Phone Verification

Saturday, July 16th, 2011 12:33 am
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
Geuh. I'm not a fan of phone verification.

Really I'm not a fan of phones. I'd much rather deal with email than with phone calls. Telephones are so 20th Century; in the 21st Century I want to do all my communication over IP.

For a short while I had an assumed identity on Facebook. I don't want to use the service with my own information because I dislike their decision making process. But as a spokesperson and main online presence for an organization, I figured I'd do Facebook's users a favor and use the existing Group and Page for the organization. I was made an admin of the group and started answering questions, pointing to the official website that's associated with the group. After a few rounds of that, Facebook threw a speedbump at me, demanding a phone number or a photocopy of my ID. Screw that, I won't provide your users a service. Facebook: if you're developing a communication system that's better than email, why would I need a telephone to use it?

Now I'm in my hammock, about to go to sleep, trying to post our yard sale announcement to Craigslist. The post button sends an email. The email has a link to activate the post. But then I get asked for a phone number they can call or text. So I enter my Google Voice number and open Google Voice in a new tab. I wait a while. I hit the check status. I get a vague message that "Your phone number could not be verified. Please start over with another number." with a troubleshooting claim of "Some Voice over IP (VOIP) phone numbers (including Cricket, MetroPCS)." A little Googling found other Craigslist users that have found that Craigslist won't use Google Voice numbers for verification. Grrrrrrr. Edit: amusingly, after verifying that I have a frickin' phone number, I then get a CAPTCHA.

I really don't like it when a tool requires the use of a completely unrelated tool. I kinda want to go back to the old days when the only thing the Internet needed your telephone number for was a modem.


Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 12:34 am
flwyd: (Taoist goddess Doumu)
Google announced the Google+ project today, which is a collection of features to make it easier to connect and share with people you know. At the heart of this is circles: groups of people that mirror some of the groupings we make in real life. There's the straightforward "I don't want to share the pictures of Saturday night's party with my coworkers" case. But circles can also be used with more nuance, too: the people I won't annoy by posting amusing links about bacon, the people who live near me, the people I feel comfortable talking about my sex life with… Circles aren't a new idea for many LiveJournal users, who've had access to friends groups for years, but it's a concept that's missing from many prominent places in today's Internet landscape.

As a Googler, I was asked to invite a few friends to the Google+ field trial, which started today. This will be an opportunity to find out how everyday people use and confuse the features. "Launch and iterate" is one of Google's mantras, and we know we'll need strong feedback and iteration now that we've got users that aren't all in the atypical "Google employees" circle. The system isn't adding new users right now, but if you're interested in an invite when they become available, leave me a comment. (If you've got an invite from someone else, feel free to add trevorstone at gmail to a circle of your choosing.)

On the flip side, I don't intend to cajole, pressure, or spam anyone into joining. If this isn't your bag, I won't flood your inbox with invites and notifications. And feel free to invite me to be social the old-fashioned way: email ;-)
flwyd: (dogcow moof!)
Colorado's online tax filing site used to be a super-ugly but oh-so-simple web 0.9 series of text fields with a submit button and some JavaScript to automatically calculate some stuff.

This year, they've rejiggered things to require Microsoft Silverlight, which is kinda like Flash except a lot fewer people have it installed. It's also completely unnecessary for providing a couple dozen numbers that you can still fill out via pen and paper. This change was also apparently expensive, because the page also says "Filing a return online is free, but if you want to pay any tax due online, a minimum portal administration fee will be added to your payment."

At best, only two thirds of Internet users have Silverlight installed. The ADA requires the state government to take all kinds of measures to accommodate disabilities that affect significantly less than 33% of the population, but apparently they're free to block access to their website for over a million Coloradans.

Beyond being a Flash wannabe with a focus on DRM video, what really annoys me about Silverlight is the EULA which states in section 2 "you may not… work around any technical limitations in the software." I refuse to give up the freedom to find an innovative solution for a program that doesn't work properly.

