Links
Amazon

A few recommended books, movies, games, and albums. If you want to look for more recommendations, feel free to look at the larger selection over at Amazon or my Amazon Store with more recommendations.

  • Cryptonomicon
    Cryptonomicon
    by Neal Stephenson
  • DreamCypher
    DreamCypher
    Dancing Ferret
  • Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+Digital Booklet]
    Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+Digital Booklet]
    Walt Disney Records
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    by Robert A. Heinlein

Entries in apple (22)

Sunday
Oct262014

The Upcoming Fight Over Phone Payments

There's an interesting battle developing related to the new "Apple Pay" feature introduced with the iPhone 6 series of phones.

The Background

Apple Pay uses a hardware feature called NFC, or near field communication. It's a combination of antenna, radio, and identification chips that can only broadcast for extremely short ranges, and thus is incredibly difficult to eavesdrop on. It can also be encoded to uniquely identify the hardware running it.

Think of it as a wireless unique key or lock combination that can be put in your phone or watch, or a key fob.

With it, it becomes practical to store banking related information in a digital "wallet" (or "passbook") on your phone, and then at stores that have NFC readers (including Whole Foods, Walgreens, CVS) to put your phone next to the terminal and pay.

The advantages are that you don't have to produce a card who's number has to be recorded, or be swiped (possibly through a rogue card swiper).

The disadvantages so far have been that many android phones have had the wallet features locked out by the phone carriers, and that adoption of NFC-ready terminals at checkout registers has been slow due to the additional expense. Also, the apps have been somewhat clunky to use, requiring unlocking the phone, supplying a PIN, etc. - not making it much easier than just pulling out a card.

Of course, as fraud has increased - such as the recent hacks at Home Depot and Target - it is becoming enough of an expense to justify pricier terminals that help cut down on that fraud.

So what makes Apple Pay so great (assuming you have a compatible bank - only one of mine is currently on board - the other will be soon)?

  • Your default card is available without ever having to unlock the phone. No apps to open up.
  • With reliable touchID, you don't have to enter a PIN, you just hold the finger you always unlock the phone with over the home button.
  • Your credit card information is never stored on the phone, or given to the retailer.

The first two points make it far more convenient to actually use - as in more convenient than digging out your wallet, fishing a card out, swiping it, and entering the PIN or signing on the screen.

The last point directly deals with recent hacks of user info at various stores. Your phone only sees the credit card information long enough to register the phone with the bank. It stores a completely different ID internally, and generates a unique one-time number for every transaction. Anyone hacking a store you've used Apple pay will never get useful information to hit up your bank account. Like your touchID fingerprints, the information is encrypted on your phone in a way that it cannot be extracted.

The Fight

While the list of retailers supporting Apple Pay is fairly short, many quickly discovered that it worked at places not officially supporting apple pay, as long as they had enabled NFC readers. This included CVS, Rite-Aid, and other stores.

Now, these retailers have disabled their NFC readers. They no longer work with Apple Pay, or with the Android phones they used to work with.

If you're wondering why they would make life less convenient for customers, it's because they want to implement their own system called MCX, one not tied to the banks as the system that Apple (and Google wallet) are using. The reason they are doing this is one I'm highly sympathetic with - it's a reason the company I worked for stopped taking credit cards for a while - the requirements and charges tied to credit card processing. And they have every right to decide how and when they get charged to process a payment.

Unfortunately, that's where my sympathy stops.

First, their alternative solution is not out yet, and assuming it's not delayed, won't be out until next year.

Second - it is far clunkier to use, even compared to Google's wallet. You not only have to open up an app, but now you have to scan a QR code (one of those funky squares-full-of-static patterns) which allows the phone to set up the transaction, which gets triggered between the merchant and the bank, and gets approval.

I'm going to ignore for a minute how often (though rare these days, especially indoors in ideal lighting) QR codes simply don't read. Even on a high resolution "retina" display generated barcodes can be difficult for existing scanners to pick up.

Per the article, it will "enrich the customer experience" - not by making you spend less time checking out - but by allowing your retailer to better track you so they can give you coupons.

How will they get your money if they don't send a transaction to the credit card company?

The retailer themselves may not store your card and account info, but your (debit and store, not credit) cards and account info for "ACH" (direct) access will be stored online in a "cloud vault".

