Square, Coin and Smart Bank Cards

I read a blog post today from the folks at Square talking about how the more secure smart card enabled bank cards are coming to the US soon. That reminded me of my initial reaction to Square when it was first being hyped: “oh great, another magnetic stripe reader; can’t the US please move to something better.”

I first encountered embedded chips in my bank cards back in the early 1990s, in France – that is over 20 years ago. While my UK cards today still have the magnetic stripe (so they work in the US!), they also have chips and contactless touch pay capabilities.

When companies like Square, and more recently Coin, create technologies that are dependent on magnetic stripe technology I am amazed. It sounds like Square will be in a position to get new readers to their existing business customers. I don’t see how Coin will even survive if the US really can make significant progress in switching to chip & PIN technology next year (although I do have two cards now from US banks with the technology in them).

Card Skimmers

As mentioned in that Square blog post, card skimming is something that can be done cheaply, and discretely. In the US it is still common for customers to give their cards to waiters in restaurants and have the card disappear somewhere to be swiped. It would be easy for that card to also be swiped through a skimmer and the data either sold or written to a new blank card. It could even happen at a register in a store right in front of your eyes without raising suspicions from most customers it can be done so fast.

There is also a certain irony here that Coin is only possible because card data is easily replicated on another card. If the cards were more secure, and could not be cloned, getting the data into a Coin card would simply not be possible (and it shouldn’t be possible).

Hacked Card Terminals

Another recent attack on credit cards has been via hacks to the terminals in large stores so that the swiped data can be collected and uploaded to an external site. Because the magnetic stripe information is static, this is easy to do. With a smart card enabled card, the data changes each time so recording it does the attacker no good.

Touch Pay

Another technology that I hope will find its way into these new terminals is support for touch pay technology. Apple’s recent iPhone 6 Apple Pay, along with Google’s existing NFC based payment technology, should help the push in this direction. If the US is going to upgrade its payment terminals to handle more modern technology, it may as well get both chip and contactless in one hit.

iPhone 6 Case

Waterfield Smart CaseAll my iPhones to date, starting with my 3GS, have lived inside a Smart Case from Waterfield Designs; my iPads have likewise lived in one of their Ultimate Sleeve cases. They are a local firm here in San Francisco, and I love their products and their service. 

When I pre-ordered my 6, the site I visited next was theirs to get an estimate of when they would have my favourite case ready for the new phone.

But there was no Smart Case listed for the iPhone 6. I reached out to them on Twitter, and it seems it will not be there for a while. They do have a number of other options, but none really appealed to me in the way the Smart Case had (and I have had 3 of them now spanning 5 years of use, so they have become familiar).

Joli Originals

Joli Originals SleeveThat started me on a search for other options that might fit the bill. Aside from a raft of case options from the regular large manufacturers, I stumbled on Joli Originals in a review of premium cases for iPhone 5 devices and when I visited their site they were taking pre-orders for iPhone 6 sleeves.

Not local by any means (they are based in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands), but I got a similar vibe from them in terms of the love they put into their products & also the fast response to a query on Twitter.

So, I pre-ordered a smooth grey sleeve with black interior (the red almost had me, but my more conservative side won out at the final moment).

I am hopeful that it will arrive by the end of this week (they tweeted that they were hoping to ship most pre-orders on Monday) & I am looking forward to seeing it and trying it on the phone.

Temporary Case

Very quickly on Friday it became apparent I would need something relatively inexpensive to protect my phone in my pocket until the Joli sleeve arrived. Our local Target had nothing that appealed to me, so I scanned Amazon. Amazingly they had a case available for delivery on Sunday (unusual), that I thought would probably work for a short time: the i-Blason wallet style case. Not my normal style at all, but I really wanted so something that would cover the glass while in my pocket. 

As promised, it arrived on Sunday (thank you Amazon Prime) and while it is not going to win any style awards, it is doing the job of protecting the phone in my pocket. Not sure how you are meant to make a call without a headset, but I rarely make calls anyway, and do prefer to use my Bluetooth headphones when I do, so I don’t foresee that being a problem).

