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Is This a Scam by Symantec?

Can’t help but think that “Norton by Symantec” is trying to scare the beejeesus out of website owners with something that sure smells like a scam to me…or at least a really spammy marketing effort to bolster their contact lists.

One of my businesses, Innov8Press, recently began rebuilding a long-time client’s new website. Before the rebuild started we moved the client to a new webhost as their existing one wasn’t up to handling what the new site will require for technical resources.

This is a site we had built (but were not managing at the time) and is one we cleaned up after a hack two years ago and it has been clean ever since. FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS Google says it is clean. Sucuri says it is clean. The premium Wordfence security suite says it is clean.

So imagine my surprise that, after we’d moved the site, we saw this at the new webhost’s dashboard:

Then I go back to Sucuri — which again, had shown the site to be clean for TWO YEARS until we just moved it last week — and now this appears:

We’ve now invested a couple of hours:

  • Creating an account at Norton Safe Web
  • Interacting on the community forum (basically to ask, “WTF?”)
  • Downloading the verification file
  • Uploading it to the site’s server
  • Requesting a verification as the “site owner”.
SCAM OR JUST SPAMMY MARKETING?

Every fiber in my being tells me this is a spammy attempt to get website “owners”, whether the actual owner or developers like us, to signup for their services. At the very least it’s an attempt to identify website owners so they can email the shit out of us.

If Norton starts spamming us I’ll create a filter in Gmail to instantly set all their emails to “spam.” They’d better not think they can market to us in this fashion like some no-scruples startup, and basically waste the time of website owners like this.

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Stay Secure With The Always Improving Signal App

Staying secure with our communications is finally easy and, only recently, Signal added a computer-client for Mac, Windows and Linux which ties to your smartphone’s Signal app and works flawlessly.

Using encryption for your critical communications has always been a challenge, even for those of us who are hard-core technoweenies. But all that changed when an American computer security researcher and cypherpunk named Moxie Marlinspike created the Signal protocol and later an app called Signal (which is available here for iPhone, Android or desktop/laptop computers).

Signal is widely regarded as the most secure and easiest to use encrypted texting and calling application. It’s a vital tool for journalists, whistleblowers, and ordinary citizens. But it is also so good that the U.S. Senate approved the use of Signal by its staffers due to its end-to-end encryption and bulletproof security.

Even WhatsApp, the communication app that boasts well over 1 billion users, leverages the Signal protocol as the underpinnings of their wildly successful messaging platform.

Why should you use it? With Signal you can send high-quality group, text, voice, video, document, and picture messages anywhere in the world without SMS or MMS fees (obviously you need an internet connection on your phone or computer). But rather than re-hash all the reasons why you should use it, take a peek at a post I wrote in October of 2016 that will detail Why You Should Use the Signal App.

Don’t just take my word for it though:

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Note to Online Publishers: STOP THE AUTOPLAY VIDEOS AND BLARING AUDIO!!

Ever been in a public place, go to a web article in your browser, and suddenly AUDIO STARTS BLARING FROM AN AUTOPLAY VIDEO!?!

Me too. All it does is PISS ME OFF so I will immediately tweet to leadership of whatever publication is the offending one. They never reply. As it turns out, the tech industry is doing something about it as is a new Coalition for Better Ads.

Hopefully publishers will wake up and realize that if they make the experience all about them and their advertisers WE, the readers, won’t come back….ever.

I don’t use ad blockers in my main browser as it interferes with web work I do. Sometimes I forget to mute my audio which, of course, I don’t want to do since I might miss notifications on my work machine.

How to stop this autoplay and unable-to-exit popups crap? There are a few ways suggested in this article:

The interesting thing is that advertising groups are furious at Apple for blocking ad-trackers and Google has warned the industry that they’re going to be adding an ad-blocker next year in their Chrome browser.

Again, publishers are their own worst enemy and unless they wake up and change their approach, the tech industry will do it for them.

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Cord Cutting is Devastating Comcast. Will They Be Disrupted or Save Themselves?

A site I follow, Cord Cutters News, had this interesting article today about a Comcast Executive Vice President gave a warning to investors, “…that the company expects to report losses of 100,000 to 150,000 video subscribers in the third quarter 2017. That is a massive swing of subscribers because just one year ago in the third quarter of 2016 Comcast added 149,000 video subscribers.

Comcast, and other cable companies, are being disrupted by all the online streaming TV offerings and especially DirecTV NOW. Since our family has an AT&T Unlimited Plan, we “cut the cord” with Comcast (plus we’re selling our home and downsizing anyway) and signed up for the DirecTV NOW basic service with HBO added. The total cost is a measly $15 per month.

