Hotspots & holidays … beware

With assorted iPhones, iPads and Macs a wi-fi connection has become a standard criteria for selecting houses and apartments when my wife and I go on holiday. We haven’t had any problems with this until a recent holiday in Australia. Because of problems with their broadband provider the owners of one place we rented had opted to use a pocket hotspot rather than a conventional router, and thus arose the issue of data caps. They warned us about this and we said “no problem, we only need it for some web browsing and email”.

We blew through 5gb in not much more than a day.

I started looking at what was happening and quickly realised that the majority of data was going up not down. We added some credit, I paused Dropbox and Crashplan, which I had identified as the main culprits, and quit Sophos AV, which also likes to upload a lot of data as part of the on-demand scanning option.

Next night we ran out of data again. During the night Crashplan had passed the 24 hour pause, the maximum that the interface allows, and started up again. We added more credit and I quit Crashplan completely, or so I thought.

The following morning we were out of credit again. Poking around in Activity Monitor I realised that Crashplan was still running. Some research on the internet revealed that Crashplan is actually TWO programmes: an interface and the backup engine itself. I had only quit the interface. Fortunately I also found a way to pause the backup programme for custom periods and thus ensured that it remained asleep until we got home.

So, what are the lessons?

  • Know your devices & what software is running
  • Check usage before you leave
  • Learn how to switch data-hungry software off
  • Be very cautious about photos, most of the traffic was a result of moving images to my laptop

A duff microphone means that my MacBook Air needs some attention from the techies at Apple. Last night I spent some time making sure that my spare laptop – a MacBook Pro – was ready to stand in for a few days. I have hardly used this laptop since I go the MBA almost three years ago so it was not exactly up to date. However, after signing in to iCloud the Safari bookmarks were updated to latest set and once Dropbox had finished its magic all my working files were in place too. No doubt some apps are not there but I can add those as I need them.

The ease of this got me thinking about the way synchronisation between devices has become so routine and easy that it hardly gets mentioned. During the course of today I have used a phone, a tablet, a laptop and a desktop. I have accessed the several websites, Kindle, email and a game from at least two of these devices yet I have not had to think about bookmarks, user names, passwords or even files. They are just there. Brilliant.

It has been a while

On the bench again so time for some mental dumps.

Selling something new

I just read this article in the Harvard Business Review. Although targeted to Social Media it struck me that the lessons/points made are equally applicable in any programme that is new to a business. Several of my previous roles have required me to convince and cajole colleagues into the required change, selling the vision repeatedly, using early successes to make the case more strongly.


Airport Security III

The latest wheeze at Schiphol is to ask you to open your laptop. Kind of 2000’s retro without having to actually having to “turn your laptop on please, sir”. Given that the laptop in question is a MacBook Air it might just have been disbelief on the security drone’s part. I am not sure that even Jonny Ive could pack a decent bomb into an MBA.

Honourable despatches: the security drone last week who wanted to examine my stapler (which he recognised in the x-ray).  Apparently it might have been masking something, in which case why examine the stapler? He should have been examining the things around it.

Airport security – a logic free zone.

Airport Security II

I have decided to come out of the closet. For years I have poured scorn on airport security internally and to those nearby but never online, in public as it were. However, with my second post in a year on the subject I cannot restrain myself any longer.

Airport security is a joke. Originally l Liittle more than a job creation scheme encouraged by governments it now feels like a profit creation scheme in the hands of private security companies. The latest fiasco happens at Gatwick North Terminal where new x-ray scanners require that everything is placed in a tray before scanning. Yes, even your bag that previously went through a scanner perfectly happily must now be placed in a tray. This requires you, yes you, to pick a tray off the return conveyor yourself. Of course, there has to be a security drone to instruct you on this but don’t worry the machine is designed so that they cannot, in any circumstances pick up the tray for you. After scanning there is another drone to tell you to put your tray on the return conveyor. No way that they can do that themselves. Physically no way. A perspex screen exists on their side of the conveyor.

A side note: the newsagents in Gatwick North (W.H.Smugs by another name) now has self-scanning checkouts. These are laughingly called express checkout (or some such). I would willing do the security scan myself and have a person who has been trained at swiping a bar code handle my weekly “Radio Times” purchase.

