Searching For 60 Days From Today

I performed a Google search for the phrase: “What is 60 days from today?” I was hoping to see the date calculated and displayed at the top of the search results page, as is the case with math problems and measurement conversions. I didn’t see that.

What I got was some links to various unit converter sites, and a mere four results down, this gem from Ask.com: “60 days from a certain day will depend on when exactly that day is. A calendar will come in handy.” Thanks for that completely useless information.

I Don’t Need An App For That

There is a temptation to load your phone up with as many apps as possible, installing one for everything you think you may ever need. I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone. At one point I had 150 apps on my iPhone.

I began to realize over time that I really didn’t need a lot of those apps. There were some that I hadn’t used in over a year.

When I upgraded to the iPhone 5, instead of restoring my previous state, I decided to completely start over and only add the apps that I really used. I’m glad that I made that decision at the time. It was like cleaning house. That was about a year and a half ago, and since that time, my app count has inevitably crept back up again.

I’ve now reached a point where I’ve decided that it’s time to again get rid of apps that I don’t need. I went in and deleted scores apps I hadn’t been using. I didn’t stop there, though. I even deleted apps for services that I actually use. The reason I did that is because there are a lot of services that have excellent mobile websites that do the same job that the custom app does. I’ll give you some examples.

Bitly. I use Bitly every now and then to shorten long URLs. Bitly has an iOS app but I’ve actually never downloaded it. Browsing bitly.com in mobile Safari or Chrome is perfectly sufficient. It retains my login and I am able to perform every task I need from their website. No app necessary!

Wikipedia is another good example. I had the app installed on my phone for years and barely ever used it. I would always do a Google search on what I wanted to know about and I came to realize that I always browsed Wikipedia using only the web browser. Their mobile website does everything that the dedicated app does. It even looks the same.

Shopping apps are another example. I’ve had the Target app on my phone for years but I can only recall having used it one time. Before I recently deleted the app, I browsed over to target.com in Safari, and as you would expect, they have a very clean mobile website that lets me search and shop for anything I am looking for. Again, no need for the app, or others like it.

I could go on and on. Mobile banking, news sites, and more. All of them have full-functioning websites that allow you to do everything you can do from the app. As a general rule, if the service in question merely delivers information, you’re probably fine just using their website to obtain it.

I created a bookmarks folder on my iPhone for services like the ones I’ve listed above that have perfectly useful mobile sites. To save a bookmark as an icon on iOS, simply tap “add to home screen” in Safari. The icon added usually looks indistinguishable from the native app.

If you have apps on your phone that you don’t use very often, it’s worth it to browse the mobile website for that service and see how close the experience can be to using a native app. You may be surprised. If you’re using push notifications, however, you need to continue using an app for such interactivity. For example, if you use eBay and rely on the app for notifications about items and auctions, you’ll want to keep that app installed.

Go forth and do some digital spring cleaning. It can be very liberating.

iOS Push Notification Permissions Are Not Always Honored

The first time you launch an app in iOS, you are usually asked if you want to allow the app to deliver push notifications. A box pops up asking your preference, and you can either tap “Don’t Allow” or “OK.” Half the time when I select “Don’t Allow,” notifications are enabled anyway. I am not exaggerating. In my experience over the years, I would say that this happens about 50% of the time.

When I install a new app, I almost always deny push notifications for it. After using an app for the first time, I’ve been in the habit of going to the iOS settings to look at the notification settings. Sure enough, I often have to go in and manually disable Badges, Sounds, and Banners for the app I just installed. This needs to stop.

I only allow notifications on apps that I use for communication. In total, I only have notifications enabled for about five apps, most of which are instant messengers. It simply isn’t necessary for other types of apps to use them, certainly not games and other such trivial nonsense. Notifications can get annoying and I imagine that they probably tax your battery if you have too many enabled.

I don’t understand why the initial permissions preference is broken half the time. Are app developers deliberately programming so that notifications for their app are allowed no matter what the user chooses when they launch it? I suspect that they are. I don’t have any other explanation for the behavior. It can’t be an iOS glitch because half of the apps I’ve encountered honor it correctly.

If developers are in fact doing this on purpose, I’d like to see Apple crack down on the practice. Evildoers should be rejected from the App Store. There just isn’t any sense in developers getting away with this, if this is what they’re doing.

