Saturday, August 30, 2014

How to save your iPhone cables from your kids

We’ve gone through about $100 of iPhone cables with our 3 kids over the past six months. They end up looking like this:

IMG 4654

It’s annoying — particularly because I can’t easily order quality replacements from Amazon. They have far too many counterfeit cables (which is unreported, but so it goes). That means ordering from Apple, which is a nuisance (shipping + taxes, I have no time to go to a store).

So I started paying attention to how the kids are using the cables — and today I spotted one killer. #2 uses his aging iPhone 4 as a game console; the old battery means he needs a power supply. So he’s been plugging into the short iPhone cable attached to our USB hub, and tugging on it as he games. Bad for the cable, not so good for the phone.

Here’s the fix …

IMG 4653

Years ago I bought a 30 pin adapter for a micro/mini USB cable. I’ve never tried using it for data, but it’s been fine for charging (quality on these low end adapters is extremely variable). We have about a dozen mini-USB cables and chargers, and they’re all fare more rugged than any standard 30 pin cable. They’re also long enough that #2 doesn’t need to pull them to full length. One problem solved.

Apple doesn’t sell a 30 pin adapter in the US (I thought they did once but I think this Amazon one is counterfeit) but they do sell a micro-USB lightning adapter (alas, we don’t have a plethora of micro-USB cables):

Screen Shot 2014 08 30 at 8 52 52 PM

#2 is getting Emily’s iPhone 5 soon, so we may need to buy this and a few cheap micro-USB cables.

This Belkin adapter is probably a better bet than the ultra-cheap one I purchased, but ti’s also Micro USB.

 Screen Shot 2014 08 30 at 8 54 53 PM

Another approach to this problem is to use a standard cable with a USB extender, but in this case I had an old BlackBerry USB charger at hand so the adapter worked well.

MarsEdit feature request: backlink to a social network share ...

Red Sweater’s MarsEdit (Mac) owns the world of WordPress, Tumbler and Blogger personal publishing. It’s a small world — the major publishers have their own ‘content management’ systems, and the small number of persistent independent bloggers often use native editing tools.

It’s a small world, and it is effectively a Mac only world. Eons ago Windows Live Writer was a fabulous tool by Onfolio purchased by Microsoft then severely neglected and eventually all but broken. You can still download it, but it is known to very few and is a shadow of its former self. So, in its small niche, MarsEdit rules completely. 

MarsEdit is a fine piece of software, but it’s still not the equal of Ontolio Writer. Image handling is particularly weak. On the other hand, it’s not like the (non-existent) competition is any better.

There are many features I’d like to see in MarsEdit, but there’s one odd feature that I’d particularly love to have. It’s a bit weird, but here goes. I’d like MarsEdit to create one or more social media shares at the time of publication, then embed a link to the shares in the post footer. The sequence would probably go like this:

  1. Submit post to Blog to get post URL.
  2. With post URL submit tweet or or microblog post based on title of blog post. Get those URLs.
  3. Update blog post with links in footer like
    1. Comment on … my_app_net links.
The idea is someone reading the post could easily go to Twitter or to respond in a defined stream.

Ok, that’s weird and kludgy and probably inexplicable. I don’t really think of this as a reasonable MarsEdit feature. I’m not sure how else something like this could be implemented though, and I do think we need this sort of thing as a better approach to comments.

Facebook: The differences between Pages and Groups

This is short, but it took me a while to figure out and I’ve not seen it elsewhere.

Facebook offers both Pages and Groups for use by businesses, organizations, sports teams and the like.

Pages are like a multi-author blog. Authorized members can post as the Page (Facebook now shows the actual author name as well, that’s a good improvement) and all followers will see this — though unless you pay per post it may get buried deep in follower feeds.

Comments are associated with a Page Post. Non-Page posts are shunted to a somewhat hidden area and are NOT shared with all followers.

Groups are egalitarian. All posts by all members go to all followers. There are no RSS feeds for Groups. 

You can use IFTTT to create a Page or Group entry.

