Friday, September 13, 2013

The Euro (despicable mercantilist experiment)

I love this hold-no-punches description of the Euro by commenter Foppe.

First he describes that nl/de entered the Euro at wage rate that was deliberately low, adding to their pre-existing competitive advantages over the southern Eurozone.

Then he describes how northern banks loved the Euro project.  They had been "languishing" in credit saturated markets, then the Euro opened up lots of new lending opportunities in the south, with devaluation risk removed, but where they could still charge much higher rates.  Meanwhile, all the credit extended to the south increased purchases of manufactured goods from the north, which helped those businesses expand further.  So the north got the both interest and the manufacturing.  Then he concludes:

And now that the bubble has been punctured, they get to moralize a lot about the imprudence of ‘garlic-eaters’, when the whole thing was just a despicable mercantilist experiment of giant proportions, which functioned largely to prop up stagnant western-european economies.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

smartphone connectors

Smartphone connectors have been changing, and, no surprise, not for the better.

The original iPod connector used for iPhone was the best.  Strange for such a big connector, it always mates easily, and never improperly.  It also had lots of specialized connections, such as analog audio and video outputs.  So, following the general industry path of eliminating everything analog, which is entirely driven by the attempt to make users into helpless sheep, it had to go.

The mini-USB connector used on the Samsung Galaxy phone is horrible.  It's hard to tell up from down, so 10 seconds of visual checking are required first.  Then it's very sensitive to rotation, a few degrees off and it won't go in.  And then mini-USB connectors often vary a bit in size, and some are large enough to take some effort for insertion.  That is notably true of a well known and expensive USB retractable cable made for smartphones.  It fits, but just barely, into the Samsung connector.

Apple has some new connector also.  It's obvious to me that the motivation behind this new connector is to drop all things analog for better intellectual monopolies.  I haven't tried it, but it looks like it was designed for more easy insertion than typical mini-USB.

The endless cacophony of smartphones

By default, the smartphones I have used attempt to advertise their existence with an endless cacophony of sounds.  They are very annoying mostly, and typically draw attention to oneself just when one doesn't want that attention.  A typical example is the shutter click.  Whenever one takes a picture one gets a gratuitous shutter click sound, louder than the loudest film camera I've ever used, even on the lowest setting (if such settings are even available).  This has little value to the picture taker (who can usually see other indications that the picture was actually taken--and such indication shouldn't even be needed if the camera is reliable and fast enough.  But it might be useful to art museum staff, pretty girls on the beach, and so on, to hear that their picture is being taken, intellectual monopolies being sidestepped, and so on.  One of my earliest experiences of this was at the famous Field Museum in Chicago, where, yes, I was trying to sneak a photo of one of the exhibits to show a friend.  I was very careful to be sure there was nobody around me.  I hid the phone close to my body as I was taking the picture.  But all my subterfuge was made useless by that little shutter click, which echoed through the surrounding area.  As I left the area, there was at least one security staff following me.  But they hadn't actually seen anything fortunately and didn't bother me.

I figure that smarphone makers are some of the biggest intellectual monopolists around, and so they add this shutter click feature to help their fellow monopolists.  That is so typical of mobile devices, computer programs, and operating systems these days it's hardly worth mentioning.  Over time, features that users actually like keep on being eroded (remember the freewheeling days of being able to record analog audio and video from nearly everything?), and features that users don't want keep being added (often, endlessly promoted as major user advances by legions of fanboys and fangirls) but with the actual primary interest of advancing intellectual monopolies, captive user base, and the like.  Well they might fool kids with these tactics, but they don't fool me.  Not that I can do anything about it other than complain.  And by the way, I do have a perfect right to complain, there aren't many choices and there all pretty much the same, and I think my complaining is part of the process of moving things forward.  I have actually seen things I've complained about actually get fixed.  Another thing that fanboys and fangirls typically say is that you have no right to complain (after the great corporations who rule the world have done so many wonderful things for us) and we should just buy some other product, or none at all.  That usually gets you a slightly different but usually pretty similar set of things to complain about.

Perhaps I don't remember all the audible annoyances of my iPhone 3G because I had it so long, by the time I retired it I had figured out how to stop most annoyances.  And the fully centralized settings widget was helpful in doing so.