I would advise that everyone check their iOS settings from time to time to see if any apps have sneakily turned on notifications without their knowledge. I think we should all collectively begin giving poor ratings to apps that don’t honor the preferences of the user.

iOS push notifications permission

Security Alert: Port 32764

SECURITY ALERT! Make sure that your Internet router isn’t exposing port 32764. It has been revealed to be a major security hazard, potentially leaking your router admin data and wireless encryption key to hackers. Use the link below to check your port status. Make sure the result on the probe below is STEALTH or CLOSED. If the result of the port scan is OPEN, you should log in to your router administration and change your settings to block that port immediately.

I’ve heard about this security alert two weeks in a row on one of my favorite podcasts, Security Now with Steve Gibson. If you want to hear the details, this was discussed on the latest episode 438. The conversation about this security alert begins at precisely 52:10 in the show.

Check your port: bit.ly/port32764

Siri Has Become Unreliable

Has anyone had problems with Siri lately? I’ve used it occasionally for the past year, but lately it has been very hit and miss. Mostly miss. I don’t know if it is iOS 7 related, network congestion, or what. Siri has become completely unreliable, whether I am accessing it on LTE data or my home WiFi.

For the past month or so, when I voice dictate text, it takes an unacceptable amount of time to complete. It regularly takes 20 seconds or more, much longer than it would take to type out the text by hand. And when I ask Siri a direct question, at least half the time she says she can’t take any requests at the moment. And when it does work, it regularly takes up to 30 seconds to respond. Unacceptable.

When I need directions on the go, I’ll ask Siri to navigate to a location or to a contact in my address book. That has always worked well for me in the past, but lately it just spins its wheels, often not responding at all. A few nights ago, I had to pull over and type in where I was trying to go.

I can’t be alone in this problem. It’s getting on my nerves. This has not been an issue for me until about a month ago. Siri has become nearly unusable. It’s a possibility that the millions of new iPhones sold since the release of the 5S are clogging up the pipes. Apple needs to address this immediately or risk alienating their users.

The Disconnects of a Forgotten Phone

Yesterday morning I rushed out the door and left my phone at home by mistake. I didn’t realize it until I was at work. Beyond the sheer inconvenience of not having it, I became a little worried because I was supposed to meet a friend after work, and the details were not finalized.

I have darted out the door without my phone a few times in the past, but I assumed I wouldn’t be completely disconnected. I can always access the Gmail and Google Voice websites from my work computer to email or text someone if I need to.

Not so fast! For security, I had recently enabled 2-factor authentication on my Google account. I hadn’t logged in to Google on my work computer in a while, so when I went to the Google Voice website to text my friend about my lack of a phone, I was hit with the 2nd-factor verification. Somewhere at home on my pillow, my lonely phone lit up with the code I needed to authenticate the untrusted computer. Crap. My security conscious nature had locked myself out of my own account, which included my personal contacts.

No worry, I figured. I could just dial my friend from my work phone and tell them my dilemma. Nope! I have no idea what their number is…or hardly anyones number for that matter. How many phone numbers do you know from memory these days?

This experience got me thinking about how I could better prepare myself for the next time that this inevitably happens, or worse, if my phone were lost or stolen.

Perhaps it would be a wise idea to simply print out a short list of phone numbers of important contacts and stick it in my wallet. If I don’t have my phone and need to actually dial someone, this could be a lifesaver.

Alternatively, if you are confident that you will have access to a computer of some sort, I suppose you could store important contact info in the cloud using a service like Evernote. I also found out that it is possible to print out a list of 2nd-factor authentication codes for your Google account in the instance that you lose access to your second device (phone.)

Either of the above alternatives are potentially good backup plans, but for simplicity sake, I like the list of printed phone numbers as a simple old school solution.

My 20 Years of Email

It recently occurred to me that I’ve been using email for 20 years! Back in the late 80s/early 90s, I used to dial up to connect to local area Bulletin Board Systems. I have fond memories of using the BBS systems in Wilmington. (I may write an entire post about that sometime.)

In the later part of my BBS heyday, around 1992 or 1993, I was a member of one called The Backdoor. I recall that at some point the sysop (admin) added the ability for users to send real email over the Internet. Up until that time, we could only send messages to each other within the BBS itself. This was the first time I had access to true email with an “@” sign.

Not so fast, though. It could take up to 12 hours to send and receive mail. The reason for that was that the Backdoor computer only called up the Internet and retrieved email for all users twice a day. Running a BBS cost money and it wasn’t cost effective to exchange mail over the Internet more often than that. People didn’t have always-on data connections in those days. The Backdoor computer had to dial up to retrieve emails itself and then pass them on to the users as they logged in.

