To do list

There’s too much on my to do list and I’m pretty sure there’s other stuff that needs doing that hasn’t made it on to my to do list and my brain is so busy trying to remember what those things might be that I can’t actually focus on doing any of the things that are on there in case there are more important things that I should be doing instead.

And don’t get me started on the things that have been on my to do list for so long that they are verging on being embarrassing to actually do now. (Like the mischief status that is months overdue here!)

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Misplaced priorities

If I want to sign up to any given mailing list, the first thing I have to do, after giving them my email address, is click the link in the confirmation email they send so they know that
a. I typed my email address correctly
and
b. I actually want to be subscribed to that mailing list

On the other hand, if I want to create an account on, ooh, let’s say Amazon for example, apparently all I have to do is fill in the @&!#ing form. No validation whatsoever.

In other words: I am now getting emails from Amazon India to my GMail account.

Would you like to guess how much use the first-level Amazon UK customer service representatives are at helping resolve this?

Google Account: sign-in attempt blocked

[Note: I am too depressed by the general election to even begin to talk about it, so instead I’m having a rant about tech companies’ inability to communicate usefully.]

Every now and again I get an email from Google with the subject “Google Account: sign-in attempt blocked”.

We recently blocked a sign-in attempt to your Google Account.

Okay. Want to tell me why? No?

Sign-in attempt details
Date & Time: Friday, 8 May, 3:16 p.m. BST
Location: London, UK

Well, I am in London and several devices are powered up here.

If this wasn’t you

Not really enough information here to be able to tell one way or another. Was the sign-in attempt on the Google website? From my email client (on phone, iPad or iMac)? Or maybe my feed reader refreshing in the background as that uses Google as a login? Any hints?

Please review your Account Activity page at https://security.google.com/settings/security/activity to see if anything looks suspicious.

Google wants me to work out whether something was suspicious. When it has presumably already decided that it was suspicious, given that it blocked the attempt…

Whoever tried to sign in to your account knows your password; we recommend that you change it right away.

Oh! So this was a person trying to get into my account. Bugger.

If this was you

Again… Give me something to go on so I can tell if it was or not…

You can switch to an app made by Google such as Gmail to access your account (recommended)

So… It was an app? I’m confused… And how about a link to a page with information about apps made by Google? Just a thought.

or change your settings at https://www.google.com/settings/security/lesssecureapps so that your account is no longer protected by modern security standards.

Well that sounds like a jolly fine idea. NOT. And that linked page? On it there is just a warning that this will make your account vulnerable and an option to turn “Access for less secure apps” on and off. I’m not sure what else I want to see here, but somehow there should be something.

To learn more, see https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/6010255.
Yours sincerely,
The Google Accounts team

That support address at the end? At first glance that looks like it might have some useful information. It even lists some apps that don’t have “modern security standards”. Like the iPhone Mail app on iOS 6 or below (we’re on iOS 8 now)… It also says that I should see a “password incorrect” message when they block an app. Nope. Never seen that. The rest of it is just a repeat of the “get a Google app or turn off security” advice in the email.

After reading the email, I go to the Account Activity page and, yay, there is more detail.

For a start it tells me the IP address the access attempt was made from. Why on earth isn’t this information in the email along with the date and time? Seriously, this one piece of information would immediately avoid any panic, as, so far, it has always been my home IP address. So yes, it was me or one of my devices.

It also tells me that “Google blocked a less secure app from accessing your account.” So, not a person who knows my password then. An app. An app that apparently cannot be identified, even though it is almost certainly Apple mail on either my iPhone or iPad. But of course, the type of device the request came from can’t be identified either.

I’m starting to think the problem is Google’s, not mine.

I’m also not sure which I’m more annoyed about: the useless scaremongering email or the fact that, according to the activity page, Google has blocked a whole bunch of other (unidentified app/unidentified device) accesses in the last week and not bothered to tell me!

I’m all for online services keeping an eye on login activity, watching out for anything that looks a bit dodgy, and letting the user know when they spot something. But if the contact with the user is unclear (app? person?), doesn’t give all the relevant information (IP address and BTW it was an app) and gives confused instructions (change your password now, oh, was it you?), then they might as well not bother. A lot of people will either just panic at the mention of blocked sign-in attempts or will ignore it completely because they don’t understand it or are too frustrated to try and figure it out.

Communicating technical information to people is hard, especially when you don’t know their level of expertise. You don’t want to confuse people who just know how to use the apps they need, and you don’t want to treat people who are technical as though they know nothing. And you can’t assume that either group will be prepared to research past the information in the email you send them. So, yes, it is difficult. But it is vital to get it right, especially when you’re dealing with security issues.

Puzzled

Our house is not very large. It is a pretty well organised house, most things have their home and can usually be found there or close by.

So how on earth can we possibly misplace a cushion?