We also ditched TiVO and their $20 per month DVR pricing so we’re saving well over $100 per month on TV. Yes, we have Netflix, Hulu and a subscription to AcornTV (we love British television) so our total outlay is higher but still under $50 per month.

How could we NOT cut the cord? Especially since DirecTV NOW will soon have a recording capability and a new user interface (sometime this Fall). Our kids are now adults but are classified as Millennials and they, especially, don’t care at all about having cable TV options. They want streaming, on-demand, and binge-watching options and neither of them care about sports options which cable TV companies basically force us all to pay for monthly.

WHY ISN’T COMCAST / XFINITY DOMINATING STREAMING?

Comcast could argue that they are in this space as they provide an Xfinity Stream app. The issue is that this app’s service pricing is not even close to being competitive to other offerings (e.g., SlingTV; DirecTV NOW) and its pricing is almost identical to an Xfinity cable TV subscription.

Those streaming TV “deals” come with the same old cable TV-like pricing games: You sign up for a “first 12 months” — for what appears to be a somewhat competitive price — only to have it jump by 50% after the “deal’s” first term ends. (e.g., in my home area of zip code 55347, a streaming TV app subscription for 140+ channels is $49.99 for the first 12 months but leaps to as much as $75 per month once the term ends AND you are locked in for that entire term).

On that deals page under the “Add to Cart” button, there is a Pricing & Other Info link. Clicking it reveals this text in the popup:

Offer ends 10/29/17. Restrictions apply. Not available in all areas. New residential customers only. Limited to Digital Starter service. 1-year minimum term agreement required. Early termination fee applies if all XFINITY services are cancelled during the agreement term. Equipment, installation, taxes and fees, including Broadcast TV Fee (up to $8/mo.), Regional Sports Fee (up to $6.50/mo.) and other applicable charges extra, and subject to change during and after the promo. After applicable promo, or if any service is cancelled or downgraded, regular rates apply. Comcast’s monthly service charge for Digital Starter, ranges based on area, from $52.49 to $75.49 (subject to change). Service limited to a single outlet. May not be combined with other offers. Limited Basic Service subscription required to receive other levels of service. On Demand™ selections subject to charge indicated at time of purchase. Not all programming available in all areas. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee applies to one month’s recurring service charge and standard installation up to $500. Call for restrictions and complete details. ©2017 Comcast. All rights reserved.

So you can see that it’s basically a cable TV subscription but through an app. You also cannot end your cable TV subscription and immediately subscribe through the app (New residential customers only). Also, there will be all sorts of associated fees and taxes — like the “Regional Sports Fee” whether or not you even care about sports — a fee that you do not have to pay with competing services.

My wife and I got sick-and-tired of having to go to the Comcast/Xfinity ‘store’ near our house every six months or otherwise our cable TV subscription would often jump-up by $60 or more. Numerous times over the last decade we’ve suddenly received a Comcast bill that was more than double our “reasonably priced deal” monthly subscription. We refuse to play Comcast’s game so we said goodbye a couple of months ago.

Comcast absolutely could own this streaming TV space but their streaming app subscription is virtually identical in cost to a cable TV subscription, so being competitive (and stopping their game-playing with pricing) means they would have to decimate their own TV business which they’re not likely to do.

Why would Comcast not cannibalize their own cable TV business?

Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christensen, wrote a best-selling book called The Innovator’s Dilemma (which The Economist named as one of the six most important books about business ever written). Its premise is that successful, outstanding companies can do everything “right” and yet still lose their market leadership – or even fail – as new, unexpected competitors rise and take over the market  (book at Amazon).

The reason Comcast will quite likely lose their leadership (or fail) is because they have so many contracts with TV providers they’d have to unwind, cable TV subscriptions they would lose to cord cutting, and top-line revenue they would have to replace, that it’s probable they will fail.

I, for one, will be happy to say goodbye to the cable TV gaming when it comes to their pricing models (and, hopefully soon, the cable TV company internet-service-provider monopoly, but that’s a topic for another post).

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Healthcare Costs: No Transparency and Ready for Massive Disruption

Healthcare costs are out of control and, in particular, negatively impact those of us whose healthcare is individually insured in the United States (the U.S. Census Bureau states that approximately 9% of we 323.1 million Americans are individually insured or uninsured).

There is no pricing transparency and healthcare is not a free market.

Whether it is the wildly differing prices of an MRI to our costs for pharmaceuticals being among the highest in the world, the fact that there is no transparency, near-zero alternatives, little power to drive costs lower as consumers, and that most of the health-insured in America don’t shop around since they are only responsible for a low co-pay amount, this is a market ready for massive disruption.