Android seems less user friendly in shutting these things off because you may need to visit both the general settings menu, which itself has 4 parts, with the 4th "developer" part being full of additonal submenus, and so on.  And the applications have their own settings menu, which as I demonstrated in another post are often uselessly context sensitive, meaning that to get to a particular setting you have to be doing, or not doing, a particular thing.

Now I'm especially annoyed by text typing sounds, phone dialing sounds, and the like.  I did figure out how to shut off the email sound already, that was way over the top, waking me up in the deep of the night to alert me of new spam.   NONE of these sounds should be enabled by default.  Or perhaps there should be some kind of built-in expert or mode you can set, such as the All Silent Mode which stops all sounds except the essential phone ring and text message notification.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

More reasons to be mad

I have something else with the name AT&T on it, my AT&T Universal Card.  Actually, it's a MasterCard administered by Citibank.  I've had the account for 21 years (that's probably my longest credit relationship ever--I paid off my home in 20 years and the owning bank changed a couple of times as well).

Just as a note: I've been more happy with the website for Universal Card than any other, even after the experience I describe here.  They've all given me grief more than once...  It's hard to say who has been the worst.  But I'd still say Universal Card has been the best, and it's been the best for a long time.  What I describe below is a typical snafu.

I recently took advantage of one of their 0% interest offers to refinance nearly $7000 of debt that was on a Chase card.  Yes I routinely swap debt from one creditor to another to maintain overall rates near 0%.  I know at some point the music might stop, but while it plays we should keep on dancing.  The banks of course know we will do this, in fact they encourage us to transfer balances from other banks.  They may refuse to transfer balances from other cards if it's the same bank, however.  I keep balances on a few non-zero rate cards simply because they are important relationships, like my credit union (which is fairly low interest anyway) or my Chase business card (that card gives me the lowest rates of any card I have, so I park extra negative balances there without too much concern, even if it's not a zero percent rate, and zero percent rates are almost always really about 3% because there is almost always a transfer fee of 3% or more).

Today I got email saying I had a message from AT&T about my account.  I clicked on the link and it took me to a login page.  After logging in, it sat with busy wheel for a long time.  I opened another window and tried to go directly to Universal Card online as I have several times a month for the last 13 or more years.  In that second window, I get message saying "You have to have baking relationship with citibank to access this part of the site.")  I'd never seen that message before, and it likely had something to do with trying to get my message through the first link.

Well I called the number on the back of the card.  First I had (no other choice than) to enter all sorts of account and verification information.  Finally I got a synopsis of my account balance, etc., but nothing about this "important message."  But I did finally get opportunity to ask about "something else" by saying "something else."  So then I got a human representative.  She was nice but couldn't do anything about website issues.  So then I was transferred to technical support.  Technical support had me shut down my browser and try again.  Geez I should have thought of doing that first.  It worked.

But then, within the Account Online, I can't find anything about this "message" I was supposed to see.  My secure messages folder in Account Online has no messages at all.

More reasons to be mad

After days of struggling to get my contacts, photos, and other information copied to my replacement Galaxy S4 from AT&T, I finally shipped my old phone back to AT&T using the prepaid label on Saturday August 31.  I shipped it at a US Post Office and got a receipt.  They would not let me add delivery confirmation to the prepaid package.

On Monday September 9, I get a letter from AT&T telling me they haven't received my phone in two weeks (it still wasn't quite two weeks from the day I received it on Wednesday August 28), so I should be sure to ship it soon.

Thanks again for adding to my paranoia.

Friday, September 6, 2013

More run around with online banking

Nowadays I pay all my credit cards online (though I still like the paper statements as a permanent record).  I check my bank balance online also.

This is very convenient except when it isn't.  Far too often I am asked to re-register my computer.  My credit union has done this every time I've accessed my account since I got new Mac Mini last year.  I don't know why it keeps asking me this.  It's very inconvenient.  In order that it would not do this, and for similar concerns, I've given up trying to block cookies.  I keep my cookies wide open because if I don't, I can't do important things I need to do.  So much for security...  But even with my cookies wide open it is not remembering my having registered this computer.  But when I called the office, they said they did use cookies, and for it to remember my registering this computer I should keep my cookies open, so I still do, even though it doesn't actually seem to work.