AT&T’s “GeorgeA” Was Right

Of all the people I spoke to earlier in the week about the sudden change in the estimated delivery date for my iPhone 6 from delivering on 9/19 when I ordered it to delivering 10/13-10/31 when I checked the online status, only GeorgeA from the @ATTCustomerCare Twitter team suggested that the reason the order could not be canceled was that it really was still scheduled to ship in time for September 19 and it was the new estimate that was incorrect.

Today’s status on AT&T’s site has changed from estimating delivery in the second half of October, to shipped and expected to arrive tomorrow:

Shipped

It amazes me that their e-commerce systems can’t keep track of things a little better, but it would almost have been better to just say they didn’t have a delivery date available than to estimate delivery over a month after the order date. I’ve heard of under promising and over delivering, but that’s taking it to an extreme!

Thank You GeorgeA

I would like to say a big thank you to GeorgeA both for spending the time earlier in the week explaining what he saw and what he thought it meant, and for being the only AT&T employee I spoke to on Tuesday who could work out that the error actually meant.

Latest From AT&T on iPhone 6 Delivery

After creating a new Twitter account specially to communicate with @ATTCustomerCare (since they were ignoring/blocking my regular account), I finally found somebody who reached out and called me.

He too hit the problem that the order cannot be canceled, and he tweeted the error message to me:

Error Message

That is a little cryptic, but WMS apparently means “Warehouse Management System” and he also added the comment “It’s suppose to go out on 9/19″ followed by “Remember it’s a system that is calculating that but since you ordered day one I don’t forsee a problem.” That is certainly what the original date showed on the order, and I live in hope that the earlier comments I received yesterday were wrong and in fact it is the estimated delivery window in the status message that is inaccurate.

Meanwhile, I am going to compare the cost of T-Mobile for our five lines and see how that would work out.

AT&T Bait & Switch Update

After getting no reply from @ATTCustomerCare, but seeing them tell several people it is possible to cancel a pre-order, I thought I would call the regular customer service. After sitting on hold for almost an hour (being repeatedly told how much they value me as a customer), I spoke to somebody who tried to cancel the order several different ways. No dice.

She then transferred me to Premier support, which left me on hold for a bit longer. At the end of that, I was told that the order could not be canceled once it has been submitted (I would have thought it would be harder to cancel one that had not been submitted, but not in the world of AT&T). Almost 90 minutes on the phone & still no progress whatsoever.

Pending Shipment

This is what my order status currently shows:

Order Status

Apparently, they will be preparing it for shipment for the next month or so. And in that time there is nothing I can do.

Refuse Delivery

The helpful advice I got was that I could simply refuse delivery of the phone when it arrives. Really? The best solution to canceling an order that won’t ship for several weeks is to have it ship to me, and then tell the delivery firm to return it?

I also learned that this glitch (the word he used) is something they know about and they are trying to fix.

Meanwhile, my line is not eligible for upgrade, so there is nothing I can do to source a phone elsewhere.

Twitter Support

The lack of responses on Twitter is puzzling too. So I created a new Twitter account and sent a question about my upgrade from that account. Sure enough, I got a response within a few minutes. Is it possible that despite “following” me (and being followed by me), they have somehow decided to block my regular Twitter account? If so, what does that tell me about how they feel about my business. Perhaps I should just cancel the service and move to T-Mobile.

Mac OS X (Mavericks) Wi-Fi Disconnecting

For a while now one of the Mac Books on our home network has been very quick to disconnect from the Wi-Fi network when the link is idle (and, by quick, I mean just a few seconds with no traffic is enough to make it drop the connection).

To make it even more annoying, the Wi-Fi network comes from a relatively new (1 generation ago) Apple Airport Extreme router, so there really should not be any compatibility issues between the laptop and the router. But, it almost never happens anywhere else.

In the console app, I see this line every time it happens:

kernel[0]: AirPort: Link Down on en1. Reason 4 (Disassociated due to inactivity).

This morning it dropped the Wi-Fi within a few seconds of me hanging up on a Google hangouts video call.

The difference I see between the working laptop and the one that is dropping, is that the working one has the security for the network as “WPA2 Personal” (which is correct), but the one that drops had the security set to “WPA/WPA2 Personal” – the more relaxed mode that supports the older WPA encryption as well.

