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Thank you, Apple, for iPhone Encryption

ip6-under-the-hoodThough our national security is an absolute imperative, the Edward Snowden revelations about mass NSA surveillance—and what most of us see as a direct violation of our Constitution by them (as well as their practice of passing that data to the DEA, FBI, IRS and local law enforcement)—the intelligence community made their bed…and now they have to lie in it.

From Wired’s article called Apple’s iPhone Encryption Is a Godsend, Even if Cops Hate It:

It took the upheaval of the Edward Snowden revelations to make clear to everyone that we need protection from snooping, governmental and otherwise. Snowden illustrated the capabilities of determined spies, and said what security experts have preached for years: Strong encryption of our data is a basic necessity, not a luxury.

And now Apple, that quintessential mass-market supplier of technology, seems to have gotten the message. With an eye to market demand, the company has taken a bold step to the side of privacy, making strong crypto the default for the wealth of personal information stored on the iPhone. And the backlash has been as swift and fevered as it is wrongheaded.

Though this is clearly the right thing for Apple’s business—especially if they continue to hope to sell in countries like China (see Apple iPhone a danger to China national security)—I still want to say, “Thank you Apple…seriously.

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Apple’s ‘Special’ Financing is Special Alright!

apple-financing

Just went on Apple’s web store to see about lead times for shipping the new iPhone 6. When I clicked to check financing options, this “Limited time offer” appeared.

Check out the paragraph below the “Apply Now” button where it states:

The purchase APR will be 22.99% or 26.99% variable, based on your creditworthiness.

Those are interest rates that a mobster named Lenny-the-kneecapper would love, no doubt. If you choose one of these payment options and miss one payment or are late, the interest rates kick in. It simply is a bad option and why so many people get in to debt with interest rates that mean you end up paying double, triple or more for a device like this one.

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Use Google Voice with a Phone for Next-to-Nothing

phone-iconIn addition to my mobile phone, I’m using a Google Voice (GV) number with a landline phone…and you won’t believe how cheap it is!

As a long time GV user, I was pleased to be able to ‘save’ my Dad’s phone number after he passed away last year. He and Mom had the greatest phone number ever and enjoyed having the easy-to-remember number for nearly 50 years. My sisters and I didn’t want to see that number vanish in to the ether, so I ported it to GV.

The number is SO easy to remember, I’ve begun giving it out as my own personal direct line. I have GV set so it rings my iPhone and SkypeIn phone number so I never miss a call. At work I can also have it ring the desk phone if I choose not to answer a call on Skype or my mobile phone. Pretty convenient. Also, since it is so easy to block spam and telemarketing calls with GV, I am going to place it on my business cards too since my ‘old’ direct line has received an increasing number of spam calls.

Are You Using Your Mobile Phone as Your Primary Business Phone?

mobile-phone-useOh dear God…please don’t use your mobile phone as your primary business line! The quality of a landline-to-mobile phone call is typically so compressed it makes it a bad experience for anyone calling you on your mobile for any length of time.

I find that most people under 35 years of age think it’s perfectly fine to use their mobile phone as their exclusive device for business, but it is not. Your mobile signal is compressed so your voice causes the other person to strain to hear you and it can be quite unpleasant. It’s even worse if you’re on an in-car speaker phone. You also probably don’t realize that, since your mobile signal is compressed even more at peak network usage times (like rush hour), your calls sound even worse to others if you’re in your car, a building, or walking around trying to have a conversation.

So if you are in an office, whether in your home or in a building and you have an alternative, please do not rely solely on your mobile phone for business calls.

A Great Option: Google Voice and the Obihai 200

Obihai200-f-bGoogle has enhanced their Google Hangouts recently by integrating GV in to it. That’s a big deal since many of we GV users had, for some time, been concerned that Google might kill GV due to lack of innovation or attention seemingly being paid to the service.

UPDATE 9/20/14: Obi200 can be used with E911 A friend of mine asked me if the Obi200 could, in fact, be used with 911 service. Turns out it can for $15 per year. Here is an Obihai blog post about it and how to set it up.