OK, so a few times each month my credit union website asks me to re-register my computer.  In order to do this, it either asks me an obscure question, or it sends me an email.  Either one is bad.  I did not choose these questions, such as "What City was your mother born in?"  I would not have chosen a question like that because even I don't know the answer.  My mother was born in Canada in a rural area to at least one US citizen who died in childbirth, then was adopted by her uncle who lived right across the border. So I might have given her uncle's city.  But wait, I've only known her uncle to live in one city, but he moved there after my mother was born.  So I can't even remember which approximate answer I gave.  Did I give the city he lived in when my mother was first adopted, or slightly later?  I don't even always remember the name of the first place (a tiny settlement), but I do remember the later one.  So I must have given that.  But wait, I might have alternatively given the name of the Canadian province she actually was born in.  I seem to recall doing that a few times also.

Ultimately this isn't about knowing certain key (but perhaps unknown) facts about my life, but remember the particular way I answered them in a hurried and tense moment some time in the past, when my account asked me to answer these questions for enhanced security before I could check my balance that time.

Another example of this is my high school.  Suppose my high school were Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School.  Did I answer "Roosevelt" ?  That would be simple, but also ambiguous.  So then did I answer Franklin Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FD Roosevelt, F. D. R., FDR, etc. ???  And then even if I remember that I simply answered Roosevelt, did I say Roosevelt High School, Roosevelt HS, or just Roosevelt?

Nearly every single question like this has issues like this, there are many ways I could have answered the question, and what these "security questions" are really doing is forcing me to remember the specific way I answered them on some previous occasion.

I suppose I should just do the email option, but to do the email I need to access my work email account, since that's the one I always use for important stuff, and to do that from home I need to use the webmail interface.  This is sufficiently inconvenient that I'm always tempted to use the "answer questions" option.  I shouldn't, because far too often, including today, giving a wrong answer can be a path to being locked out of my account altogether and having to make a phone call during business hours which is not usually when I'm doing my banking.

OK, that's the run around with the "computer registration" feature which sometimes pops up, or in the case of my credit union, seems to always pop up.  But I also have trouble with the passwords.

Nowadays one has to keep in mind or somehow a large set of passwords for all the things one wants to access via computer.  A friend of mine has a written list.  I don't want to depend on the physical world like that for a simple reason.  I can never find anything in the physical world!  If I ever wrote a list (and in fact, I did try to do that several times) the first thing that would happen would be that I would not be able to find the list.  And especially I would not be able to find the list when I had to add some new password to it.  So I would start another list.  OK, you can see how this is not going to work.

So instead I have a tricky way of creating passwords for things depending on what those things are called.  That is what has actually worked for me over the last 15 years.  But there are several problems there also.  For one, not all accounts permit the same special characters.  So then I had to remember alternate rules for different accounts.  Where I couldn't use @ I'd use A instead, and so on.

Then, in addition, there's a question of what things were called when I created passwords to them.  For example, for Rolling Heights Credit Union did I use the name "Rolling Heights" or "Credit Union"?

I normally remember these things well enough.  But sometimes it takes more than one login attempt.  Sheer paranoia is behind the requirement that you get your password correct in just 3 attempts.  If it's a decent password, you don't make it significantly less secure by allowing 50 login attempts, and that is one of my recommendations here.  Because if for some reason I can't exactly remember how I created a particular password in just three attempts, my effort to pay my bills is thwarted, perhaps to be forgotten about the next week.

Discover Card has another trick.  If you don't get your password correct on the very first attempt, it then erases your actual login name (remembered from the last visit) so you have to enter that as well.  And that is another thing I don't always remember.  I try to create usernames following certain rules, but often I can't choose the name I want and have to bend those rules.

All this was taken to another level with the credit analysis service MyFico.  They had enormously long pass codes that you could not cut and paste but had to enter in by hand and get exactly correct, in a certain number of minutes, and all sorts of other impossibilities similar to the above.  I accessed the service twice and couldn't manage to do it ever again.  And it didn't help that my work email kept changing (not by my choice) during this process.  The service nicely re-billed itself to my credit card for the second year when I hadn't been able to use it in 10 months.  Finally, after two or three years of being unable to access the service, I got them to cancel it, somehow.