This massive disruption may start with Amazon inserting itself in to the drug supply chain and disrupting it as you’ll see below.

My post from yesterday about Why Trump and the GOP’s Healthcare Approach is a Barrier to Entrepreneurs compelled me to add something today about healthcare costs, specifically because our current president and Congressional leadership are doing nothing about controlling costs of pharmaceuticals, wildly different prices for procedures, and positioning consumers to shop around for lowest prices in order to create an actual free market.

This Wikipedia article points out why U.S. healthcare costs are so high and that it’s not a free market and outcomes are lacking:

Unlike most markets for consumer services in the United States, the health care market generally lacks transparent market-based pricing. Patients are typically not able to comparison shop for medical services based on price, as medical service providers do not typically disclose prices prior to service. Government mandated critical care and government insurance programs like Medicare also impact market pricing of U.S. health care. According to the New York Times in 2011, “the United States is far and away the world leader in medical spending, even though numerous studies have concluded that Americans do not get better care” and prices are the highest in the world.

As patients we generally do not have access to pricing information until after medical services have been rendered which is fundamentally flawed and goes against everything I believe in when it comes to the free market.

Would you buy ANYTHING if the manufacturer or retailer didn’t tell you until AFTER the purchase how much it would cost? Of course you wouldn’t. But that is EXACTLY what happens when you have a co-pay and figure that you’ll let the insurance company and provider fight it out over price since you only have to pay some nominal amount.

Here’s one example which, if you had to buy it yourself (like I would since our family is individually insured), is a reason I’m so up-in-arms about healthcare costs: A chest MRI in Minneapolis (where I’m from) is available from standalone MRI businesses for $460. One hospital here charges $2,026 for the same MRI! (from this article).

It gets worse with pharmaceuticals but maybe Amazon will come to the rescue.

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Why Trump and the GOP’s Healthcare Approach is a Barrier to Entrepreneurs

As small business owners, my wife and I are one of the 18 million individually insured families in the United States. In addition, since I’ve been in the tech community in Minnesota for my entire career (and also published Minnov8.com for over a decade), I know all too well the only way most startups can happen is if a spouse has healthcare insurance. You’ll see why in a moment.

This morning I received an email from our Minnesota healthcare insurance exchange called MNSure about a ‘sneak peak’ at 2018 health care plans. I immediately went there and discovered that the plan we’ve been on for 2017 has our family monthly premium rising by $200 a month to *over* $2,000.

The ‘range’ for our out-of-pocket medical expenditures go from a yearly “low at $25,115” (for which there is a 17% chance we’d actually be on the low side) to a “bad at $37,815” (and a 12% chance at that). The average is $31,155.

When you add up all the out-of-pocket prescriptions and little “nits” we pay, I’m gonna guess we’ll shell out $35,000 or so like we did the last couple of years.

WHO THE HELL CAN AFFORD THAT KIND OF AFTER-TAX MONEY!?! More to the point, even with a Health Savings Account (HSA) — which can’t be used for the $24,514.80 in premiums we’ll pay for 2018 — the total amount we will pay out for medical stuff is 73% of the U.S. mean household income (that mean is $72,641 and I’m assuming a conservative and low 35% paid in taxes).

Yes, Affordable Care Act subsidies still exist, but don’t Trump and his GOP minions truly understand that the #1 roadblock to startups in the U.S. is the enormity of individually insuring one’s family?

There is no f__ing way I’d start up a tech company today if my family was still young and take the risk of no insurance — or having a wildly expensive plan that would virtually guarantee we’d fail without significant VC backing — since there were many times in our past small business owning lives when we didn’t take a salary, sometimes for a couple of months at a time.

Hope they think about this as they stumble their way forward trying to hide the fact they don’t give a shit about the lower, middle or upper middle classes in America.

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Why Cross-Site Tracking for Ads is Disturbing, But Also Badly Targeted

We’ve all had these sorts of experiences: A friend or loved one uses your computer to, for example, look up skateboarding and you soon notice that when you’re on some news site you typically frequent but suddenly the advertisements are now skateboarding related? Then you go to Facebook and the same thing happens with those types of ads appearing?

What’s bothersome to me is BOTH the ads AND the cross-site tracking companies that advertisers use so they can “follow us around” and display what they think are relevant ads. The problem is that my wife and I share a single Amazon Prime account so I logged in to Amazon as her this moring, bought her a new backup hard drive (her current one died), and then looked at my news reader and clicked on this Ars Technica article.

