iOS 8: “Google Maps is using your Location”

Filed under: Apple,Rant | 1 Comment

Blue bar of death

Apple’s new iOS 8 has a lot of changes under the hood for developers, but is also Apple’s first iOS release since taking a pivot towards privacy as a selling point (mainly to combat Google which in the eyes of Apple is anti-privacy, but that’s another discussion).

By far the most annoying change is a giant blue banner on the top of the screen when an app is using your location in the background. This banner can’t be dismissed and there isn’t a setting to have it not show. This sounds OK on paper (we want to prevent apps from tracking you without your knowledge), but in practice is insane. I know perfectly well that Google Maps is using my location, if it were not using my location I would be very interested as I will get lost as a result. It’s fine if you want to let me know this, but please give me a way to dismiss it.
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Florida Blue won’t give me an insurance card or let me pay my bill

Filed under: Rant | No Comments »

Florida Blue is a scam

I’m self employed which previous to the Affordable Care Act meant I couldn’t buy “real” insurance (e.g. insurance that works when you get sick or for any pre-existing conditions). I eagerly purchased a platinum plan from Florida Blue in December 2013 for 2014 coverage. The healthcare.gov site was the most efficient part of the process and that’s saying something. I was able to make my first payment there, but ever since I have been getting the feeling that Florida Blue has no idea what’s going on.

I’ve received multiple copies of the same welcome letter, including two copies in the same envelope dated days apart (!). I have never received any description of my coverage. Literally no fine print, there’s more fine print on a receipt from Best Buy than I have received from Florida Blue. I have never received my insurance card and have requested it multiple times. I cannot log-in to the website and print my own or to pay my bill. That means out of pocket for all medical expenses even while paying for a high-end insurance plan.

Calling for customer support means at minimum an hour on hold and they haven’t been able to fix anything. I used their social media support by complaining on Twitter and thought I was on the right track, but after one initial call back that didn’t solve anything I haven’t heard from them again.

The coup de grĂ¢ce is that I just received a letter saying that as of January 31st my policy was terminated for lack of payment. The letter was dated March 19th and I received it March 31st. There is an appeal process, but there is still no way to pay the bill. They never even let me know how much it was! I haven’t received a single bill in paper or digital form. I even have emails to Florida Blue asking “How can I pay my bill?” that were not replied to.

I’ve heard from others that I’m not alone and that Florida Blue is leaving a lot of paying customers without coverage. Customer support said my policy was active in January, but what does that mean when I can’t use it? I could spend dozens of hours and file for reimbursements, but that only works for the care that I paid for out of pocket and not what I put off because my insurance wasn’t there yet.

From my vantage point this is fraud. I paid for a service and never received it and now am being penalized for their own problems. Shame on you Florida Blue. I’m young, healthy and signed up for a top-tier plan. I should be exactly the demographic they want, why is it so difficult?

Windows 8 touch screen desktops make great kiosks

Filed under: News | No Comments »

I have a Mac on my desk and find Windows 8 confusing, but I have to give Microsoft credit for promoting touch screens. Windows 8 desktop computers are available for very reasonable prices and almost al come with a touch screen. I recently realized that this combination makes for a really easy and affordable kiosk. Combine a Windows 8 computer with Chrome and a one-page JS app and you have a lean mean kiosk.
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How to get around the WSJ paywall

Filed under: Web/Tech | 18 Comments

The Wall Street Journal is famous for its “paywall” requiring you to subscribe to read content online. Unlike some other notable competitors (namely the New York Times), the WSJ allows 0 articles a month to be read without a subscription. I pay for the NYT and some others, but I can’t bring myself to give money to Murdoch or anyone on their crazy editorial board.

The interesting part about the WSJ paywall is that you can read every article for free, but only if you are coming to each article from Google. If you click a link from an email it will try and make you pay, if you click the same link from a Google search you can read the full article. Read more

Google Analytics is mis-reporting Yahoo! Slurp as Firefox OS

Filed under: Web/Tech | 7 Comments

Google Analytics is a great platform, but it’s user agent detection can be a bit strange. New user agents aren’t back ported, so when support is added for a new browser or OS the stats tend to change dramatically going forward. An example from earlier this year is when I tracked down what Google Analytics meant by the browser “Safari (in-app)”.
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Download OLYMPUS Viewer 3 Software

Filed under: Rant | 3 Comments

Olympus makes its ORF RAW file format viewer software available as a free download, but require that you provide your camera’s serial number before getting the app. I have no idea why this is the case considering the application is only useful if you have .ORF files and those files are only created by Olmpus cameras. There are multiple scenarios where you would want the app and not have the serial number… Say if you sent your RAW files to someone else and they didn’t already have the app, or you were at work and your camera was at home.