Anyway, I mention MyFico because that was my worst experience ever maintaining online access.  Discover Card and my credit union are slightly less paranoid than MyFico.  The most useable online services have been Chase and AT&T Universal Card (aka Citibank).  Chase has only bothered me a few times with the "register this computer" (for the umpteenth time) crap, but not so much as my Credit Union.  Citibank even fewer times.

One other thing I totally detest is that whenever there is a re-register your computer or other similar incident, you then have to choose a brand new password.  Even though there was no indication that my (quite strong) password was compromised in any way (if anything it was too strong, and I couldn't even remember it) I can't use that password anymore and have to create a new one.  So then I go back to my rules and figure out a new way to parse the name of the institution, and then try to keep track of that change in my mind.

I don't think a strong password should ever need to be changed, unless there is some actual evidence it needs to be changed.  If you couldn't remember it, that is evidence it's a good password.

Well on top of all of the above, sometimes the login/re-register systems aren't even logically coherent.  They ask you to do something, you do it correctly to the letter, and then that still doesn't work.  That happened to me today with my credit union online.  It started out with the re-register your computer thing.  Rather than figure out the correct answer to "what city was your mother born it" I asked for it to send an email.  It sent me a link, I clicked on the link, and it brought me right back to the login/password thing, then after that I was right back to the re-register your computer by answering this question, what city was your mother born it?  So the link had done nothing to advance my situation.

After some messing with this, I was finally locked out of my account.  I called the office, and they said they would unlock my account and send me a temporary password.  Well, they sent me a link, but the email they sent me did not include a temporary password, just a link.  I clicked on the link and it brought me to the login/password dialog and I was stuck again.  So I called a second time, and this time they gave me a new password over the phone, and "reset" my online password.  Finally, that worked, when I entered the temporary password it immediately asked me to enter a new password.  I tried the last good and strong password I had long used, but it wouldn't let me use any password that I had used before.  So I had to change my way of naming them again, so I could create a password I had never used before, and I wrote it down on a few pieces of paper so I won't forget, but probably will.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

More Samsung Android weirdness

Late last night, when sending a text message, the text use by the Message application had become very big, so big that small words filled a whole line in the message bubble.  Oh, no, what have I done now?

Having learned that there are menu adjustments you can get to for most applications by pressing the menu button, I did that.  But not one of the menu selections seemed relevant:

Insert Smiley
Add text
View contact
Add slide
Add recipients
Scheduled Messages
Add to spam numbers

Did I miss something there?  Not one of those concerns the text size.

So once again, I needed to resort to google to find the answer.  I lived with the ridiculous text size until mid-morning the next day when I had the time and patience to google.  The first fairly authoritative thread I found with someone complaining about the text size mysteriously getting larger had some guru saying to open the standard SMS application, choose menu->settings, uncheck use the volume key.

OK, I first wondered whether the Messaging app was the standard SMS application, but I couldn't find any other messaging applications except for the AT&T one, and I figured that wasn't the standard one, so Messaging must be it.

But when I open the Messaging app, it goes immediately to the friend I do nearly all of my text messaging with.  That shows the menu I showed above, no uncheck-the-volume setting, no settings at all in fact.  But realizing that the volume key was involved, I quickly found that simply using the volume key in the Messaging app allowed me to change the size back to something reasonable.  Whew.

Only later did I find out how to get into the Settings menu. First, I had to use "back" to exit out of messaging to my favorite friend, then all the way out of the application.  Then when I re-entered the application, and pressed Menu, only then did a different menu appear, one with Settings at the bottom, and sure enough, Settings has the magic Use the Volume Key.  So I unchecked it.

What would make sense to me is have Use the Volume Key unchecked for starters.  No unexpected changes.  Then also have Settings displayed at the bottom of the menu selections whenever the menu button is pressed, not only at the top entry point of the application.  For me the latter change would have been enough for me to fix the problem asap.  I would go into settings and see that option and figure out what was happening.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

More Samsung annoyances

I was getting a little sound all hours of the day and night.  Unlike when I first got the first phone, I figured immediately that this was because of email.  I do not need to be notified when email arrives.  I check email at my work, mostly.  When not at work I am not a slave to email.  I do not like getting notifications at 3am when the latest piece of spam arrives.  Or perhaps some collaborator in China needs a key--but they can wait until working hours.  Important people, right now mainly my lady friend because nobody else important enough does text, though possibly someone else temporary like a contractor if they ask, and the occasional AT&T offers...  Anyway, I still get far fewer texts than emails, and emails can be put on hold, texts usually need immediate awareness.  So I need audible alerts for texts at equal level as calls.  Emails, I don't need to know.  If I want to know, I'll open email.  I think those would make the most generally applicable defaults.