So, I deleted the entry from the Mac’s list of networks and added it back, but selected the “WPA2 Personal” option and it seems to have fixed the issue (I did need to turn the Wi-Fi off and back on to make this stick which shouldn’t really have been necessary).

If you have been seeing this, try it. If your router is set to allow both versions of WPA as well, you might want to change that to be just WPA2 as well (not sure whether that is needed, or if just changing the Mac setting would work – my home router was already set to be just WPA2).

AT&T iPhone 6 Pre-Order “Bait & Switch”

Wavered on whether to pre-order a new iPhone 6, or just wait, but in the end I thought I would pre-order. When I got to the AT&T site, they were still reporting delivery dates of “on or around” September 19 for the iPhone 6, though only for the 128GB model. I went ahead and ordered one and thought everything was set.

Then, early this morning (around 3am PDT), I saw a tweet telling me how to check my order status, so I did. Much to my surprise, rather than the September 19 estimated delivery date I had seen when I clicked the order button, the AT&T site was saying October 13 – October 31. That’s almost a whole month later than they promised. Had they said that on their site when I ordered it, I would have ordered it from Apple (who even today are saying the first week of October), and I would probably have stuck with the 64GB which was my first choice.

No problem, I thought, since it is 4-6 weeks out I can just cancel the order and either try my luck at a store on Friday or order from Apple. So I called the number on the web page, waited 25 minutes to speak to somebody, only to be told she couldn’t cancel the order. I asked for a supervisor, and waited another 5-10 minutes. When he came on the line, he said it was impossible to cancel the order because it was at the warehouse being packed. Really? What do they do to these people to make them believe it takes 4-6 weeks to pack a phone in a box? Of course it is not at the warehouse being packed. It is still an electronic order awaiting devices to arrive to be fulfilled. And they don’t expect those for several weeks. So canceling the order is not impossible at all.

Twitter Support

The normally responsive Twitter support team also seem to be totally ignoring me this morning. I have tweeted to them and even sent them direct messages, but still not a peep back. Amusingly, Verizon responded faster than AT&T!

Perhaps it is time to just take my business to a carrier that does care. It seems clear that AT&T don’t care, and neither can they operate an online business. Bad enough that they advertise one delivery date, and then shift it by a month after the order is placed, but to not have a way to easily cancel a pre-order is ridiculous. Perhaps I should call American Express and dispute the charge for the taxes on the phone – I suspect they’d be able to cancel the order then.

Canceled Orders

Then I started seeing replies to other people on Twitter with iPhone 6 order issues, and to be honest it looks like AT&T were totally unprepared for people to order this phone. Was it really a surprise to them that lots of people would be pre-ordering it? Haven’t they done this before?

Some Examples From Twitter

(At least they received a reply from AT&T – I have had no response at all. Apparently I am on some kind of no response list.)

Crowd Funding Update

Over the last year or so I have only backed a few crowd funded projects, several on Kickstarter and several on IndieGoGo. There has always been a lot of confusion around what these platforms offer, and many people who sign up for something wrongly assume they are buying something at a discount price. What you are doing when you sign up to back one of these projects is exactly that. You are essentially investing in an idea. Unlike more conventional investments where you typically get some form of equity, in the case of these two sites what you get is a reward, but only if the project is successful.

To help set people’s expectations, here’s an update on the few projects I have backed that actually reached their funding goals and started (note to IndieGoGo users: beware of projects using the model where they get whatever funds they raise even if the goal is not reached – that might mean they lack the funds to actually deliver anything).

Pebble Smartwatch – DELIVERED

Probably one of the best known crowd funding projects, and I believe the first breakout success raising far more than their initial goal, the Pebble Smartwatch project was successful and delivered their product. They were late however: estimated in September 2012, I actually received the reward in March 2013 (six months late).

Since then they have gone on to launch a second range of products (which I bought from their website), as well as selling their initial watch through both online and brick and mortar stores. Overall, a very successful outcome for them and a mostly successful product (it still has some bugs, but mostly related to iOS limitations I suspect).