Keys, glasses, other small things that have no fixed abode I can understand ending up somewhere not immediately obvious. But, a cushion?

It’s red, about a foot square; it’s not the sort of thing that can just slip down the back of the sofa (and believe me, we have checked).

Not only is it nowhere obvious, it is also not in any of the non-obvious places we have checked. And, as I mentioned, this is not a large house, there is a finite number of places where a cushion can be.

I know I haven’t put it away anywhere; I noticed it missing when I cleaned the living room the other day and I remember it being where it should be the last time I cleaned (this is not a daily occurrence; I may be like my mother in many respects but daily dusting and vacuuming is not one of them).

Codepope can’t remember doing anything with it.

I am at the point of believing that next door’s new kitties took a fancy to it and dragged it off into the bushes…

Erroneous app update badge begone!

For several months now there has been a little badge in iTunes telling me that there is an update available for one of my iPhone applications. Doing a “Check for Updates” never found anything and yet the badge remained… taunting me with its inaccuracy and its implications of disorganisation.

A swift search showed that this is not an uncommon problem, but also that there is no single sure-fire solution.

With hindsight the “delete everything in your mobile apps directory and sync, making sure to let iTunes copy all the apps back off your iPhone” suggestion would probably have worked, but that felt a little too drastic and provided too great an opportunity for things to go horribly wrong. And I wouldn’t have learned anything by doing it.

So, taking the opportunity to have a bit of a tidy up of apps, here is what I did instead.

  • A quick check of apps on the iPhone, delete any that didn’t make the grade.
  • Sync
  • Compare apps on iPhone to apps showing in iTunes, delete any extras in iTunes. (There were several, I have no idea why, there shouldn’t be.)
  • Sync
  • Compare apps in iTunes to apps listed in /Users/sarah/Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications, delete any old apps in the folder.
  • Sync

At this point a miracle occurred and the badge disappeared.

Things I have learned:

  • If you delete apps on the iPhone rather than within iTunes the files will never be deleted on the Mac — I knew this but hadn’t considered the implications.
  • iTunes apparently still checks for updates for apps in the Mobile Applications folder even if they aren’t listed in iTunes.

That should be that, but the OCD-afflicted part of my brain is still not happy. It is now annoyed by the untidiness caused by the presence of old versions of current apps in the Mobile Applications folder.

I guess the next step to appease it is to make a backup of the folder, check which apps have multiple versions, Get Info on the app in iTunes to double-check which is the current version (it’s not always obvious from the file names), and delete the old ones.

Then, hopefully, all should be nice and tidy and, as long as I remember to delete apps from iTunes rather than the iPhone, I can forget about it. At least until the next updates arrive and my brain is reminded of the multiple versions that may be accumulating…

Seven years on…

The end of this month will mark seven years since my father died.

He died leaving a mess of papers among which were several documents, both original and photocopied, which purported to be his last will and testament. It took around five years for us to discover that, contrary to the solicitors’ and barrister’s opinions, he had in fact died intestate.

After much discussion, acrimony and demonstrations of outright greed, last year we finally reached the point where the end was in sight and we could look forward to settling the estate.

The estate: I grew up on a small farm, about an acre in size, surrounded by open countryside. This farm is the whole of my father’s estate.

Seven years of neglect and occupation by squatters have left the grounds overgrown, the farm buildings derelict and the house uninhabitable.

Shame about the open countryside really; I enjoyed walking in it growing up but now I wish we’d lived in a small terrace somewhere, at least then we wouldn’t have needed to consider planning permission before selling it:

Whilst I acknowledge that there are a number of buildings located within the site, the site itself is located within the open countryside where new development is strictly controlled … Any planning application is therefore unlikely to be considered favourably.

I am waiting to hear from the solicitors what options remain, but I am having a hard time seeing a positive outcome. It is uninhabitable as it stands, but the house cannot be rebuilt and it would cost a small fortune to clear it well enough to be used as arable land. Who would want to buy it?

When good services go bad

It is so frustrating when a previously reliable and useful service, whether online or off, changes in such a way as to render it almost completely useless.

Case in point: Google Product Search in the UK.

Google Product Search — Froogle as was — used to be a really handy service; mentally filter out eBay (except as a last resort) and a few known dodgy retailers and you’d end up with a list of places in the UK that could sell you whatever it was you were interested in. Okay, it was far from comprehensive and a straight Google search was sometimes required to supplement the results, but it was definitely useful and usable.

Recently though, that has changed.

Same searching, same results list with UK pricing, at first glance it’s the same service. Now start clicking on some of those results and chances are you’ll soon realise what is different: those nice prices with pound signs in front of them in the search results are suddenly transformed into dollar prices with GBP shown in parentheses.

The UK product search has been contaminated with results from US stores.

Yes, I know, those stores will happily ship to the UK. But then you have, in varying degrees, the additional:

  • shipping charge
  • delivery time
  • VAT
  • customs charge
  • courier handling charge
  • grief if the product is faulty and needs returning

UK Product Search should mean just that: products available in the UK.

