by the same people. That website listed another email address, and so he tried there.
  5. He received a reply simply stating, “Here’s your tracking link”, with no reference to the change of order he’d requested.
  6. To add insult to injury, the tracking link was to someone else’s order! (Somebody in Germany!)
  7. After three more emails went unanswered, he finally wrote, “If you don’t confirm my change of order, I’m going to cancel the order.”
  8. That email was immediately answered with, “Here’s a different tracking link. Your bag arrive soon.” (in broken English).
  9. All subsequent emails asking, “But did you understand my change of order?” went unanswered.

Today, his bag arrived, and his order had indeed been changed—and completely screwed up. They sent him the wrong color and wrong size! (They sent him an S-sized bag, of another color.)

He doesn’t know what to do now. Should he accept the wrong-sized bag, in the wrong color? (He spent a couple weeks with my own XS- and S-sized models, before carefully deciding that he wanted the XS size.) But he can’t bear the thought of trying to organize a return with these people.

It’s simply hard to imagine that a company with the brand trust that Timbuk2 has in the United States, would condone such awful operations in Europe.

The “repaired” zipper on my Tom Bihn Co-Pilot

The main compartment zipper on my Tom Bihn Co-Pilot zipper broke a month or so ago. To avoid the round-trip cost of sending the bag back to the United States from Spain to have Tom Bihn repair it, they suggested I give a try to having it repaired locally. I paid nearly $20, and here’s the result — a “magic’ zipper that doesn’t close.

Next step will be to reach out to Tom Bihn to ask whether they could ship me a zipper, that I have locally installed.

Why the Flickr Mac Uploader needs to stop auto-creating albums

Recently, Flickr introduced a Mac Uploader application, promoting the idea that with 1TB of free storage, Mac users could now store a copy of all their photos at Flickr, conveniently and automatically. In the interest of redundancy, I installed the Mac Uploader, and pointed it to the “Photos Library.photoslibrary” package file that’s managed by Photos.app.

Soon afterwards, I discovered a potential show-stopper in my use of the Flickr Mac Uploader—it auto-creates a Flickr album for every sub-folder it finds within the local folders it monitors. So today, in this tweet, I mentioned that if Flickr do not change this behavior, I’ll have to stop using the Uploader.

The folks manning the lines at @FlickrHelp responded in a way that would suggest that they do not understand the distinction between how people locally manage their photos, and how people want to use Flickr.

Flickr needs to understand the following:

  1. People commonly store their photos locally in a folder hierarchy. That folder hierarchy contains all their photos.
  2. People commonly use Flickr as a place to create a curated set of albums. These curated albums represent a subset of the person’s photos.

FlickHelp’s response would suggest that their expectation is that all my photos are stored locally in one big, flat folder.

In my case, within Photos.app on my Mac, I organize my photos into albums like, “2015-06 Trip to Granada”. At the filesystem level (inside the package file), Photos.app then stores the Master files in a sub-folder with the same name.

Historically, after organizing my new photos in contextually logical albums in Photos.app, I’ve always then selected a curated sub-set of these photos—generally no more than 30—and uploaded just those into a new album at Flickr, for personal enjoyment and sharing.

So whereas my local photo storage contained all my photos, Flickr has always been the place for just the best.

But the problem now is that the Flickr Mac Uploader sees all these sub-folders created by Photos.app in its local storage, and then auto-creates albums at Flickr, completely breaking the fundamental purpose for which I’ve always used Flickr. Now, my Flickr albums now containing all my photos, instead of just the best!

Hopefully this now explains the situation, and hopefully this makes its way in front of whoever at Flickr has the authority to make a change, and remove the behavior in the Mac Uploader of auto-creating albums, or at least provides a preference to disable that behavior.