No obvious thing in Settings would take care of this, or at least that I could find.  It was easy to find the required settings in iPhone.  Here I resorted to Google, and there found I could open the menu in Mail and change the notification there.  OK.

Now I get a curious picture of candles and wine bottles every time I try to view the pictures in any of my galleries for the first time in a few minutes.  In front of the bottles, it says:

In Location
With Passion

Then below it says

If the following conditions are met when you take pictures, information, such as people's names, or the weather, will be shown briefly when viewing pictures:

The weather widget has been refreshed before/after taking pictures.

I've pressed the OK button for this stupid dialog hundreds of times, yet it keeps coming back.  How can I get rid of this damned thing!!!!!  I'm not interested in having my photos tagged in multitudinous ways. Please just tag them with the date, exposure settings, and the like, you have on tap.  Don't ask me to do indecipherable things so that the tagging can be made more wonderful.  Each time I try to look at my pictures.  Besides, I wasn't taking pictures just now, I was going to look at them, believe it or not I look at pictures more than I take them, wouldn't that make sense???

I tried the menu button instead of OK.  That does nothing.  It doesn't respond at all when this glorious Tag Buddy dialog appears.  So I need to learn a new trick.

Oh yeah, I did open the menu just after I got past this stupid dialog.  And sure enough it has a Tag Buddy option.  I turn that option OFF.  And I still get the stupid Tag Buddy dialog every time I open a picture folder anyway!

Once again, there is no obvious setting to turn this thing off either.  This time I haven't even a clue as to what to google for.  Oh, wait, at the top of the page it says "Tag buddy".  I googled that, and got lots of information about a feature that has little interest to me.  I only want to get rid of this stupid reminder.  I'll probably have to ask my android guru friend about this.  Don't these Samsung people test these things?  Don't they have any sense of what it's like to have a real life, to just want to have the smart phone obey orders, not give them, not require endless learning and adjustment merely to make the damn thing civilized?  Perhaps the only testers are serious fanboys and fangirls who already know all the tricks, not some poor schmuck trying to get along, moving from one gleaming appliance and platform and universe after another as they keep appearing on an endless treadmill, usually just after he's barely figured out how to get on with the previous one.

That's pretty much what I've felt about all Samsung products since I bought my Samsung LCD TV in 2009.  I heard far less positive things about the monitors Samsung made in the early 1990's, while I don't remember owning one myself, I think I remember seeing some in action and inaction at Amiga conferences.  So it's a great new Samsung, though still not perhaps the one we want.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Old Galaxy Phone returned

The saga continued when I took phone back to AT&T store for a second visit.  This time they graciously copied my contacts from the old phone to he new phone.  They had a machine for doing this, just as my Android guru friend said.  But they would not do anything about my photos, music, or any other personal items on the phone.  For my benefit, they went into developer options and turned on the USB Debugging feature.  They said that would make it easier to access all the data on the phone.  (I could not tell that it made anything easier...USB connection continued not to be of any use.)

So when I got back home Thursday night I first connected phone to my Mac.  It did not seem any different than at work.  No new device appeared either in Finder of iTunes.   A Samsung Modem device did appear in my network preferences.  But I tried that dialog several times (what is the password to my phone?  I don't remember anything about setting a password for my phone.) and nothing came of it.  I had no idea what kind of "server" I would have to enter for the Connect to Server dialog either.  (Why do these things assume I know all these things.  The programmers who programmed them probably have a much better idea of protocols, port settings, and so on, than I do, why cant the devices test the possible ports and set them, or choose working defaults?)