Lima

Next on the list is a project to deliver a small device that connects a USB hard drive to your home network, and from there to the internet. The project was due to ship in April 2014, and still has not done so. At this point they claim to be shipping early beta units to those who volunteered to test it. I have not seen an updated delivery date in a while.

You can read more about their product at meetlima.com, but essentially their idea is that all your content should be available on all your devices. Cloud storage, but hosted on a drive you own.

Lono

Lono is a smart, connected sprinkler controller. Designed to give sprinkler controllers both remote control over the internet but also improve what has to be one of the worst user interface ever designed. Lono was meant to ship in March 2014, but still has not done so. The latest estimate is September 2014 (which, if they keep to it, would be six months late).

I have high hopes for this one as I would love to replace the crazy controller that our builder installed with something a little more high tech. It also connects one more aspect of the house to the internet.

Giroptic 360° HD Camera

My most recent, and largest crowd funding investment to date, is a 360 degree camera called Giroptic from a team in France. The Kickstarter page explains more about what the project is, but in essence it is a camera that can take full 360 degree photos in a single shot, as well as capture full 360° video.

Perhaps the best way to see what this means is to install one of their apps which are already in the stores (iOS, Android) and look at the sample videos and photos. Their estimated delivery date is November 2014; we’ll see how close to that they get – ramping up for production seems to be where many of these projects run into trouble.

 ParaShoot

Another camera project, this one had a rough start, raising a lot of money on Kickstarter only to be suspended at the last minute with little explanation from Kickstarter as to why they did so. The project then moved to IndieGoGo where it was successful in getting funded.

Originally due to be delivered in December 2013, the project is still on-going. The most recent update (within the last week) included a link to a pre-release unit review from one of the backers who opted to get a pre-release unit early. Those were originally expected in November 2013, so the project is 8-9 months late at this point.

Gecko – DELIVERED

My other IndieGoGo hardware project, the Gecko project provides Bluetooth low energy tags that can be used in a number of different ways. The tags act as virtual leashes, letting you know when they are too far from your smartphone, gesture controllers (shake them to trigger things), a remote motion sensor and, if you have a compatible camera, they can be used as a remote shutter release for you camera (with an additional adapter).

The project was due to deliver in January 2014, and my two Gecko tags arrived a few days ago (7-8 months late).

Preventing “Forgotten Baby” Deaths

Maybe being a father of a couple of young kids, one of whom is still riding in the rear facing infant car seat makes the recent stories of babies dying when they were accidentally left in the car all day when their parent (apparently most often their father) forgets to drop them at the day care in the morning worse, but it strikes me there ought to be something that technology can do to make this less likely. 

Low Tech Ideas

I read about the shoe trick the other day, and while it is clever, I don’t see it being foolproof. The one day you are rushing you will forget to place the shoe in the back too, and those are the most likely days you will forget the baby. Not to mention that it relies on you driving an automatic car. Those with a clutch pedal, will probably want to keep their left shoe on as well while driving.

Similar ideas exist using bags, or other items you are likely to remember, but realistically I think they all suffer from the same flaw, that they will be forgetten on the days when they are most needed.

I am also mystified why day care places don’t call to find out where their charges are when they don’t arrive on time and they haven’t been told not to expect them that day (I should actually check what my toddler’s preschool would do if he didn’t turn up and we hadn’t called to let them know).

Finally, for the low tech options, I read another suggestion that doesn’t rely on the day care place calling, but instead just has the parent who drops the kid off call (or I guess text if you prefer) their spouse to confirm the drop off. If the spouse doesn’t get the message at the expected time they can call to find out why.

A High Tech Idea

I have this little red low energy Bluetooth (BLE) device at home that is a demo/developer device for the Texas Instruments BLE chipset contained within it. This little gadget comes with a number of features that would be useful for building a baby seat alarm.

The basic idea is simple:

The device beacons continually indicating whether or not it detects a baby in the car seat. Any nearby BLE device can hear those beacons and will be able to react to them.

The parent either has an app on their BLE enabled smartphone (all recent iPhones and most, if not all, recent Android phones have support for this) that can listen for these beacons, or they have a complementary BLE gadget on their car keys that is paired with the baby sensor.