Update — Having read my article, the folks @FlickrHelp replied with a suggestion that I point the Flickr Uploader to a folder called, “Best”:

I get that they are trying to be friendly and helpful, but after reading this, I’m now almost certain that the people behind @FlickrHelp neither manage their own photos, nor use the Flickr service. In a nutshell, here’s what he (or she) is suggesting:

  1. I create a local folder called, “Best”, and point the Flickr Uploader to it.
  2. Within that folder “Best”, I create sub-folders for the albums I want in Flickr.
  3. From within Photos.app, I export the photos I want in Flickr to those album sub-folders in my “Best” folder.
  4. Flickr Uploader then uploads those photos, creating my desired albums.

And here are the two obvious issues that anyone familiar with photo management and/or Flickr would immediate understand:

  1. This suggestion kills Flickr’s own promoted benefit, of putting all your photos in the service.
  2. If I only want a subset of my photos in Flickr, using the on-demand Flickr uploader that’s built into apps like Photos.app would be infinitely more convenient than the process described above!

Privacy invasion — Vodafone Spain has become the new NSA

This morning, my colleague surfed over to Daring Fireball on his iPhone, via the Vodafone Spain 4G network. Here’s what he saw — a strange red bar appearing at the top of the screen.

Tapping the bar revealed a Vodafone Spain security slide-over, with a “Service Access” button:

Tapping the Service Access button brings us into the “Vodafone Secure Net” area—completely with the obligatory system error message (it is Vodafone after all)—and providing access to user-adjustable security settings, including file and virus blocks, and the blocking of web pages that Vodafone considers insecure.

Finally, tapping the hamburger menu icon provides access to an area where a user can view their access records.

It’s currently empty—presumably due to the same system error behind the error message on the first screen—but one thing is clear: The intent of the system is to track and record all the websites I visit using my iPhone, and so Vodafone Spain has become the new NSA.

QuickBooks Online and the un-dismissable guide

A while back I switched from using QuickBooks for Mac 2012, to using QuickBooks Online. The online service includes a Mac app, which is little more than an HTML wrapper. As such, it suffers horribly from caching issues, but that’s for another article. For today’s rant, let’s look at what’s permanently pinned to the bottom of the Mac app’s window:

This is a “Show Me How” guide, that includes three tutorials in which the app will walk you through the process of creating an invoice, customizing a report and adding a user.

I already know how to do all that, so I’d simply like to dismiss this window, since even when collapsed, the “Show Me How” label obscures controls like the “Reconcile” button.

Chatting with the friendly Twitter people @QBCares, I’ve learned that you actually have to go through the tutorials before the guide is dismissable.

Unlike every other product I’ve used that offered a guide, there’s no option to simply “skip” it!

Online filing of FBARs (FinCEN Report 114) still requires Adobe Reader

Each year, American citizens, residents and green-card holders are required to report their interests in foreign financial accounts on the FinCEN Report 114 form—more commonly known as the “FBAR”. This report can be filed online at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network BSA E-Filing System.

(The very name of the website suggests that the government’s default position is that you’ve somehow already committed a crime.)

In the past, filing one’s FBARs required the Adobe Reader plugin to be running inside the browser. So this year, I was pleased to find the FBAR website reporting a second option, in which specifically, “Adobe Reader is NOT Required”:

Upon submitting the data using the “Online Form” option, the FBAR website provided me with a link to download a PDF document that I’m advised to “retain indefinitely” as evidence of my filing. But here’s the kicker—to read the downloaded PDF file, REQUIRES ADOBE READER!

Here’s what you see when opening the PDF in OS X Preview.

And this is what the same PDF looks like when opened in Adobe Reader:

So how do we get a copy of this PDF in a format that can be read by something other than Adobe Reader?

Well, the first thing you might think to try is “Print to PDF”—creating a new “normal” copy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work:

Reading this dialog box, your second idea might be to create a new version through the “File → Save” mechanism. Nope, that doesn’t work either; with that, you’ll just get another PDF that requires Adobe Reader to read.