The ads were suddenly for beauty products like this one:

While I get my beauty sleep and care how I look, I do NOT use Clinique so I come across with a “better glow.”  😉

Here’s the thing: Ars Technica is a geek site and highly technical in its articles and why I so enjoy reading it. But I usually only read it in a browser with ad blocking turned on because, after they were acquired in 2008 by Advance, the parent company of publisher Conde Nast, their ads slowly-but-surely became larger and more intrusive like the HUGE one above (which, by the way, is in THREE other places on the page as I scrolled down.

USING AN AD BLOCKER
Ads are intrusive overall regardless, but they are REALLY annoying when I’m reading on my iPad which is what I typically do. Why? Because constantly loading ads in a header or sidebar means that, as I’m reading and maybe halfway down the article, it suddenly jumps to the top of the page! I get SO pissed off that I typically hammer on the publisher through tweets or an email, but they don’t care so never respond.

On my iPad I use 1Blocker to block cross-site tracking and ads, primarily to stop that behavior I just mentioned but also since it is a MUCH better experience to not be punched-in-the-face with ads since they are never discrete…they only want to intrude, interrupt, and completely take over one’s reading experience. They also make their “close boxes” as hard as possible to use so we inadvertently launch the ad’s website so the publisher gets credit for click-through!

Here is the exact-same article on my iPad:

If you’re interested in an ad-blocker (and, in some cases, a cross-site tracking blocker) for iOS, here are some options.

Google’s Chrome browser is the one I use but they are taking NO leadership for us. Only for themselves, advertisers and cross-site tracking companies since Google’s business model is primarily ad-centric and they provide us with all of those “free” services (e.g., Gmail; calendar; voice; and more) to get better-and-better at advertising to us and selling our data to others.

WHAT I DO
I don’t use ad-blockers or cross-site tracking blocking in Chrome usually since it interferes with too many web development activities which I perform within our Innov8Press business. Instead, I create site-specific browsers using Coherence 5 so cookies are self-contained within my “search” browser, for example, since Coherence allows you to turn any website into a full-blown macOS application in seconds. And, using the power of Google Chrome, allows each app to have separate settings and extensions.

STOPPING CROSS-SITE TRACKING
Fortunately there is hope. Apple’s decision to stop the cross-site tracking of advertising companies in the newest version of the Safari browser (version 11) — and put the power back in to the hands of those of us doing things online — has come to the fore with great controversy.

Publishers are obviously upset since their business models are advertiser-centric. While I completely understand their motivation, don’t they know that bitch-slapping us with ads, making them as HUGE as possible, hiring cross-site tracking companies to follow us around, does nothing but make everyone want them to STOP!!

Perhaps if publishers showed some restraint and took the high-road, things would be different. But for now I know I will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to block ads and cross-site tracking companies.

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Colorspike is a Portable & Programmable LED Lightbar for Filmmakers and Still Photographers

There is a recently launched Kickstarter for a portable and programmable LED lightbar called colorspike that is pretty amazing. Whether you’re a filmmaker (or wannabee like me goofing around shooting 4K video with my Nikon D500) or a still photographer, this new gadget is sure to open up huge creative possibilities.

The few professional filmmakers I’ve been able to meet over the years have one saying they all agree on:

The crew doesn’t matter, everything off frame doesn’t matter, all that counts is what’s on screen…it’s the shot that counts.

Though there are a lot of variables in getting to that on-screen shot outcome, there is no question that achieving the perfect shot is heavily dependent upon lighting. Trying to get lighting effects like a flickering campfire, police/fire/ambulance lights, or various kinds of mood lighting is typically achieved with colored gels smeared on lights. Besides being a pain-in-the-butt to use, using gels is slow, tedious, and very creatively limiting.

If it’s the shot that counts, getting that shot might take multiple (and sometimes dozens!) of attempts to get lighting effects set just right to achieve the shot. Colorspike looks like it will definitely give us a virtually unlimited lighting effect and color palette to work with as we shoot video or stills.

If you pledge $299 you can get one and they expect to deliver in March 2018. Check out the colorspike Kickstarter page to learn a lot more and see screenshots of the app too.

Before you go, however, take a few minutes to watch the video below and you’ll likely begin to imagine what you might do with this clever tool:

via BoingBoing

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Be Aware of the Biggest Change in macOS High Sierra: APFS

After upgrading to macOS High Sierra on my MacBook, I also
converted my 512GB SSD Time Machine backup drive to APFS

Upgrading to macOS High Sierra? There are enough new features that it certainly seems worthwhile, though you’ll actually notice little difference in the upgrade since most of the changes are under-the-hood in car-speak and not necessarily visible.