Yes, they've managed to make using their website so undesirable that I'm going to file my tax return on paper.
Look at me.  I want to use your website.  Now look at your website.  It says "You must install Microsoft Silverlight."  Now back to me.  I'm on a different website.
flwyd: (transparent ribbon for government accoun)
I don't use the telephone very much. Partly because I feel awkward on the phone and prefer to write emails. Partly because I dislike all the phone companies in the U.S. I was considering switching from using a Virgin Mobile prepaid plan (20 cents a minute in bi- or tri-monthly $20 payments on a super-simple cellphone) to a T-Mobile prepaid plan (10 cents a minute in a yearly $100 payment so I can use my Android Nexus S as a phone and not just a wifi pocket computer). The big advantage of the Android-on-T-Mobile approach would be the ability to access the Internet when WiFi isn't available through their $1.50-for-24-hours "Web Day Pass."

But the Prepaid Web Day Pass FAQ ends with this disturbing gem:
Why am I not able to view certain Web sites?
Web Guard is automatically active on Web Day Pass purchases and cannot be disabled. Some Web sites may be blocked due to the nature of the site, including but not limited to:
Abortion, Alcohol, Ammunition, Criminal Skills, Cults, Drugs, Firearms Accessories, Gambling, Guns, Hacking, Hate, Knives, Lifestyle, Martial Arts, Mature Content, Occult, Pornography, Suicide, Tobacco, Violence, Weapons.
Partially-restricted content includes the categories of Personals/Dating and Sex Education.
Seriously?!? I can't use T-Mobile's network to research abortion, but I can use it to call Planned Parenthood to make an appointment? I can't visit a website about tarot, but I can download a tarot app for my phone? I can't visit a site about marijuana, but I can call someone to invite them over for a trip? I can't watch a karate video, but I can watch a wrestling match? I can't access a site about guns and knives, but I can visit the Army recruiting site? And what exactly is blocked under "lifestyle?" Pages about asceticism?

There's no indication about how extensive the "may be blocked" criteria are, either. Can I access Wikipedia, which has pages about all of those things? Can I access a bar's website to find out when it's open? What if they also serve food?

Feh. It looks like I'll be continuing my avoid-accessing-mobile-phone-networks policy.

Update: According to the Web Guard FAQ, "The filter does not work with client server applications (such as the Opera Mini Browser)." So... does this only apply to T-Mobile's crappy web browser and is totally irrelevant on an Android? Of course, that page also uses the phrase "imbedded Web sites... within chat and text messaging," so I'm not sure it knows what it's talking about.
flwyd: (
I was using Firefox with NoScript for a couple weeks and noticed that following links from my LiveJournal friends list generally required two clicks. I chalked it up to either misclicking my MacBook's trackpad or something funky with an overloaded Firefox (I had a lot of crap open). I recently quit Firefox and opened Chrome and noticed that my friends page would often spin in the tab bar, not thinking it was fully loaded. I also frequently saw "Contacting" or "Contacting" in the status bar, typically when I hovered over a link. WTF?

I figured it was a Chrome Extension issue (I installed an extension to resolve links without following them), but I disabled that extension and reloaded my page and outboundlink was still showing up. A little Googling found a lot of LJ users complaining about this. Here's a discussion from March when the "feature" was temporarily introduced, including comments by staff. This post by [ profile] caffeinepuppy is a good explanation. As noted there and this support request, you can go to the LiveJournal admin console and enter the following to opt-out of outboundlink messing with your HTML, causing clicks to fail, and generally being lame:
set opt_exclude_stats 1
Unfortunately, there's no checkbox for this anti-feature on the LiveJournal settings page.

There's been a lot of drama in the past about changes LJ has made, but this is the first one I can remember that doesn't feel like it's either warranted or the result of a well-intentioned mistake. They're degrading browser behavior and changing links delivered to folks, even paid users, to make money for themselves with absolutely no benefit to the user. In other words, it's worse than ads, which sometimes have information of interest to a user.
flwyd: (daemon tux hexley)
There's been a lot of noise in developer circles recently about Apple's new unusual iPhone developers agreement, particularly section 3.3.1. Briefly, Apple declared that you're not allowed to write iPhone/iPad/iPod software unless you use their tools to do it. Specifically, you're not allowed to write it using a level of abstraction that lets the application easily run on other devices like Androids, Windows Mobile phones, and BlackBerries.

A lot of people said this new change was targeted at Adobe, creators of Flash, a system for creating multimedia content that will work the same on any browser with their plugin installed. While the sorts of folks who comment loudly on this sort of thing have no love lost for Flash, being told how not to write software is a good way to rile up whole nests of developers.