Not only is GV integrated in to Hangouts, but Google has extended their free U.S. and Canada calling and their international rates are really low. So keeping in touch is easier and more affordable than ever.

What if you could plug in a box to your internet router, a phone in to the box, and make phone calls for free? Yes, you could buy Vonage and pay $28 or more per month, Ooma for $129 (for the box) and their optional $9.999/month service, or you could buy a cheap box and get free calls.

I like cheap and free, especially since calling-is-calling.

The Deal

Good news for those of us who use voice over the internet (VoIP): Google Voice is now officially supported on OBi VoIP devices AND you can get their Obihai 200 for only $29.99 if you act fast and use the offer code: EMCPAWW99 here at NewEgg.

Here is the PDF datasheet for the Obihai 200 so you can download if you want to learn more, especially since it can do A LOT more than just connect with Google Voice.

Plug the Obihai 200 box in to your internet modem (if it has extra ports), a hub or switch connected to your modem, or an empty port in your Wifi router. Plug a phone in to the Obihai box (I bought this inexpensive Motorola DECT cordless phone for $22 and it feels nice and sounds great) and your total cost will be less than $60…and it will be a one time cost.

Your calls will sound SO much better and your friends, family and those of us on business calls with you will appreciate it!

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Dropbox Pro Now Has 10x More Storage!

dropbox-graphicLike millions of others, I use Dropbox on all my machines as do friends and family. Since I also share Dropboxes with clients, I purchased a Pro account for $9.99 per month and have almost maxed out my 100GB sized service. As of today, that same $10/month will get me 1TB of storage!

Though Dropbox’ unique sync’ing capability and ease-of-use is what has made them explode with more than 300 million users and 80,000 paying businesses using the service, they had to compete with others in the storage space:

  • Amazon launched cut-price Dropbox competitor called Zocalo
  • Microsoft OneDrive (formerly named “SkyDrive”) offers several consumer plans and, instead of Dropbox’ free 2GB os storage, the free level on OneDrive is a whopping 15GBs!

Besides just a lot more storage, there are some really useful day-to-day items which will add a lot of value. Dropbox is offering a surprising amount with this new release and will provide any of us with a Pro account more, so read on for some of the new goodness.

[Read more...]

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Open Letter to Vlad Shmunis, CEO, RingCentral

CLICK FOR A WEDNESDAY, JULY 16th UPDATE
CLICK FOR A FRIDAY, JULY 11th UPDATE

ringcentral-logoAs a RingCentral (RC) customer since May of 2010, we have enjoyed your service and its capabilities. After my initial 40-50 hours of working with your Philippines-based support folks (yes, it was that painful to setup), we finally got everything up and functioning with our two lines (using Cisco analog telephone adapters), our 800#, fax line, and extensions. It has worked quite well ever since and we’ve evangelized RC to many clients and friends, many of whom have signed up with your service.

But man…is it ever hard to upgrade! Though we have had few issues with RC and little need to contact tech support, dealing with your folks in the Philippines is virtually impossible when it comes to upgrading our service or buying new phones!

[Read more...]

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Is the Wells Fargo Mobile App Anti-Security?

wellsfargo-app

The Wells Fargo iPhone app disallows using the “Paste” capability in the phone to paste in long, high entropy passwords copied from my LastPass vault.

It is always interesting to me how banking apps, both web and mobile, specifically making a smartphone or tablet app very hard to use if you use a password with high entropy (see this Wikipedia article on password strength and especially “Entropy as a measure of password strength“).

Since I use a password manager (LastPass) with literally hundreds of sites in my ‘vault’, I use very strong passwords. They are comprised of upper/lowercase letters; numbers; special characters; and are ones that make it simple to have quite strong passwords for anything that matters (and they’re all different!).

So what do I have to do on my iPhone? Open my LastPass vault app; login to LastPass; find my Wells Fargo account; touch it and, in the popup, choose “Copy Password”; and then open the Wells Fargo app and choose the Password field; then choose “Paste”.