So then I downloaded and installed Easy Phone Sync on my Mac and my Phone.  But many attempts to get Easy Phone Sync to work failed with an error message about "device is busy."  The help explained that I should download Kies, then choose the uninstall option.  Well, before doing that, before messing with my phone and removing what might turn out to be essential programs, I thought I should get some more information.  Why shouldn't I be using Kies instead of Easy Phone Sync?  I resolved to consult the Android guru on Friday.   Only later did I even check into downloading and uninstalling Kies.  I had assumed I was supposed to do this on my phone (I had never installed Kies on my Mac at that time) which I'm now not even sure if it is true.  I'm not sure because there is no "Kies" I can dowload for my phone.  There is a "Kies Wifi" that I can download, and something else Kies also, but neither of them clearly The Kies I am supposed to download and uninstall.

I was a bit worried when I didn't see my friend at work when I arrived.  But I saw him just before he left for the weekend.  He agreed that it was not a good idea to uninstall Kies.  He told me that Kies was the sync software developed by Samsung, and I should use that.  I told him that I had seen lots of people complaining about it not working, but he dismissed all that and said using Kies was my best plan.

So when I got home, I uninstalled all the Easy Phone Sync stuff and tried running Kies.  Just as with Easy Phone Sync, every attempt to get Kies working failed.  At one point it asked for a password, but every attempt to enter my Mac's password failed.  I did this about 12 times.  There was no option to see what I was typing, and the next day I discovered that the batteries in my wireless keyboard were low, that that might have explained these failures.  But the keyboard had still been working well enough that one of my attempts to enter password should have succeeded.  I did see the required number of dots appear for password characters each time (though, sometimes I had to hit the required keys several times to get those dots to appear).

But what was really the downfall of running Kies was the part where it tells me my software (in phone presumably) was out of date, so it attempted to download some new update for it.  But every time that started, it simply stayed at 0% complete, no matter how long I waited.

But now after describing how all these attempts to transfer the personal contents of my phone failed, let me describe the one thing that actually worked, enabling me to preserve all my personal files.  My friend suggested I get an SD memory card, and copy all my files to that.  So that was one more thing I did on Thursday night.  After visiting the AT&T store that night, I then went to Radio Shack and bought at 16G SD card for $18.  After my exhausting episode with Easy Phone Sync, I inserted the SD card in my phone and first copied the Photos folder to the card.  Then I copied music.  Then I copied some other folders.  Then I decided, why not copy everything?  So I did that.  I selected "Select All Files" while showing the root My Files folder.  Since I had already copied music, and was worried that music might occupy several gigabytes--possibly enough to overflow the 16G card if I copied the music files into it twice.  So I unselected the Music folder when making the Everything copy.

But this was not wholly satisfactory.  When I moved the SD card (along with the battery and SIM card)  to the new phone, and copied all the photos from the SD card to the Photos folder in the new phone, the photos appeared in some strange order, almost random, definitely not chronological, and not even chronological by device-taken (something like 95% of my photos were taken with my iPhone in the past 4 years, before I got the Galaxy phone).

With 2000 photos, and lack of chronological (or any other discernible) ordering, I'd never find photos I wanted.  So it was this limitation that led me to try Easy Phone Sync and Kies, the USB syncing methods, both without any success at all.

But late on Friday night before the Labor Day weekend, I discovered something useful.  It turned out that my photos ARE in chronological order inside the DCIM folder.  The DCIM folder on my SD card is (like all other image folders on SD card) is visible in Gallery.  I just select the DCIM folder, and presto, I can see all the last 5 years of photos in chronological order.  That was all I needed.  Now I don't care to copy this DCIM folder into the DCIM folder built into the new phone.  It's fine with me that all my older photos are now in a special older folder.

One more thing I did on Friday night.  Nobody told me to do this at all.  But when I was finally satisfied enough to return the old phone on Saturday, I put my battery and SIM into the old phone (but NOT the SD card now full of all my old stuff!!!) and gave it a Reset.

It was quite easy to repack the old phone with the packing insert and box provided.  I took it to the Post Office at 3pm on Saturday afternoon and asked if I could mail this prepaid package with delivery confirmation.  The clerk said no, but he could give me a receipt.  So I got the receipt for returning my old phone to AT&T.  And now I hope this is the end of the story, and I hope that AT&T doesn't find some reason they can't honor the warranty, in which case I'd end up paying for two phones.