Airport security

I have been travelling for many years, long enough to remember the Queen’s Building at Heathrow (a riot of marble and chandeliers), Vickers Vanguards, Concorde entering service, domestic flights with no ID, being able to travel with a pen-knife, and so on. I also remember numerous terrorist attacks from Dawson’s field onwards and so understand the need for airport security.

We have had magnetic arches for 40 years and most travelers are familiar with the routine of removing watches and other metal objects from their body and sending their bags through an x-ray machine. As a frequent traveller I have spent many hours in security queues, watching the inconsistency with which “rules” are applied (probably a good thing) and the incoherency (an almost empty 125ml glass bottle causes an incident). So, as a geek, I assume that the introduction of new scanning technology must be a good thing. Until reality intrudes.

For the last couple of years Schiphol have been using full body scanners and I regularly have to endure them. In the last year I have been through one of these useless machines 12 times, and 11 times I have been pulled aside for groping by a security guard. Something as simple as a piece of paper gets you pulled aside. When they say “empty your pockets” they really mean it and despite learning to do so I still get pulled aside; therein lies the rub.

Here we have a machine that reportedly costs 150k Euros which – in my case – fails on most occasions. Think about it. Usually I get pulled aside as a potential terrorist, despite creating the most favourable conditions for the machine to work. Here we have a false positive rate of way over 50%. What a piece of shit. In any normal line of business no one would accept such a failure rate but do the security companies complain? No, because they get to deploy more staff and thus profit from the situation.

It is passengers who bear the cost. Longer queues as people either empty everything from their pockets – more so than magnetic arches require – or fail to do so and get re-scanned. Plus the time collect all their belongings at the afterwards. It is a complete fiasco. When I commented that their machines still did not work properly one security agent suggested that I take a boat instead.

AppleID – Out of step with the world

Once upon a time you only needed an AppleID for the iTunes store and MobileMe, important to some but not all. Now, with IOS apps, the Mac App Store, a download-only OS and who knows what in the iCloud, it is becoming increasingly important, practically the cornerstone of every customer’s life in the Apple eco-system. Unfortunately, the AppleID system reflects the “America only” thinking of many US companies. Take my own case as an example.

In 2004, when the UK iTunes store opened, I created my first AppleID, even though I live in The Netherlands because, as a Brit, I wanted to download music from British artists. In 2009 I bought an iPhone so wanted some Dutch apps, e.g. a public transport planner, alongside my English language apps. At first I switched countries every time, re-entering the relevant address and bank details, but this quickly became pretty tedious, especially as you cannot update an app unless you are signed in to the store you bought it from. To simplify switching I created a second AppleID to use for Dutch purchases, including from the online Apple Store.

Also, by using a second ID I have given myself a potential problem in the future because Apple does not allow you to merge accounts. That means if I ever move back to the UK I cannot consolidate all my purchases into a single AppleID.

Now I realise that this is not a problem for most people but it is estimated that over 4 million Britons live or work abroad. Add the number of foreigners living in the UK and multiply that by many countries and you will see that there are a lot of people who are potentially affected by this.

Of course, the root of the problem is the music & film industries’ attempts to control rights. It is ridiculous that anyone in The Netherlands can order a CD from Amazon UK but you can only use the iTunes store if you have a British bank account. It seems to me that the latter contravenes European free trade rules.

I do not object to DRM restrictions per se but I do expect them to accommodate reasonable real world usage. Apple should be making life easier for it’s customers rather than dancing to the music industry’s tune.

Good Presentation

I have seen plenty of presentations in my time – some good, some not so good – and given quite a few myself. Of course, I would like to think that all of mine were excellent, realistically I doubt they were but I do believe that generally I am above average.

Good structure with relevant content is important but so is the way, the style, of the presenter. This article on “wrong body language” during presentations captures some really important “don’ts”. The only thing I have some issues with is number two: fiddling with your hands is definitely out but having hands at your sides can look rather unnatural, so I do sometimes clasp my hands, especially when someone else is talking. Number five is an absolute no-no but sometimes you do need to draw attention to a particular part of the screen. If it is a point you planned to make then make sure that part is highlighted in the slides but when responding to an audience question you may have to improvise. Whether you have a pointing stick, a laser or just your own arm I always position the pointer then turn to the audience to speak. Keeping on target can be tricky but a quick head turn can help you with that.

Good management techniques

Another post from Mr “Starbucker”. Good stuff apart from the handshaking/backpatting which must be culturally appropriate (which he does imply).