Pages, like blogs, are public facing. Pages can be configured to be accessible to non-Facebook audience (though they will be nagged to join Facebook), and, as noted above, they have RSS feeds. Groups are only accessible to members and members have to be approved by admins.

I’m not sure whether Pages or Groups get precedence in follower news feeds. I suspect Groups get higher rankings than Pages that don’t pay to play, but I’ve not done any testing.

it’s hard to say whether Pages or Groups are better for non-profit organizations. The big advantage of Pages is that they are available to non-Facebook members, but the nags are very annoying. I lean towards Groups for most, but Pages have promotion advantages. For business Pages are clearly better; they’re really designed for business use.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

ptel Real Paygo vs. H2O with data

[WARNING: See Update 10/6/14 for Ptel’s fatal flaw.] 

We’ve had the kids on H20 Wireless, an AT&T MVNO, for two years. The only change over that time has been H2O extending the post-recharge expiration time from 60 days to 90 days — so we’ve been paying $40 a year for the boys minimal voice and text use (no data). Our daughter costs a bit more, maybe $60-$70 a year.

H2O worked well for us, despite the minimalist customer service. Recently, however, we had need of limited data services for our #1 son (primarily for Find Friends). With iOS 7’s awkward cellular data control settings we think we might be able to make 100MB/month work. I couldn’t get data working on H2O and got the impression (was told?) that they only did date for the postpaid plans - so I looked into ptel, a T-mobile MVNO (below).

I ended up switching #1 to ptel and I’ve summarized what I learned below. In the meantime, however, H2O now allows data use for iPhones [1]. I believe this is new, I learned of it via chat support as a last step check prior to migrating our daughter to Ptel [2]. The data service requires installing a new carrier profile from an ominous looking and quite mysterious web site:

I installed that carrier profile on an AT&T/H2O iPhone 4s and an AT&T/H2O iPhone 4. After the profile update the 4s gets 4G data and the 4 gets 3G. This is rather nice, since my #2 son has built up an $100+ credit over the past two years (it used to cost more than $40/year and he rarely texts and never phones). H2O Wireless rates are 5c/min, 5c/text, 10c/MB — but the real beauty is the 90 day expiration rates for even a $10 purchase. That’s the longest low cost expiration I’ve seen.

As I mentioned, I found this out after moving #1 son to ptel (he used to be on H2O). Enabling data on H2O stopped the migration for the other kids, but I’ll share what I’ve learned about Ptel. They’re a t-mobile MVNO, which means AT&T phones get lower data rates — 3G or E rather than 4G [4]. They also don’t support Google Voice voicemail on their PAYGO (prepaid) plan and they say “you will be able to send MMS from your iPhone, however, receiving MMS may require additional programming, which can be found through a simple search on the Internet.” [3]. On the other hand ptel is cheaper than H2O wireless for text — 2c/text rather than 5c/text. The MB rate of 10c/MB looks the same as H2O, but ptel says they “do not round up your data usage”. 

Both ptel and H2O have domestic long distance included in standard rate, but our kids only talk on phone when we call them because they didn’t answer a text.

Overall ptel is quite competitive with H2O for an AT&T iPhone — probably less expensive data and half the cost of text. On the other hand ptel gives you only 60 days of service for a $10 “Cash Top-up”, so the minimum yearly spend is $60 rather than $40. Ptel also has lower speed data and the MMS and Google Voice issues.

At the moment, now that I have data on H2O wireless, I’m keeping #2 and #3 child on H2O. On the other hand I’d already moved #1 to ptel and I’ll stay with that for the moment. Here’s are some of the things I’ve learned about ptel prepay:

  • I paid 0.00 on Amazon for a ptel SIM card. Yes, free. I think retail cost is $5.00. Comes in a nifty dual-size mode that fits 3GS or 4S.
  • We do a  “Cash Top-up” with any refill amount between $10 and $150. 
  • Unused balance from $10, $20, $30, $40 and $50 carries over for 365 days from date it was originally loaded onto the account. Unused balance from $100 carries over until depleted. To maintain your Real Paygo service, a new PIN must be loaded on/before service days expire.
  • You can turn off voice mail by working with chat operator. Our kids have no use for voice mail; they never check and it runs up fees.
  • Call 611 for support (usual)
  • #BAL# or #225# to check balance or send SMS with word BAL to 7801.
  • The web site is pretty decent, you can configure email balance alerts
  • ptel’s website says tethering is disallowed. I think it works, but it’s not economical.
  • Despite advice for CDN the iPhone 4s seemed to auto-program