Turns out, the only option you have for generating a receipt of your submitted FBARs in a form that doesn’t require Adobe Reader is to print out a paper copy from within Adobe Reader, and then scan them back into your computer.

Welcome to 1998!

Bank of America Online—Get ready for a major change!

Bank of America are making a change to their website so dramatic they need to continually remind me about it—starting six months in advance.

What kind of change could be so important? Are you sitting down? They are going to put the username and password on a single screen instead of two, and will drop the display of my “SiteKey” image.

Of course I’ve created a new high-priority OmniFocus project called, “Get ready for the Bank America login change”, and will soon fill it with all the actions needed to ensure I’m fully prepared when they finally flip the switch on this at the end of the year.

Thanks for the head’s up, Bank of America; I’ll be ready.

Auto-creation of albums in Flickr uploader for Mac

For years, my photo management workflow has involved:

  1. Importing my photos into whatever Mac application I was using at the time—beginning with iPhoto, then later Aperture, most recently, Photos.

  2. Organizing those imports into a chronological folder structure of events.

  3. For those really special events, selecting a sub-set of edited photos (usually less than 30) and uploading those into a new album at Flickr.

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p>And so Flickr was the place that contained our family’s collection of publicly accessible, carefully curated photo albums.

Recently Flickr rolled out a new auto-uploader utility for Mac. Like many people, I decided to take advantage of the free terabyte of data Flickr now offer, and use the uploader to monitor and upload all photos from my Photos library. By default, all uploaded photos are marked private, and so I figured this system would serve as a good backup of my photo library.

After uploading some 30,000 images, however, I discovered a huge problem: The Flickr uploader created a new Flickr Album for every single folder of photos I’ve ever created in the above-listed Step 2.

So now, instead of a carefully curated set of perhaps 100 albums at Flickr, I now have over 1,400!

The situation is made worse:

  1. There’s no way to select multiple albums for batch-deletion.
  2. There’s no way to auto-arrange albums alphabetically in Flickr. So I now have albums with names like “1998 Nepal” listed ahead of albums like “2010 Trip to San Francisco”, and the only way to correct this is to manually drag the album around within the “Organizr” interface.

I recognize the convenience in auto-creating albums, and so I can’t really complain that Flickr chose to do that. But for goodness sake, Flickr, please improve album management, so that I can reasonably clean-up the particular mess I’ve found myself in.

It’s confirmed—Garmin is out the game

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Garmin losing their way in UI/UX design. Then yesterday, I tweeted a feature request feature request to them.

Garmin is one of those companies whose tweets all end with a weird sort of abbreviated signature of the person tweeting—“^AJ” from Bank of America, or in this case, “*CG” from Garmin. I’ve always wondered whether these companies are all outsourcing their social media to the same provider, or are all using the same “hook-up-Twitter-to-your-customer-support” platform.

Either way, a common characteristic of these companies is that you’ll never get anything done through Twitter, and that was the case here. “CG”, rather than passing on the feature suggestion, pointed me to a web form where I can “submit my ideas to their engineers”. (I might have an idea now why design has suffered at Garmin…)

The suggestion form at Garmin asks me to categorize my idea, and, get ready for it, here are the options:

As a consumer, I’m asked to pick whether my idea relates to “On the Road”, “Into Sports” or “On the Go”? Seriously, what’s the difference between those? And do they expect a consumer to even know what “OEM” means?

I find myself wondering whether it even matters which category I pick. With choices like these, surely it can’t. And if it doesn’t, why show me this in the first place?

After submitting your idea, Garmin are diligent about making it abundantly clear that (a) you’re not going to hear back from them, and (b) don’t try following up.

Good job, Garmin. You’ve officially lost it.

The Philips phone that’s going to cause me to lose my hearing

After years of using Siemens phones at work, I replaced the last phone with this one from Philips—and as a consequence I’m going to lose my hearing.