Three guesses what's going to be a major hacking target? In the case of Apple Pay, the Credit Card companies and banks have been dealing with this for years, and as they absorb the fraudulent charges, have one heck of an incentive to stay on top of things.

So they disabled the Apple Pay/contactless terminals their proposed system wont need. This shows the priorities: the retailers are willing to disable features that improve customer convenience and choice, that don't cost them any extra, so that they can gather more data on their customers.

The Upshot

It won't get me to stop shopping at some of these stores that have cut off Apple Pay, but where an alternative exists that fills the same niche that does accept Apple Pay, I'll be more inclined to spend the money there instead. I don't plan on using the MCX alternative.

Apple pay (and related systems) are:

  • Easier to use - more so Apple Pay here, though I look forward to Android making some changes to improve ease of use...
  • More private - retailers can collect far less information on you.
  • More secure. No retailer or clerk gets to see your credit card, no retailer stores it, and your chances of someone stealing that drop massively.
  • Here now.

The alternative:

  • Gives you less privacy
  • Has less security of your banking information as you have to store it at a third party
  • Will be clunkier to use, and
  • Isn't available yet.
Tuesday
Nov272012

Default Mail Accounts and Mountain Lion 10.8

Defining the default mail account in Apple's Mail.app for Mountain Lion (10.8) is not intuitively obvious. Where you used to be able to sort the order of accounts within the accounts pane of the preferences, that is no longer possible. This can be particularly annoying if your default account should be your work account, but your personal account is first in the list.

Fortunately, it's not that hard, just different. 

If, like me, you keep the list of folders on the left hidden, go ahead and reveal them. Then, expand out the Inbox to show all of your various inboxes.

Now, simply click, and drag any of the inboxes into whatever order you want, making sure that the account you wish to be your default is on top.

From now on, if you do not have a specific message open, or are not looking inside of one specific mail folder, all new messages will be - by default - from the account at the top of that list.

Replies will still be from the account that received the original message, and if you're looking at a folder that is only tied to one account, that account will also be the "from" account when creating a new email.

 

Wednesday
Dec072011

CONFIGURING MAIL.APP FOR A BETTER GMAIL EXPERIENCE, PT. 4 - Smart Folders

  1. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 1
  2. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 2 Junk Mail
  3. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 3 Advanced Junk Mail
  4. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 4 Smart Folders

We've gotten everything else organized. We've gotten Mail to play nice with Google. We've even handled our junk mail filtering for our multiple accounts with aplomb and grace. Unfortunately, we've broken something.

People used to Outlook or Thunderbird may not even notice it.

One of the reasons I've stuck with Mail.app despite the myriad (and some would argue better) choices available, is that I could see all of my inboxes, sent mail, trash, etc. in one place if I wished. Or I could break it out by mail account, if I wished. Unfortunately, while my inboxes are still together, my "Sent" mail folders exist in several different folder trees, and so do my junk mail folders. 

Enter smart folders. 

Create two smart folders - one for "All Junk Mail", and one for "All sent mail," and edit them so they look similar to the picture below:

For the "Sent Mail" smart folder, you need to select the "Sent," "Sent Mail" or other appropriate folder for each of your mail accounts. Do the same kind of thing for your "Junk Mail" smart folder, picking the respective Spam/Junk mail folders for each account.

If you want to look at the junk mail for just one account, you'll still have to go to that set of folders, but now you have a one-stop place to go and see all of your Junk mail, or all of your sent mail, together in one place.

Wednesday
Nov092011

CONFIGURING MAIL.APP FOR A BETTER GMAIL EXPERIENCE, PT. 2 - Junk Mail

  1. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 1
  2. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 2 Junk Mail
  3. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 3 Advanced Junk Mail
  4. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 4 Smart Folders

So now you've got Gmail setup to work the way you want. Unfortunately, there's that buddy of yours that keeps sending you listings from the fantasy football league, and his emails keep ending up in junk mail. Or perhaps you want to mark something as spam, like that Viagra ad that keeps coming in.

The good news is that if you look at Google's page on how Mail (or Outlook) actions translate to Gmail actions, it's pretty easy to report a message as spam. Just drag it to the "Spam" folder on the left that is nested under [Gmail]. 

Unfortunately, Google is not so simple about flagging mail as "not spam" when you're not using the web interface. Fortunately, it's not that hard, and they have some fairly clear instructions on how to do it, if you know how to read between the lines. The short answer is to add the sender who keeps getting misfiled to your online Google contacts list.