Steve Jobs recently wrote an explanation of why he doesn't want Flash on the iPhone. He starts by painting Flash as a closed system -- Adobe controls the authoring tools and the play environment. He contrasts this with the open standards of HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript, the technologies at the front of most websites. The great thing about HTML is that anyone can create stuff in it and anyone can access it with a browser tailored to their device's peculiarities. So far, so good.

But then Jobs completely undermines his discussion of the openness of the web by saying the most important reason they don't want Flash is that they think the applications with the best user experiences were written to take advantage of everything the iPhone (or Mac or whatever) offers. He suggests that it's best for the users if all iPhone apps are developed using Apple's tools:
Our motivation is simple – we want to provide the most advanced and innovative platform to our deAvelopers, and we want them to stand directly on the shoulders of this platform and create the best apps the world has ever seen.
In other words, you can stand directly on Apple's shoulders, but you'd better not stand on the shoulders of someone standing on Apple's shoulders. If some clever company invents a new way of writing really great apps, the only way iPhone users will get the benefit of that innovation is if Apple deigns to adopt it.

Yet when you visit a website on the iPad, Apple doesn't stop you because the site's designers didn't adhere to Apple's user interface guidelines or because they used a tool like GWT to make the JavaScript work for all browsers. So if somebody wants to write an app that can run on iPhones, Androids, BlackBerries, and who knows what else, their choices are to write it twice: once for the iPhone and once for everything else. Or they can take Steve Jobs's advice and write it once for the web and bypass Apple's restricted platform. If they do the latter, they don't have to wait in App Store limbo, they can include porn if they want, and Apple doesn't take a cut of their profits. What's the down side?

So which is it, Steve? Are open standards the key to a good development environment and a good software ecosystem? Or is a single company controlling the platform the way to go?

Personally, I'm happy with my Android device which allows you to stand on as many shoulders as you like. It's shoulders all the way down.
flwyd: (daemon tux hexley)
With Panopticlick, the EFF is pointing out how websites could track you even if you don't have cookies enabled. If JavaScript is enabled, website authors can figure out things like your set of plugins and fonts. But when I visited with NoScript enabled, my browser fingerprint was unique among the first 425,722 seen. I guess of the 35 visitors running Firefox 3.6 on MacOS X 10.6, I'm the only one with JavaScript disabled. Heck, I even had one collision using lynx!

Unlike super market loyalty cards, it's a lot harder to trade web browsers with a stranger to throw the trackers for a loop.

Cancel Service Usability

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 12:41 am
flwyd: (
My goal for the evening: cancel phone service, power service, and change my address, all on the web. Verdict:

Xcel (power): Very easy. Picked my state, clicked "Cancel service," logged in, picked a date, got a confirmation email.

Qwest (phone): Bewildering. Couldn't find a link for canceling service, so I tried Move Service instead. It asked me to log in again, then gave a DHTML popup to pick my phone number. It then informed me that the system was down... to ensure the best customer experience, natch. When I hit the back button to find the customer service link, it asked me to log in again. As I recall, the last time I tried to use their website, the account maintenance was down. Do they have one nine or something? Overall, very frustrating. I'm sure [ profile] fenton is not surprised. Update: You can't cancel service on the web. In the "Top Questions" area there was a "How Do I Cancel Service?" that I don't remember seeing yesterday. [ profile] fenton suspects that question list updated itself based on the fact that I'd clicked on Move and Change and not gotten anywhere.

Indra's Net (ISP): Super easy. I sent an email to billing@ and I know a helpful tech support person will get to it tomorrow. I might even know the person.

USPS (mail): Not bad. Entering addresses was easy. It tried to bill $1 to my debit card to verify my identity, but it couldn't verify the information. Was it upset that Visa doesn't know my ZIP+4? Or that it's got it on line 2 instead of 1? Fortunately, you can print a simple HTML page and put it in your mailbox. For some reason, Safari just wanted to print a blank page, but I saved it and Firefox cooperated.

Credit Union (banking): Slightly annoying. I selected the Change Address option and entered my new address. I was then informed that the feature was unavailable. So I used the bank messaging system to request an address change and note that transactions originating in Central America in the next few months are unlikely to be fraudulent.