Service day expiration for ptel:

  • $10 Top-Up: 60 days 
  • $20 Top-Up: 90 days 
  • $30 Top-Up: 120 days 
  • $40 Top-Up: 150 days 
  • $50 Top-Up: 180 days 
  • $100 Top-Up: 1 year

I believe when you add a Top-Up to money in the account the expiration date is actually based on the new balance starting from the time added, but I’m not sure about this. (IF you have $50 in account with 90 days left, and you add $10, does expiration date really drop to 60 days?! I am guessing it’s the balance.)

[1] AT&T iPhones can be used on H2O without unlocking — but that’s less relevant now that it’s easy to unlock a post-contract AT&T iPhone.

[2] It may not be new, I didn’t want data for them until very recently. The H2O web site used to be quite awful and support was nonexistent; they’ve recently improved the site and chat support is actually useful.

[3] Found through simple search? WTF?

[4] "You may not get 3G data speeds in all markets. Since the iPhone does not support the 1700MHz band, which we use to provide 3G, there are some markets in which the iPhone will have EDGE data speeds.” 

See also

Update 8/30/14: In my real world testing I’ve found Ptel data to be much less reliable than H2O data on an iPhone 4S. So I’m moving #1 back to H2O.

Update 10/6/14: One of the kids stayed on Ptel, which is how we discovered their fatal flaw. Ptel will allow data use to continue well beyond what the prepaid balance. At some point their accounting system will cut off service, but they will not restart service until the deficit is paid. This rather defeats the purpose of a prepaid account. In my son’s case use slipped past Apple’s flawed cellular use controls. As shown on screenshot from 7/14/14 I had Podcast cellular use disabled; but as of today it was enabled — despite cellular data use being locked. This may be related to a 7.1.2 bug.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Security is hard - where I realize my clone backups are browsable

I rotate my backups offsite, so I encrypt the drives using 10.9’s quite good drive encryption.

Which works fine — until I realized that every user on my machine can browse those drives. OS X provides drive access on startup, and it doesn’t have a concept of user-specific access for encrypted removable drives. So, again, every user can browse them.

So that means my if my kids login to my primary machine they can browse the Carbon Copy Cloner backups [1] on that encrypted drive. Which is not good, since the backups contain the holy grail — our credentials database (Still in FIleMaker, because I like the simplicity and flexibility.)

Happily the credentials database lives on a separately encrypted disk image. In my testing the child accounts cannot view that image, even when it is mounted from my account (because the physical image lives in a folder the kids don’t have access too). They can’t view the file in the backups either — because it’s not mounted from there.

Anyway, I decided to try double-encryption. I encrypt the CCC disk images as well as the drive. In my testing the kids can browse those only if they’re mounted, which is controlled from my user account. So that’s not too bad.

Damn, but security is hard.

[1] I use Time Capsule as well — backup should always be automatic, at least daily, and involve two completely different methods. The CCC clones are backups insofar as I rotate them every week or so, and because CCC puts changed or remove files into an archive.

Update 8/18/14: This wasn’t hard to fix. I just had to change the default settings on my encrypted external drives:

Original: Ownership was ignored and everyone had read privileges

Screen Shot 2014 08 18 at 8 20 37 PM

Revised: Enabled ownership, gave everyone no access but parents and admin read & write (System/wheel/staff stuff just happened, blame weird OS X permission behavior)

Screen Shot 2014 08 18 at 8 25 35 PM

With this configuration I can do backups and restores but the kids can’t open the drive — and they can’t see drives mounted from images on the backup drive. What about if I need to do a restore to a new drive? I believe anyone with admin privileges can change permissions or ignore ownership on an attached drive.