There are two ways to do this. The quick and dirty way that is also the best for people with multiple accounts is to log into the Gmail web interface, and simply add the name and email address as a contact. That, or you can import all of your contacts from a file, but that has enough variables in it that it won't be covered here. Either way, once the name is in your contacts list, it won't get filed as spam.

The long term solution for people with only one Gmail account, or with a main one, is to synchronize your contacts list with your Gmail account. The downsides are that you can only realistically do this with one Google account at a time, and that you sometimes end up with odd duplicates as Gmail adds its own contacts automatically for people you've sent messages to.

To set up syncing, do the following (screens may look different for Snow Leopard, but the gist will be the same):

First, open up the preferences window for your address book, and go to the "Accounts" tab.

Then check the box to synchronize with a Google account.

Then, fill in your full username (full email) and password for the Google account.

And you should be ready to go. The biggest headache I've run into has been hunting down and consolidating duplicates - especially after the first merge. That said, having all of my contacts update to Gmail so I don't have to manually add or import them has been a big plus.

Next up - for those with multiple accounts - smart folders and advanced junk mail filtering.

Monday
Nov072011

Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 1

  1. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 1
  2. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 2 Junk Mail
  3. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 3 Advanced Junk Mail
  4. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 4 Smart Folders

 If you’re running Snow Leopard or Lion, adding a gmail based email account to your mail application may seem trivially easy. Go to the accounts tab of the preferences and add a new account, and let Mail.app configure itself.

The problem of course lies in the fact that while Gmail may pretend it’s an IMAP service, it isn’t, quite. One of the largest differences is that Gmail uses “labels” instead of folders. The advantage to this is that if a message belongs in several categories, you can actually effectively file it under multiple labels without having to make copies. While Google makes an effort to bridge this very different view of how mail should be organized, it means that Gmail can behave very differently than typically expected. As a result they have a knowledge base article on recommended IMAP settings, and an article mapping out how certain actions in a mail program translate to Google.

IMAP, for those who are wondering, is one of the two most common systems for retrieving mail. POP3, the older standard, downloads the mail to your machine just like recovering it from the cubby in a mail room, and now your computer has the only copy.  IMAP allows easy web access because the master copy always stays online. Whenever you log in via the web or a mail program and read new mails, delete mail, or move mail, those changes are also made to the original copy so that the next time you check your mail, no matter what you check it on, you see the same view. 

I’ll address one other issue right up front: Why bother using a separate mail program?

I don’t mind Google’s web interface. On those occasions where my laptop is unavailable or inconvenient (I’m working at another computer that I need to access email from) I’ll gladly use the web interface. That said, I also have several email accounts (work, Gmail, and an older personal account that I’ve had for years that isn’t Google-based), so being able to get to all of my mail from one place is a necessity. Factor in some nifty keyboard shortcuts courtesy of Mail Act-On and better integration and handling of attachments with the rest of my computer, and it’s a done deal.

The problem of course lies in the conflict between how every other IMAP mail service talks to Mail.app (or Outlook, etc.), and how Google does. I don’t want to treat one account differently from the others. 

So here’s a guide to tweaking both Google, and Mail.app, to work the way you want it to . Some of these hints have parallels in Outlook or Thunderbird, especially the ones dealing with online Google settings.

Stop Checking Your Mail

First things first, turn off all automated, scheduled email checks if you can. Google (and Mobileme/iCloud, and many other IMAP mail services) use a feature of IMAP that allows them to  get email as soon as it lands in your inbox without having to ask the server if anything new is in. Not only do you not need it in most cases, but if you are using the web service, or a phone to check your email as well, this can result in enough simultaneous connections (the desktop mail programs can make a lot of connections) to trigger Google into blocking access to your account as a potential spammer, and you won’t be able to download new mail.

In Mail.app this is found under the general tab of the mail preferences. The applies to Thunderbird and Outlook as well, though Outlook does give you the ability to isolate some accounts to check for new mail, but not others. 

If you must update your inbox on a schedule, set it to hourly, or even less often.

 

Recommended Settings

Let’s walk through the recommended settings for Google, and see why each of them exists. Before we do that, let’s look at how Mail.app sets up a Gmail account by default:

 

  • Do NOT save sent messages on the server. If your client is sending mail through Gmail's SMTP2 server, your sent messages will be automatically copied to the [Gmail]/Sent Mail folder.