Holy cow. I'm quitting my job on Friday. I'm moving in with my parents this weekend for a week and a half. I'm going to the Conference on World Affairs next week. Then, two weeks from tomorrow, [ profile] mollybzz and I land in Guatemala. ¡Arriba!
flwyd: (pentacle disc)
Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. -- Frank Zappa

Some facts about my music collection:
  • In the past ten years, I have legitimately acquired nearly 500 albums of music.
  • The vast majority of these CDs I purchased used at one of the many fine independent music retailers in the Boulder/Denver area. I hope the RIAA takes note of the fact that when I buy a CD, I'm often inspired to do so by an unauthorized mp3 I downloaded in college.
  • I bring eight CDs to work each day and use the number I listen to as a productivity metric. If I don't spend much time listening to music in a day, I probably didn't spend much time programming. The converse is not necessarily true, though.
  • I select some albums on workday mornings much more often than other albums. In fact, I own CDs I didn't listen to for over four years.
  • I am running out of shelf space to file new CD acquisitions.

In light of the last two items, I decided in May that I should listen to all of my CDs so I could decide which to get rid of and which to listen to more often. Since I didn't think I would remember how I felt about each album five months later, I wrote a very brief review of each album in alphabetic order. Perhaps this 200KB of obsessive compulsion will be useful to someone else on the Internet. If any reviews pique your interest, let me know and I'll try to get you a copy on the condition that you don't use it as an excuse not to patronize your local record store.

Final reflections:
  • I indeed have some albums I'd incorrectly assumed were New Age crap. I also have some albums that are in fact New Age crap. (To be fair, I also have other crap. I bought a hair metal album before I knew what that meant because I liked the band's name.)
  • Symphonic rock covers are neither good symphonic music nor good rock music. With one exception (Us and Them), I have no reason to keep any of this abomination to human ears.
  • I realized halfway through the project that listing genres might help. However, some of the music I like is tough to classify and besides, I didn't want to provide it for just half of the artists. Maybe I'll add them all in a fury of boredom sometime.
  • Sometimes it's hard to come up with something distinct to say about an album. Sometimes this is because the music affects me in nonverbal ways. Sometimes that's because it's yet another Rush album.
  • Some music is very good, but not well suited for getting work done. One key factor is how well I know the album, making it hard for CDs to break into rotation.
  • I would love for rock to make up a smaller percentage of my collection, but I can never remember the names of awesome artists on my ethnic music compilations. Not that record stores usually have much flamenco or Arabic groove in stock.
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
A month after leaving Xiamen, my travels in China are on the web in word and image forms. There's more details I want to write and pictures I want to caption, but what's there covers most of what the mollybee and trevorbear did. Please let me know if any links are broken, words are misspelled, or the pages look stupid in your browser.
flwyd: (spam lite)
Bacon Flash Drive. Thanks [ profile] mythicsagefire!
flwyd: (ghost car)
When uploading a new user icon, I was trying to figure out how to spell Charbonneau, a ghost town in North Dakota. I wound up searching Google for Charbonneau, ND. The top hit is "Jobs in Charbonneau, ND - Yahoo HotJobs." Further down you can search the Charbonneau yellow pages, find home improvement contractors, and find a roommate. Take a look at some pictures of Charbonneau and tell me if you'd be looking for jobs, roommates, or phone numbers there. Home improvement contractors would be useful...

Let this be an ironic example: just because a page is at the top of Google doesn't mean it has any useful information. At least the entry is on the first results page.
flwyd: (over shoulder double face)
Since I'm flying to Utah today my parents and I celebrated Mothra's Day yesterday. I helped my mom set up a web page for her workshops in Wales in June: Peruvian
Shamanism< and Celtic Traditions - Teachings in Wales, 2006
. I helped her set up a GMail account so she can get email in Europe without wading through the cruft she gets on a daily basis.

I then got my dad a GMail account. He's accepted the fact that he's out of the loop without one -- even folks at KGNU have stopped calling to let him know what's going on. That done, he quipped "Now I'm ready for the '90s!"

He's also noticed this year that his Yellow Pages add is generating no business, presumably because everyone just searches the web. Fergus Sound Enterprises is now on the web -- Be sure to remember that if anyone emails you looking for recording studios in Boulder, Colorado. (Give the internet a day or two to notice the domain, though.)

For those who would prefer an organization chart, check out Trevor and the Family Stone.
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