Going Secure via Cloudflare (and a Warning)

Forced to be Secure by Google

The more observant amongst you may have noticed that the site is now “secure”. Quite why a blog needs to be so I am not sure but Google is starting to insist on such things so I am in the process of converting all my sites to load via https.

To be honest it has been a bit of a trial, partly because this site runs on a WordPress multi-site installation and that has thrown up a few peculiarities. Anyway, the change from Google has forced me to look at all my sites and try and get them “secure”.

SSL with Cloudflare

I’ve chosen to do this via the Cloudflare service because this is reasonably frictionless although, as you will see, it does require you to do a database update… Setting Cloudflare is simple enough – go to the right domain, select Crypto from the menu, make sure you have a SSL cert setup and then select “Always use HTTPS”. Click on the image below to see all the settings for this domain:

Cloudflare SSL settings

However, that, for me, wasn’t sufficient as I started to get a “mixed content” message and Google still was showing the site as insecure. Mixed content means that some resources, usually images, are still being loaded over a non-secure link (i.e. http). Now there is a setting in Cloudflare called “Automatic HTTPS Rewrites” which should resolve these issues but in my experience this hasn’t worked and has caused multiple redirect issues. Of course, your mileage may vary, so give it a go and see but don’t be surprised …

Updating the Database

If you find that the automatic rewrites aren’t working for you then you are going to have to roll your sleeves up and update the database. I cannot stress this enough but make sure you BACK UP THE DATABASE before starting this. I made a couple of mistakes and was glad that I had the database to roll back to.

So the command that you need to run is the following. You will need to remember to change the “x” in “wp_x_posts” to the correct site instance and the from and to website address:

UPDATE wp_x_posts SET `post_content` = REPLACE (`post_content`, 'http://www.yourblog.com/', 'https://www.yourblog.com/');

And that should be sufficient to get you up and running on SSL.

And a Warning

The issue with Cloudflare is that, of course, it could go bust or their business model may change and what is currently generously provided for free may not in the future. So you are placing your faith in them being around for the duration but if anything changes I’ll be in the same boat!

Apple AirPods

While I might be a committed apple fan boy these days I have never actually queued up for a new product on launch day. That is until the AirPods were released. I’m not sure what attracted me to them most but I was certainly fed up of of tangled and snagging wires enough to make an early morning trip into town. I wasn’t the only one either but I was the first! Turns out it was just as well I did get there early as the Apple Store in Reading only had three for launch day.

Of course they were beautifully packaged as ever and the case that the AirPods live in is just beautifully tactile with the lid making a wonderful “snap” when you flick close the lid. It really is terribly satisfying and probably pretty annoying for those around – a bit like cracking of your knuckles in public!

Pairing with an Apple device is a breeze, although it took me a while to work out how to switch between the speakers and the AirPods on my Mac (click on the volume control on the menu bar item). It’s also relatively simple to pair them with other devices too. I’m not sure how many devices you can pair with at once but I am up to four and going strong.

The AirPods are visually the same earphones that are provided with the iPhone, only with the cords cut off and this does cause people to stare. I’m not sure why that would be but it does seem to cause people to do a double take even now. So if you find the existing iPhone earphones uncomfortable then it is going to be the same with these too. Audibly the sound quality sounds pretty similar too to me but then my ears aren’t what they used to be given years of abuse.

So you might be excused for thinking that I am luke warm on the AirPods. Absolutely not. They are tremendous. They are incredibly convenient, so small that there really is no issue with slipping them into your pocket and having them with you all the time. The case, which also acts as a charger, means that they stay charged (as long as you remember to charge the case). And the sound quality is good enough for listening on the go.

Downsides? Well I worry that I might lose one but my paranoia has so far ensured that isn’t the case. And quite frankly nothing else – they are superb, go buy.