I certainly don’t remember what my first email address was, that has been long forgotten, but I’m fairly sure that the domain name was @backdoor.net. Not many people had email addresses back then. I remember having to go out of my way to find people that I could write just to test the system. Email was extremely basic back in those days, too. It was text-only. Without fonts, colors, or file attachments.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since those early days. I went from using the BBS for basic email, to early editions of America Online, then to my first real Internet service provider (MindSpring), then later on to web-based mail at Hotmail, Yahoo mail and Gmail. By the way — do you remember MindSpring? Ah, those were the days.

I wish I had made a serious effort to save all of the emails I’ve received. I didn’t get serious about storing all of my mail until around 2003. That gives me a decade of archives, but I no longer have the messages from my early Yahoo or Hotmail accounts, for instance. At some point long ago, the accounts became overrun with spam and I went in and deleted them in haste, and created new ones. I wish I hadn’t done that. I’d love to be able to peek through the mail I’d received from way back then.

A lot has changed in technology in the past 20 years, but email survives. I’m happy that it is still alive and well. Will it exist in its current form 20 years from now? I hope it does, but there is room for improvement.

Wanted: iOS Music Skipping

Apple developed an iOS app for podcast lovers, simply called Podcasts. One handy feature of the app is the ability to skip 15 seconds ahead or 15 seconds behind with the tap of an icon. This has become indispensable for me, as I often like to skip back to hear something I either missed or want to hear again. These skip icons are essential for navigating close to the part of the recording your are listening to. It would be too difficult to use the scrub slider to back up a few seconds in what could be and hour or two of content.

I want the same skip feature to be built in to the iOS Music app as well. When I’m out walking and listening to music, I often find myself wanting to back up a few seconds to hear a particular part of a song again. I admit that the scrub slider is of more use for a single song in comparison to podcasts because the width of the slider represents only 3 or 4 minutes of audio. However, I keep around an old iPhone and use it as a mere iPod when I’m exercising. It’s old and the screen is cracked at the top, right along the area where the time and audio scrubber are displayed. It’s hard for me to be able to glance at the screen and find the head of the slider to navigate within a song. It would be far easier if there were skip icons that I could tap and go forward or back with ease. I don’t understand why they haven’t thought to add them. Make it so.

iOS skip buttons in Podcasts app

Words With Friends Stats – For A Fee

I’ve been playing the game Words With Friends for many years now. I began playing way back in 2009 when I got my first iPod Touch. I’ve never been one to tolerate ads in my games, so I bypassed the free version and bought the paid version of the game for $2.99. I bought it well before Zynga acquired the game from Newtoy, the original creator of Words With Friends.

I’ve often had a dozen games going at once, but there are other times when I haven’t touched the game for a couple of months. Currently, I have about 8 games in progress. I usually make my move on each game board once a day when I go to bed at night, but sometimes more often throughout the day, depending on what I’m doing. In all the years I’ve been playing, there is no doubt that I’ve gotten my $3 worth out of this game.

Since Zynga acquired Words With Friends back in late 2010, the company has made several attempts to eke out ever more dollars from its users, even those of us who already paid to download the game in the past. To date, there are the following bonus items available for in-app purchase: Tile Pile ($0.99), Word-O-Meter ($2.99), and the Ultimate Play Pack ($14.99). I don’t know why any of these bonus features would be necessary for gameplay, or what would compel anyone to actually buy them.

I had asked Zynga for years to add some form of win/loss statistics to the game. I’d never understood why that feature wasn’t incorporated in the initial version. What is the motivation to try as hard as you can to win when your loss ratio isn’t tallied in the first place? Also, what negative reinforcement is there to discourage people from just resigning the games that they clearly aren’t going to win? Unfortunately, people do that all the time. The lack of game stats has been a point of frustration for me.

Here is a tweet I wrote to Newtoy way back on September 14, 2010: “@newtoy Why doesn’t Words With Friends keep a tally of my win/loss count? Can this be added as a feature? I’d like to know my game record.”

Yesterday, Zynga answered the call with a new Words With Friends feature: A lifetime win/loss stats page! It’s about time they finally got around to adding this! Not so fast, though. There is a catch. You must fork out $4.99 to access the stats page! That’s lunacy. I don’t care enough to even pay $1, let alone $5. How many people are going to be willing to pay that much money for some stats that they have been playing without for years already? They are simply trying to squeeze every last drop of money that they can on this game. I don’t approve of this senseless money grab one bit. Sorry, but I won’t be paying $5 for the privilege of seeing my stats. No way!

If you want to play with me, my username is Blitzcraig2.

Words With Friends stats for a fee