Now the clever part. One feature of the BLE spec is the ability to determine the approximate distance between the two devices. If the parent unit (app or key fob), detects the distance between it and the beaconing car seat increasing while the seat is occupied it can sound the alarm. Immediately reminding the parent that the child is still in the car seat.

Sensing the Child

There are baby seat alarms already on the market, but a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in July 2012 found none were that reliable. The devices in the study that sensed the child were mostly based on either a pressure pad under the car seat cushion, or a replacement chest clip for the car seat’s restraint. One was using carbon dioxide sensors integrated into the car to sense a breathing baby (or animal) left in the vehicle.

The pressure pads all suffer from being able to move, or having the child move off of them by shifting in the seat. The clips seem like they should be better but in the NHTSA testing seemed to have problems staying synchronized with the parent module. Also, as the report indicates, not all the deaths are from children in car seats. Some are from children who climb into the car themselves to play and then get stuck inside.

The TI Sensortag contains an array of sensors, most of which are irrelevant for this application (barometer, gyroscope etc). But, there is an IR temperature sensor behind that opening in the front of the device which functions a bit like the IR motion sensors username alarm applications. If the sensor is positioned where it can “see” the child, the IR sensor should be usable to indicate the presence of the child in the seat. The parent app can then arm itself and alert when it moves too far from the seat sensor.

Just an idea, and clearly it needs a little more experimentation and even a prototype. And then I think it would make an awesome Kickstarter/IndieGoGo crowd funded project.

An Alternative

If the IR sensor proves to be too difficult to make reliable, there is perhaps a simpler option: a tag bracelet that the baby wears and another that stays in the car. When the phone sees both tags, it arms. When the baby is dropped off, there will be a period of time when it sees just the baby tag, and then just the car tag again. If it starts moving away from the car tag and the baby tag at the same time, it can sound the alarm.

To avoid forgetting the baby tag, the app can also alert the user when it sees the car tag and not the baby tag; forcing the parent to confirm that the baby is not in the car for this trip before they set off.

United In-Flight Entertainment

Two planes, two different in flight entertainment systems, and two completely different experiences. On the way from San Francisco to Houston last week our flight was on a new 787 Dreamliner. Today’s return (where I am writing this) is on what appears to be a relative new 737. The in flight entertainment systems on the two aircraft were completely different.

Dreamliner

The 787 is obviously designed as an international route aircraft, and its in flight system was filled with a great selection of movies, new and old, as well as TV programs. While there was also audio, I did not check that out on our flight.

The large seat back touch screens made for a very simple selection process and there was no fee for any of the programming, or the flight information/map. There was also a USB power outlet right there under the screen in case you needed to charge anything up (as well as 110VAC outlets between the seats).

The only real negatives I have for the system were the headphone jack being located under the screen instead of in the armrest, leaving the wire permanently in the way, and the lack of any tilt option left the screen at an angle when the person in front reclined their seat. It was still viewable at that angle unlike some of the earlier seat back screens which suffered from very limited viewing angles.

B737 DirecTV

The system on today’s 737 is a DirecTV one. As on the Dreamliner, there are reasonably large seat back screens, which tilt in this case, but they are not touch screens. The controls are located in the arm rest. In addition to a range of DirecTV satellite TV (live), there were also a handful of current movies and an in flight map channel on the system.

Unlike the Dreamliner system though, this one would have cost us around $8 to enable for our almost 4 hour flight (over $2/hour). There is a discount for enabling three or more screens, but still that is an expensive option for some in flight TV. Even more bizarre, the map is not available unless you pay the fee either; only the United Welcome channel, essentially a stream of ads, is available without payment.

The other negative, and I can only assume they never tested this system with real passengers, is that the controls have been inexplicably installed on the top surface of the armrest, almost exactly where my elbow rests. That means I am frequently pressing one of the buttons on the controller. While having the controls on the side of the armrests is not idea from the perspective of people seeing them, placing them on the upper surface of an armrest is even worse. The controls themselves are tiny, and could easily have been located next to the screen where they would be simple to use and not vulnerable to accidental elbow presses.

We do also have power outlets located between the seats on this aircraft, though no USB outlet under the screen, so you’ll need to pack the USB charger too if you want an in flight refueling for your electronics.