Pebble Time vs Apple Watch

As regular readers of this blog will know I am a huge fan of the Pebble smart watch. So it was a great disappointment when the the company collapsed and the assets were bought by Fitbit. Pebble did at least return the money that had been pledged on Kickstarter for the next generation and, due to currency fluctuations, I actually received marginally more back than I put in. However, that’s not much consolation for not getting what was looking like a great watch.

For a few months I persisted with the Pebble Time but as time went on it developed, well, lets call them hiccoughs. These were particularly apparent with anything that required a link to the internet, like getting location on Swarm. I found myself resetting the Pebble app on my iPhone just once too often for my liking.

And then my wife bought an Apple Watch…

Never before had I been in a position where a member of my own family had a gadget before me! My position had always been that I was happy with my Pebble and who’d want a watch where you have to charge it every day even when the screen is blank most of the time? With Helen getting a watch my resistance was weakened and I started to take a closer look.

I quickly established that the decent watch straps are hideously expensive if bought through Apple and similar designs can be bought for less than a tenth of the price elsewhere. The next step was to decide between a series 1 and a series 2 watch and this too proved pretty easy – I have no use for a waterproof watch nor onboard GPS so a series 1 would be all I would need. So I ended up buying a series 1 in space grey which comes with a horrible black rubber strap which I replaced with a gunmetal link strap from Amazon.

The transition was, I have to admit, painful. All the buttons are in different places and a click on the Pebble is a tap on the Apple and so on – getting back to the watch face I found particularly unintuitive coming from the Pebble. I was also surprised at the number and limited nature of the apps and while the Swarm app works correctly now there isn’t an app for Remember the Milk which I used regularly before. The biggest pain is that the battery doesn’t last anywhere near as long as the Pebbles – I get just under 48 hours of battery time if I put it on airplane mode over night.

However, there is much to like. It does, of course, work well with the iPhone and the AirPods, which should come as no surprise. The touchscreen is a nice, well, touch and useful for swapping tracks etc but you feel that there is still much more could be done by developers to make use of it here.

So now I’m all Apple as the two last pieces of tech I regularly carried with me, the Pebble and my Fitbit, are now both gone, both replaced by the Apple Watch. I’m genuinely sorry to see them both go but particularly the Pebble as I’d been with them from day one. Time will tell whether I grow to love my Apple Watch as much as I did my Pebble Time.

The Hidden Cost of App Downloads 

I’m always amazed at just how quickly app updates mount up (ok so I have 291 apps on my iPhone so that doesn’t help). Even taking that into account there are some that are updated very regularly (Facebook seems to be a serial offender) and the cost in data to keep up to date must be considerable.

Now Jon Darke has taken a closer look and calculated that cost: 

Let us assume LinkedIn is installed on 100 million devices (it states 50-100m on Android App Store alone), it updates every week with an average app update size of 261MB. Over the course of a year each user would download 13.5GB of updates for this one app alone, and across the 100 million users would equate to 162PB (Petabytes = 1,000 terabytes) of bandwidth for the planet to have an up to date professional networking mobile application.

Read the full article over at the Every Interaction blog.

Google’s Motion Stills

Google have a good track record of bringing to iOS unique apps that aren’t available on Android. They recently released a simple little app called Motion Stills which takes Apple live photos and turns them into forever looping gifs. And it works really well.

On opening the app you are shown your photostream with a looping preview of each image. Tapping on the image allows you to make some very small changes such as turning on/off the sound and, crucially, the image stabilisation. It is the latter option that is most impressive. Live Photos actually last longer than you might imagine and certainly longer than I can hold a phone still for so you can end up with some really wobbly pictures. Image stabilisation sorts that without any input from you.

Take a look at the two images below showing before and after image stabilisation.

Original Image with No Stablisation

Original Image with No Stablisation

Image from Motion Stills with Stablisation

Image from Motion Stills with Stabilisation

If you look at the ground in the left hand image it moves all over the place but in the second, right hand, image it is rock steady. It’s a great trick that works very well.

This is what Apple should have done.

You can download Google’s Motion Stills – Create with Live Photos here.