The good news is that serial number validation is all client side and the algorithm is quite simple. You can just use any 9 digit number and you can download the viewer software. Even with my camera miles away I was able to download the app.

Beware of advertising scams in the age of Java vulnerabilities

Filed under: Web/Tech | 4 Comments

I run a decently popular website and frequently receive advertising inquiries. I spend money every month to keep the site running and advertising is how I keep it afloat. If it were only that that easy–if you’re not careful it is possible to find yourself swindled by criminals looking to pump malware out to your site’s visitors under the guise of purchasing advertising. And by “purchase” I really mean “agree to purchase”, it’s almost certain that they won’t end up paying you (and there may be fun legal implications if you accept money from people spreading malware on your site).

The recent spat of Java vulnerabilities has shown that all it takes is a piece of Javascript code to completely own someone’s computer (the JS injects a Java applet and the Java vulnerabilities make quick work of even a 100% current patched computer). Besides your visitors having their computers hacked, it won’t take long for browser vendors to find the malware and display a warning to anyone visiting your site. This has the chilling effect of pretty much dropping your traffic to 0 over night (and by this time the scammers are long gone, leaving you to pick up the pieces).

Major sites have been hacked for this to happen, but it’s easier to just buy some advertising and immediately have your exploit delivered to millions of unsuspecting users. Sometimes it happens to advertising networks which is more frustrating because you don’t have direct control over which ads are displayed or the ability to audit code beforehand. About the only thing you can do is to pick ad networks carefully and keep close tabs on the creative they are delivering. This exact issue has caught some big name sites like Tech Crunch and Cult of Mac recently so don’t think it can’t happen to you.
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Safari (in-app) as reported by Google Analytics

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Google Analytics provides breakdowns by user agent and on Crossword Tracker’s statistics I recently noticed a separate entry for Safari named Safari (in-app). Looking back it actually started exactly on August 21st which is probably when Google updated its user-agent parsing code to separate out this traffic. Safari (in-app) appears to refer to users opening your website in a UIWebView (developer talk for a web browser embedded in an iOS or Mac application). You can customize the user agent in a UIWebView and Google Analytics breaks those out when they can (they do this with Chrome for iOS), but if you leave it to the default it shows up as an iOS device without a defined version of Safari. Previously these visits were counting as “Mozilla Compatible Agent”, but they are now Safari (in-app). Here’s what the chart looks like for iOS traffic just before, during and directly after the change:

Google Analytics Safari (in-app)

I did some digging to find out how Google Analytics would be able to differentiate and here’s what some iOS user agents look like:

Mobile Safari
Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 6_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/536.26 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/6.0 Mobile/10B143 Safari/8536.25

Home screen app (bookmark saved to homescreen)
Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 6_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/536.26 (KHTML, like Gecko) Mobile/10B143

Chrome for iOS
Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 6_1 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/536.26 (KHTML, like Gecko) CriOS/23.0.1271.100 Mobile/10B143 Safari/8536.25

1Password
Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 6_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/536.26 (KHTML, like Gecko) 1Password/4.1.2 (like Version/10B143 Mobile/6.1 Safari/8536.25)

Google Analytics is Javascript based so there is more to pull from than simply the reported user-agent. You can tell when a site is saved as a home screen web app for example by checking the window.navigator.standalone property. I unsuccessfully explored the window.navigator object with the various in-app browsers to see if I could shake out their names. If your app has a UIWebView and you don’t customize its user-agent (like you see Google did with Chrome–CriOS) there doesn’t appear to be a way to categorize the traffic. That’s too bad, I’d like to know what apps people are using.