Though mostly hidden from view, you do need to be aware that Apple has implemented APFS — the Apple File System — and it’s a ‘mandatory’ change when you upgrade if your Mac’s internal drive is a solid state one. (NOTE: If you have a Fusion or spinning hard disk drive (HDD), an upgrade to macOS High Sierra will not update your drives to APFS but the new operating system will be installed).

What does this change in the file system mean for you? It’s the wave of the future for Apple and works with iPhones and iPads so sharing files will be more seamless in the future. APFS is also a ‘modern’ file system optimized for fast, solid state drives (SSDs).

If you upgrade any Mac with an internal SSD, the Apple File System will automatically convert your drive and its contents (and yes, it will preserve your FileVault encryption if implemented since APFS fully supports FileVault). Like magic it just happens and the upgrade was surprisingly fast.

As far as I can tell (or from what I’ve experienced thus far) there are no “deal killers” by upgrading to macOS High Sierra, but you should be aware of what changing to APFS means.

Here are some things you need to know if you are upgrading:

a) Apple: Prepare for APFS in macOS High Sierra

b) OWC’s blog post: Translating Apple’s New High Sierra & APFS Compatibility Document

c) For those more technically-minded, here is an Apple File System Guide on Apple’s developer site that gets in to more detail.

d) Still on the fence about upgrading to macOS High Sierra or want to know a lot more? Ars Technica has the best in-depth analysis of the new operating system I’ve read yet.

At this point I’ve upgraded my MacBook to macOS High Sierra but not my main, production iMac since I cannot afford any hiccups with it. Still, I’ve seen absolutely nothing yet that would deter me from doing so, but on my main production machines I always wait at least a week to ensure there aren’t any “gotchas” with a new OS release. It’s likely by early next week I will have upgraded my iMac to macOS High Sierra too.

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Why This MICHELIN® Tire Promo is Essentially a Scam

UPDATE ON 9/25/17

In August I purchased four MICHELIN® brand tires for my 2013 Toyota Prius Persona. This is a car my air-traveling wife hardly drove and has only 18,XXX miles on the odometer. As such, its tires are ones I could have easily driven for another 10,000 or more miles but, since I’ll be driving it to California in the next few months and will be putting on a lot of miles once I’m there, I wanted new tires.

Fortunately there was a $70 rebate on the 60,000-mile rated MICHELIN tires and service for which I spent nearly $800 on (see the screenshot about the rebate). Though I absolutely detest rebates, mainly since companies make it very hard to comply with all the instructions in the hope they’ll fulfill as few rebates as possible, I am quite meticulous on how I apply for them to ensure I’m complying with instructions and thought this would be seamless and easy. After all, MICHELIN is a major company and is (I thought) above the plaid-sportcoat-like behaviors of other companies who try to block and make rebate redemption difficult enough that the vast majority of consumers find it more bother than its worth and stop pursuing the rebate as soon as push-back by the “fulfillment centers” occurs.

That said, readers of this blog know I *deeply hate* rebates, unless they’re the “taken at the checkout” kind which gives a discount immediately. Consumers hating-rebates-backlash is the primary reason why Best Buy began eliminating rebates entirely in 2005 since most are as close to scams as these companies can away with and not be stopped by the Federal Trade Commission or Congress.

In my view rebates like this one are scams since they prey on the likelihood that only 21.1% of total sales or 67.6% of incremental sales from people successfully submit information to receive the rebate or they mail in the original receipt and then get a letter saying something like, “We never received your receipt. Please send another” knowing that the consumer likely doesn’t have a copy, can’t get one, or deems it not worthy of the effort.

See more on my posts A Nikon example of why I *hate* rebates and Nikon fills rebate….but how? or read The Great Rebate Runaround in Bloomberg BusinessWeek which said this back in 2005 of rebate redemption amounts:

In November 2005, BusinessWeek estimated a return rate of 60 percent. Some estimates have been as low as 2%. For example, nearly half of the 100,000 new TiVo subscribers in 2005 did not redeem their $100 rebates, allowing the company to keep $5,000,000 in additional profit.

It’s that throwing obstacles in the way of getting one’s legitimate rebate which is why I believe this MICHELIN® tire promotion rebate is essentially a scam since I complied with 100% of the instructions for submission and never, ever should have received a follow-up email requesting “…a little more information.”

But it’s not just me. Many others have viewed rebates as a “scam” and this crap by manufacturers goes back a long time as this 2003 Slate article on The Great Rebate Scam illustrates.

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