 

 

Siri Idiot

I was persuaded by a mate to take a look again at Apple’s Siri, the personal assistant on iOS. I have to say that I have some deep seated psychological dislike of  shouting into my phone in order to get it to do stuff but I promised to take a look at it again as he felt I was missing out.

The first thing I struggled with once turning Siri back on again was just what would I say to here. I could ask the weather forecast but I have apps for that and I find looking out of the window is more reliable. So I decided to ask her about something I was interested in – motorsport or more accurately, formula one.

As you can see from the images above Siri isn’t a great motorsport fan and wasn’t able to help me with my enquiries. Football? Yes! Formula One, reputed to be the third most watched sport after the olympics and the football world cup but taking place 21 times a year rather than every four years. No!

So I turned off Siri again becuase:

  1. I can’t get my head around barking instructions at my phone
  2. I can’t think of anything I want it to do for me, and
  3. it knows nothing about things I want to know about.

Apart from that I think it’s a great idea!

A Bit of a Curve Ball

Much of the banking system is still based on procedures and practices from the 20th century and so, like many other areas of life, is ripe for modernisation through technology.  One company trying to bring some innovation in this space is Curve.

Curve is billed as the one card to replace all your cards and feels a little bit like Apple Pay in that you scan your existing cards into their (iOS only) app and then swap between them when making payments.

The Curve is currently in “beta” and only available to those working for small businesses. There is an entrance fee of £35 for the basic card and £75 for the black card which earns double points on Curve Rewards, a programme that doesn’t actually exist yet.

I signed up and a few weeks later a padded envelope popped through the letter box. I have to say that the Curve is beautifully packaged looking like something Apple might have released.

IMG_8816One of the things that initially attracted me and many others to the card was the support for American Express meaning that, as the Curve is a Mastercard, you could charge things to your Amex that wouldn’t normally have been possible. This joy was to be short-lived however as Amex quickly stomped on this and support was withdrawn. To be fair Curve did offer to make up for this by adding £35 to everyones rewards account albeit with caveats (min £1,000 spend on the card).

I decided to stick with it and see whether it truly could replace all my other cards meaning I only needed to carry the Curve. Unfortunately we got off to a bad start when my very first transaction in my local Asda was declined. A quick call to support told me that this was probably just a timing issue and shouldn’t be an issue going forward.

I hoped that this would be a one off but it wasn’t. Over the next couple of weeks the card was rejected a further number of times. These rejections were seemingly random in a mixture of shops and cashpoint machines where my usual cards worked faultlessly. The frequency of the rejections made me not trust the Curve and led to me having to carry it and my ordinary cards which somewhat defeated the object of it. I decided to give the Curve one more go but when it failed a further two times out of three in one 24 hour period I gave up.

What was most disturbing about this was not the failures themselves but the responses from support when I questioned why I was seeing so many problems. Almost without exception the response was “it’s probably a connectivity issue” which is a little strange given that I have never experienced such a thing in the many years I have been using “normal” cards.

Curve is labelled as “beta” and worthy of the tag. I might also be tempted to say it is more alpha than beta in my experience. I have to say that a friend who also has the Curve has far less issues than myself so maybe it’s just me. However, one of the major selling points for me was the ability to leave my other cards at home and only carry the Curve but that’s just not possible as it is not reliable enough to guarantee that it is going to work.

I’ve kept my card in the hope that in the future it will prove more reliable but for now I won’t be carrying it.

You might want to think twice before removing the mail app in iOS 10

I wrote last week about the forthcoming iOS 10 release that finally will allow you to remove some of the stock apps including Mail. I speculated at the time as to what this would mean for third party mail apps and clicking mailto links:

What is most interesting about this is that Mail is included in the list. There are many third-party mail apps on the app store at present but one issue has always been that when you click an email address in, say, a web browser the email opens up in the stock mail app. This change implies that somewhere, somehow you will be able to define which app you want to handle these sorts of requests.