Not “products that can be shipped to the UK” but “products that are shipped within the UK”.

Or, at the very least, give me the option to search in only UK-based stores.

Please.

Just how wrong can you get it…

Interflora’s description of my Valentine’s Day flowers:


Germini Seduction
This shapely rose-coloured glass vase is overflowing with Germini in hot pink and red shades.
Finished with luxurious foliage and a claret rattan collar, these vivid and vibrant flowers are guaranteed to make someone smile.

The reality:

Valentine’s Day = delivered this afternoon

The delivery guy was at least apologetic about this, though in a way that made it obvious this was not the first bollocking he’d had today and that he was resigned to receiving many more – he even admitted he’d been met with unhappy customers yesterday when he delivered their flowers as late as 11pm. I’d have been more forgiving if they’d at least given some sort of reason for not being able to deliver – a sick driver, a broken down van, a swarm of locusts in the shop, something, anything…

Anyway, back to the description:

rose-coloured glass vase = clear glass vase

overflowing = two fewer blooms than are visible in Interflora’s picture, lots of gaps, unevenly cut and arranged

hot pink and red shades = red, dark pink, pale pink, white and yellow(!)

luxurious foliage = luxurious is overstating it but at least it matched the picture, shame no-one bothered to clean the dirt off it though.

claret rattan collar = insipid baby pink collar made of something that wasn’t rattan (unless it was exceptionally finely shredded rattan)

guaranteed to make someone smile = who?

I know that Interflora’s Ts&Cs allow the florists to make substitutions, but the colour changes and the general lack of care in putting it together turned what should have been a nice, romantic flower arrangement into a very average bunch of flowers in a vase.

Needless to say we won’t be using Interflora again. Not even for their “free flowers sent anywhere by way of apology” offer.

Codepope was lovely though; I got a really nice card first thing in the morning and a gorgeous silver necklace in the evening – the plan being that the flowers should have arrived somewhere in between – and he came back from town this afternoon with another bunch of flowers which I really must go and put in water now.

You are in a maze of twisty passages

F#@* me that was hard work.

Just over 3 weeks ago I noticed that my bank account was nearly £200 short, I checked online and saw an ATM withdrawal somewhere in (I had to Google the town name) Romania. Of course I noticed this just after 6pm on a Friday and the disputed transactions phone line only does office hours so there was nothing to be done until Monday morning.

Monday morning I phone them, am told a replacement card will arrive in around 10 days and they’ll forward the details on to the fraud department who will contact me in about 2 weeks.

The new card and PIN took 2 weeks to turn up so I figured I’d give the fraud department a few extra days too and, having heard nothing, tried to phone them yesterday.

Following the same automated phone system as before I got to the end and was told by the automated voice that “we don’t deal with that, we’ll put you through to the right department and here’s the correct number for future reference”. Unfortunately the computer systems in the “right” department were down and could I call back in 2 hours. Repeat three times.

So this morning I brace myself and call the “right” number. Maybe these quotation marks are giving away the plot…

Sit on hold, think that this is a good sign and the computers must be back up today. Explain problem. Get told I need to talk to another department. Get transferred.

Sit on hold. Explain problem. Get told I need to talk to the fraud department. Get told that the right number to use is not the “right” one, it’s the first one I called, but when it asks if I still have my card I should say “no” not “yes” even though I do.

Get put through to the fraud department switchboard who wants to know how to direct my call. Tell them I’ve been told I need to talk to someone in the fraud department, apparently this isn’t precise enough but eventually I end up…

…back on hold. Explain problem. Apparently I need to talk to the fraud department as whoever I have been put through to by the fraud department switchboard doesn’t appear to actually work in the fraud department and only deals with debit card fraud not ATM fraud. Take a deep breath. Try to find my will to live.

Get transferred. To Howard, the first person who has told me his name. Explain problem. Howard takes my details and checks my account. Fraud have no record of me reporting anything. Weep inwardly. Howard apologises profusely. Howard says he will expedite this and to call back if someone hasn’t called me in 2 days. Confirm that the correct number to call is the first one I used, not the “right” one the system directed me to.

10 minutes later the phone rings. It’s Howard. He has looked into this, it’s obvious it wasn’t me withdrawing money in Romania. He is going to get the money reimbursed and it should be in my account by the end of the week. In fact, Howard can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t have been reimbursed when I first reported it. Howard apologises again, sincerely.

Howard is a very helpful man. And I should hopefully have my money back soon.

Paranormal Warning

Warning

And here was I expecting some serious information about the afterlife. It’s Medium FFS! (Though having just gone to find that link I now learn that it is alledgedly inspired by the real-life story of research medium Allison Dubois… hmm…)

I did not need this warning. I don’t even know anyone who is dumb enough to need this warning.