EXCEPT THE WELLS FARGO APP DISALLOWS PASTING A PASSWORD IN THE PASSWORD FIELD!

The problem is this: There is NO way I could ever remember my password since it is so long and contains so many characters of different types. Curiously the Wells Fargo app also disallows pasting anything in to the Username field…so I can’t even do a workaround by pasting my high entropy password temporarily in to the Username field and then typing it in the Password field.

Get your shit together Wells Fargo. With this app developed this way you are DISCOURAGING THE USE OF STRONG PASSWORDS! 

Of course, they do say on their website here that, “We take your privacy and security very seriously. Read about why our mobile banking services are secure. Learn more…” but I’m not going to dumb-down my password to use their mobile app.

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New Zealand in 4K

This video, shot in 4k of New Zealand vistas, is visually spectacular (even though my own display is not in 4k resolution). Watch it in full screen mode and enjoy the quality AND see why visiting New Zealand should be on your bucket list:

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Understand What ‘Resolution’ Means

As an amateur photographer, I often try to explain to people why my small Nikon D5000‘s 12.3 million pixels produces a better photo than their smartphone camera or even what could be produced by this new Lumia 930 with its 20 megapixel camera.

Besides the obvious: the lens is bigger, it is that and the sensor in the camera that determines the resolution of the image. I know figuring out resolution, and why it matters, is a challenge so I encourage you to watch this very well presented short video that explains it better than anything I’ve seen yet:

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A 1956 Kodak Camera Priced at $625?

My grandparents had this camera and there was a cheaper version of it at my Dad’s house when he passed away last year. I never paid much attention to it (thinking it was some cheap device) until I was poking around last night at the Internet Archive, going through old television commercials.

Then I watched this one from Kodak in 1956 showing that camera which only cost $74. That doesn’t sound like much, right? A simple purchasing power calculator shows that the relative value of that $74 in today’s dollars would equal $625.00! (This answer is obtained by multiplying $74 by the percentage increase in the consumer price index from 1956 to 2012).

Wow. So I guess paying $199 for a subsidized smartphone—with a built-in camera far superior than this one in it—doesn’t seem like much, heh?

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Why Apple’s Lightning Connector is Perfect

lightning-connector

When Apple first released the lightning connector to go along with the introduction of the iPhone 5 last year, many people were very upset they would have to replace all of their 30-pin connecting cables and devices with this new “Apple standard” connector.

Since I was just compelled to buy new lightning accessories when I received my new iPhone 5S last week, I hadn’t given this much thought until now. But then I read this today and thought, “Seriously Europe?“: 

Apple may be forced to drop Lightning connector for MicroUSB
European law makers may force Apple to drop the
Lightning connector for charging the iPad and iPhone in Europe 

A microUSB connector. You can see it's smaller on one side and larger on the other making it more challenging to plugin correctly.

A microUSB connector. You can see it’s smaller on one side and larger on the other making it more challenging to plugin correctly.

MicroUSB sucks. Apple did the right thing and the connector is amazing and here’s why:

  • Inserting a MicroUSB isn’t easy. It can only go in one way and all the microUSB devices I have usually take at least a couple of attempts to plug it in. The lightning connector can go in either way and I can plug and unplug it in my sleep in the dark (which I never could do with a microUSB device)
  • It’s too simple to choose the wrong power supply. If I had a dollar for every time a family member or friend plugged in the wrong power supply to charge a device just because it was USB or microUSB—choosing one with the wrong amperage or wattage which would have fried their device—I’d have at least 50 bucks  ;-)
  • There are dozens and dozens of third-party microUSB power supplies. Some are cheap, many are rock-solid, but it’s a crap-shoot on what you get when buying. As we’ve seen with Apple being compelled to mitigate the risks with these sorts of devices (see Apple Takes Charge of 3rd-Party Charger Problem With Special Offer) and so many people I know completely clueless about what to buy, Apple is clearly ensuring that these incredibly sensitive devices (i.e., iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) aren’t inadvertently destroyed by plugging them in to God-knows-what.

My $.02 for today.