Turns out that’s not the case. If you remove the Mail app and then click a mailto link you get the following message:

Clatv-sXEAAb12K

That’s not very helpful or useful and is pretty disappointing that Apple have chosen to take this approach. I am hoping that they see sense during the beta phase and allow the selection of the default mail app rather than persisting with this half baked solution.

Thanks to Xiaohan Jin (@XJin0120) on Twitter for pointing this out.

Remove (Some) Stock Apps in iOS 10

By and large the Apple announcement last night was pretty dull. That so much time was devoted to emojis showed (to me at any rate) that there wasn’t anything ground breaking to offer. What was interesting was one thing that wasn’t discussed and that was the ability to remove (some) of the stock apps in iOS10.

iOS comes with an ever increasing number of preinstalled apps such as stocks, mail, weather, compass, calendar etc. and many, myself included, have long wanted to remove these from the device but that hasn’t been possible – until now. It now appears that on iOS10 you are going to be able to remove quite a few of these apps including the five listed above.

What is most interesting about this is that Mail is included in the list. There are many third-party mail apps on the app store at present but one issue has always been that when you click an email address in, say, a web browser the email opens up in the stock mail app. This change implies that somewhere, somehow you will be able to define which app you want to handle these sorts of requests.

One app, however, that isn’t included in the list that you can remove is the browser Safari. This suffers from the same problem as the mail app in that when you click a web link in, say, an email it always opens in Safari when you might rather it open in Chrome, or Opera. That Safari is missing from this list signifies one of two things to me. Either it is too bound up with the OS to be removed (the Microsoft Internet Explorer argument) or that Apple derives revenue from having you use it via its relationship with Google and/or Yahoo. I know which one my money’s on!

Still, small steps and all that!

Google Cardboard. VR – the Future or Passing Novelty?

A friend of mine turned up recently with a Google Cardboard a, well, cardboard phone holder that allows you to watch virtual reality content. I was interested to have a go but skeptical as to the longer term possibilities of the technology.

As you can see from the picture above the box has a place to put your phone which is held a few inches in front of a couple of lenses. You need specific apps in order to see the content which create a sort of stereoscopic effect. Although this is made of cardboard it is pretty robust although it can be a bit hard on the nose!

2016-05-25 13.27.55

Where the real magic comes in is when you move your head as the view you see in front of you moves too. For example, a popular example application is a roller coaster which means that as you look down you can see the ground, look up and you’ll see the sky above you (or the ground if you are upside down!). This was really effective and made me feel quite queazy. The Google Cardboard app itself also has a number of good demos.

2016-05-31 21.21.05

This is all fine but at this point it was pretty much a case of “so what?”. I could see how this might be applicable in gaming but I’ve never need much of a gamer so this wasn’t ever going to appeal to me. However, dig a little deeper and you can find some interesting apps that do show off the potential.

The first is the Rivet Music which allows you to watch a series of intimate jazz concerts getting you right up close and personal with the musicians. This was pretty cool but I found standing SO close to the musicians was a little off putting and holding up the Cardboard for an extended period is pretty tiring.

2016-05-31 21.07.59

The other app that really shows off VR to the best effect and serves some useful purpose is Google’s own Street View. Using the app I was able to explore my street and others. It would be really useful if, for instance, you were buying a house and wanted to check out the surrounding areas before making a decision. The immersive nature of VR gives you a much better understanding of the area than just looking on the site itself.

So I am yet to be sold 100% on VR. I can see that there are applications that it could be great for and gaming is the one that really springs to mind but for other applications I am yet to be convinced that it won’t remain pretty niche in the short term.

Oh and VR headsets other than Google’s Cardboard are available. Here I am using Mattel’s View-Master VR which is a neat update on the original ViewMaster. This is more robust than the Cardboard but heavier and bulkier too so not too suited to longer sessions.

2016-06-02 16.12.10

Have you tired VR? Let us know what you think in the comments.