This one is plain enough, but not mentioned here is that since Google automatically copies all outgoing mail to “sent”, if you copy all sent messages to the online sent folder as well, you get duplicates of everything ever sent. You also waste time uploading a second copy of your message just to park a copy in “Sent Items”.

If you look at the earlier screen shot, you’ll see that Apple doesn’t set it the way Google recommends. I strongly recommend unchecking it.

The only downside is that your default “sent” folder in Mail.app may not reflect any messages sent via the web, or from your phone or another computer. That said, if you look at the list of IMAP folders (usually to the left), under the folder “[Gmail]” you will find a folder called “Sent Mail” that contains every email sent, no matter where it was sent from.

Since I have multiple accounts, I still want one place I can go to and check for sent messages that may not have been sent via Mail.app. That’s where smart folders come in and I’ll cover those later.

  • DO save draft messages on the server. If you want your drafts in your mail client to sync correctly with Gmail's web interface, set your client to save drafts to the [Gmail]/Drafts folder.

This is generally good advice, and Apple sets this by default. Unfortunately, there’s a known “bug” in how Mail.app deals with Google and drafts that results in two wonky side effects. First, when you finally finish a draft and send it off, it doesn’t always clear the draft out of the drafts folder. Second, there is an auto-save behavior of the drafts that can result in dozens of draft copies being saved as you keep the draft open and keep working on it. I generally recommend to follow Google’s guidance here, but people who don’t care about accessing the same drafts folder no matter where they are may consider unchecking this.

  • Do NOT save deleted messages on the server. Messages that are deleted from an IMAP folder (except for those in [Gmail]/Spam or [Gmail]/Trash) only have that label removed and still exist in All Mail. Hence, your client doesn't need to store an extra copy of a deleted message.
  • Do NOT save deleted messages to your [Gmail]/Trash folder because this will delete a message in all folders.

You’ll notice that Apple doesn’t follow this by default, and personally, I prefer the way Apple sets it by default.

Google wants you to actually drag a message to the trash to delete it. “Deleting” the message by using the delete button or key merely hides it and is treated like archiving a message that hasn’t had a label/folder applied to it - and it is still available in “All Mail”. Given that email programs don’t differentiate between “Archive” and “Delete” like the web interface does, this is a reasonable compromise, and if I was using only Google accounts, I would probably do it their way. 

The problem is that it makes Google based accounts behave differently from the non-Google ones I use. As a result, I DO save mail on the server, and DO move deleted messages to the trash folder. I want the messages I delete to actually be deleted. I don’t even use “All Mail” - even in the web interface, since I figure if I want to keep the message, I’ll file it under a label/folder, even one as generic as “other.”

  • Do NOT save deleted messages to your [Gmail]/All Mail folder as some clients will try to empty this folder and ultimately fail. This can lead to delayed mail access or excessive battery consumption on a mobile device

Solid advice. Though the only harm in doing so is duplicate messages, why waste space?

  • Do NOT enable your client's junk mail filters. Gmail's spam filters also work in your IMAP client, and we recommend turning off any additional anti-spam or junk mail filters within your client. Your client's filter will attempt to download and classify all of your existing messages, which may slow down your client until the process is complete.

In short - turn off junk mail filtering entirely if you can, and just look in Google’s “Spam” folder for anything that may have been misfiled. If you can’t turn off all junk filtering (say, you use it for an iCloud or other account), there are some advanced settings I’ll show you in a bit that allow you to selectively filter some accounts but not others. You can also use smart folders so that you can still look at all of your junk mail folders in one place.

As a result, my “Mailbox Behaviors” under Preferences > Accounts tends to look like this:

 

Before we settle in to email friends and family, we need to do one more thing - designate our drafts and trash folders. Otherwise, Mail will end up creating its own folders, and you’ll end up with the confusion of duplicate folders to sort through whenever you look at your mail elsewhere.

In the folder list to the left, expand out the folder named “[Gmail]” and select the folder named “Drafts”. Then go to the Mailbox menu , then select “Use This Mailbox For”, and choose “Drafts”. Then select [Gmail]/Trash on the left, and go to Mailbox > Use This Mailbox For > Trash.

The next articles will cover setting up smart folders, advanced Junk Mail settings, and how to manage junk filtering in Gmail.