Apple Market Research

Filed under: Apple | No Comments »

Apple has hired Advanis to conduct surveys of Apple customers. This seems something of a non-Apple move (Steve Jobs was famous for not asking the customer what they wanted), but does appear to be legitimate. I received one today regarding an iPod that I purchased a couple months back. (As an aside, iPods are definitely not hot right now but I figured I should go ahead and buy an iPod Classic while they’re still around so that I can have my entire music collection in my car. 160GB is a lot bigger than any of the flash options and I could see it being discontinued at any time.)

Interestingly enough I didn’t buy the iPod from Apple directly, I got it through Amazon. Apple must have picked up my details when I synced it with iTunes. It came from MarketResearch@InsideApple.Apple.com and was sent through an Apple server (which is why it is legitimate). Advanis is a Canadian market research firm and other than the URL the survey itself is completely branded by Apple.

Here’s what the email looks like:

Apple Market Research

For what it’s worth, I did not take the short iPod survey. If Apple’s reading: I bought it because it’s got a ton of storage and I have a feeling you won’t buy able to buy iPods with this much storage for very long.

CPX Interactive pays publishers late

Filed under: Rant | 1 Comment

If you’re a web publisher considering using CPX Interactive to fill advertising inventory I recommend that you do not. CPX has failed to pay me on their own terms and has stopped responding to communication.

CPX was originally quite motivated to get things going, their account reps John Rosa and James Weigel responded nearly immediately as we discussed the deal. The insertion order was sent over quickly and I returned it ASAP. Advertising started and that’s when I stopped hearing anything. We had agreed upon a CPM payment structure, but unmentioned in our discussion was a limitation to US traffic. To be fair they did include this on the IO, but it wasn’t spoken of and it turns out CPX arbitrarily decided to pay 15% of our agreed upon CPM for traffic outside of the US. The account reps that were so eager to get started never mentioned anything about the non-US traffic and the reporting tool they provided has no way to see this traffic that is not providing a return.

At the end of the day a few less bucks isn’t the end of the world, but it was a valuable lesson. However, that’s not why I wouldn’t recommend working with CPX (though it would make me think twice). The real reason I don’t recommend CPX is that I haven’t seen a dime yet despite starting to run their ads three months ago!

CPX wanted to pay on a net-45 basis which is a bit long for my taste but was not too extraordinary (everyone likes to be paid quickly and not have to pay their bills quickly). I agreed to the net-45 terms, but CPX has failed to meet their own payment terms. At the time of this writing CPX has missed their own 45 day mark by a cool 28 days. I pointed this out and since then CPX won’t respond to my emails or answer my calls. Thanks to their long net-45 terms I had run their ads for another month and a half before I knew there would be a problem receiving payment (and before I found out my payments were going to be for much less than I had anticipated because of the international traffic). The real kicker is the ads all seemed to be for digital products sold through ClickBank which is on a two week payment schedule. Net-14 must be nice.

There are more reputable firms to work with, I don’t recommend working with CPX Interactive.

Update: Like magic, the day after this post I received a payment. Supposedly covering August and September, but the payment was sent without a breakdown of how the figures arrived at and they were [significantly] different than both the CPX reporting tool and the original higher figures based straight off CPM. The kicker was getting an email from someone in accounting about how I should have received a payment for $X where $X was yet another figure. So to re-cap: I have a total of what I was expecting from a straight CPM basis, what CPX’s own reporting tool says, what the payment was for and what accounting said the payment was for. This is not encouraging. Supposedly my account rep is “looking into it” and I’ll hear back at a later date. I stand by my earlier statement–there are much more reputable firms to work with than CPX. You can’t wing it, especially when it comes down to money.

Update 2: The small discrepancy above ended up being a timezone issue, despite my using the default timezone and the account rep’s emailed figures matching what I saw in my timezone. Incredibly sloppy on CPX’s behalf.

Update 3: It’s now December 17th and yet again CPX Interactive has missed its payment window (a generous 45 days). I’m still waiting to be paid for October. This is starting to feel like not paying publishers on time is a routine business operation over at CPX Interactive. It will be interesting to see what the payment total is for this time…

Update 4: After following up with all my contacts at CPX, I got paid on December 20th, which would be Net-50. As usual, the amount paid was slightly different than what their reporting system says, but it was just a few pennies which makes it nothing more than a curiosity.