Every phone I’ve owned has worked in the following way: The act of pulling the phone out of the base answers the call—i.e. it rings, you pull it out of the base, put it to your ear, and start talking.

Not so with the Philips. With the Philips, you actually have to press the green telephone icon to answer the call.

The consequence of that, of course, is that now when the phone rings, I pick it up, put it to my ear, say “Hello” and then…the phone blasts the next ring directly into my ear!

Philips — The company all about Innovation. Design. Change.

PS: If you’ve called me recently, and I seem to be in a bad mood when answering, you now know why.

What happened to UI/UX design at Garmin?

From the design of recent Garmin products, I’m guessing they fired their UI/UX team and delegated this activity to overseas outsourcing or something. To understand where I’m coming from with that sentiment, let’s fire up the new Garmin Express for Mac app and take a look.

At launch, you’re presented with this distinctly non-Mac, way-too-tall yet unresizable window (it’s long, so be sure to keep scrolling):

The design of this window, and importance given to the “Add” action, suggests that Garmin believes the average customer owns several devices, and adds them frequently. I have only one device, so this screen just slows me down. Let’s click “Forerunner 910XT”.

I’m comfortably reassured that my device is syncing my queue—as opposed to, say, someone else’s queue.

And thinking about it, I have no idea what other activities could happen here in parallel that would even justify the use of the word “queue”. Perhaps it’s related to the assumption that I’m using multiple devices? Is the expectation that I would typically arrive to my desk with an armful of Garmin products needing to be synced? Anyway…

Syncing is now complete, and we see that my queue was last synced “@ 7:16 AM”. The slight cognitive load of having to interpret the symbol “@” is presumably justified by the saving of one character on the screen compared to just writing out the word “at”.

And although I last synced “Today” @ 7:16am (capitalized, of course, because Today is special), it appears that I last “checked” @ 7:12am—an unexplained discrepancy that, if nothing else, serves to conclude the sync workflow leaving me feeling slightly uneasy.

Now let’s go visit the Garmin Connect website, where my data has been sent.

The Connect website presents me with an environment of multiple “dashboards”, each containing multiple informational “cards”—configuration and flexibility taken to the extreme.

I’ve created a new “untitled” dashboard, so let’s go see if we can figure out how to add some cards to it.

Well, it’s not done by clicking the dropdown menu to the right of “untitled”. That’s for renaming and deleting the dashboard.

And it’s not done by clicking the “plus” icon to the right of the screen; that adds an entirely new dashboard.

What about that hamburger menu control on the left? If we hover over that, a menu slides open exposing three gray-colored, and unfortunately unlabeled, icons.

Since I’ve otherwise run out of things to click on, I’m expecting that surely one of these options allows adding of dashboard cards. But clicking each in succession, I unfortunately discover that’s not the case.

I’m guessing at this point most people would give up—but I’m a product guy dammit and I know there has to be some way add cards to this new dashboard!

In a frustrated flurry of clicking, I finally crack it — It turns out that the hamburger menu control icon has a double function! If, after hovering over it, you actually click the menu control icon itself, a sub-menu appears containing a list of cards that can be added to the dashboard!

So here we have a hamburger icon that, on hover, triggers the opening of a slide-out menu—a common UI pattern we’ve all become accustomed to nowadays from mobile apps. Inside this menu, we find three gray-colored icons—visually communicating access to three functionalities. But in reality, although it’s visually hidden, this menu area actually provides access to four! And rather than simply adding a fourth gray-colored menu item, the designer of this interface chose to hide the fourth, perhaps most important, functionality behind the menu control icon itself.

So confusing, so illogical, so undiscoverable—it’s honestly quite difficult to imagine how one could even come up with that. But on reflection, perhaps it’s not so surprising coming from a designer who would abbreviate “at” with “@” elsewhere in the interface. In any case, this is a prime example of the deterioration of design at Garmin. And for a company that’s likely to find it increasingly harder to compete on hardware, software design is pretty much all they have left!