Friday, February 25, 2011

NOT Finding and accessing a Google Docs collection shared with your group

Today Google Docs annoyed me. A lot. Google have put a nice new UI on Docs and it is generally much better. However they have still not fixed an important usability issue - if someone shares a collection (previously known as folders which was a misleading name) with a group and you are in that group you would expect to be able to search for it and actually find it. Not quite...

Yesterday someone I know was struggling to put a collection shared with their group in their My collections. They were used to the old convoluted way. But it's simpler now. Or so I thought. I had not realised one extra bit of information. If one shares a collection with a group, no one in the group can see the collection until they are given a URL to the collection. So they can't see the document collection until they see the document collection. Chicken and egg.

The work around is either click on the link in the original sharing email just once. Or have someone IM, email or list on an internal wiki, the URL to the collection. Just click on it then close it. Now the collection will appear when you search for it and you can then follow the simple steps in my video.


I am told a solution is being worked on. While they are at it I would also like logins to automatically strip the domain when users insist on typing their full email address when only the name part is needed. And the ability to not allow normal users to share stuff as they just mess it up. And the ability to disable "Off the record" in Google Talk. Basically I would like some polish on the Google Apps product. Stop working on fun new clever stuff and do the last 10% of what you already wrote.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Orange Money Launches NFC Credit Card, Still Years Behind Africa

According to el reg, Orange is launching a new service, under the name "Orange Cash". I must admit to being a bit disappointed when I read the article though - it turns out this is just a pre-paid card (the article calls it a credit card, but that's stretching a definition since it is pre-paid!) with NFC (near field communications). While this is fun tech - Pete, a sysadmin here at Smoothwall Leeds described his first NFC shopping experience as "the simplest shopping I ever did" - it is hardly revolutionary. Indeed many people will already have NFC cards if they've recently been issued a new debit card.
So, what was I expecting? Well, being a regular visitor to Kenya, I noticed in december there were adverts all over Nairobi for Orange's "iko pesa" ("there's money" in kiswahili) service - a rival to local operation "mpesa" by Safaricom. Mpesa and iko both allow users to easily transfer money using mobile phones. I can see why this might be more useful to Kenyans than it would be in the UK - there's relatively little in the way of "infrastructure", especially outside of Nairobi, and many people have little ready access to cash, so this is a great way to pay for things, or send some cash home. On the other hand, i'd really find this useful in the UK - just for paying small sums to friends and family. Yes, I know I can access internet banking, but I might not have their details (how may of your colleagues do you have bank details for?) - so if I find myself owing Carol a fiver for a box of noodles at lunchtime, I either mess about with internet banking, or take a stroll to the ATM. If I already have her phone number, I could simply send her mpesa... much better, no?
Both these technologies raise interesting questions for security. NFC type devices are now used for opening car doors and allowing the engine to be started. We recently saw articles (see yahoo)suggesting that thieves might "range extend" proximity keyfobs to break into cars. It would be interesting to know if this could be done to NFC cards, but it seems a lot of work for transactions which are limited to a relatively small sum. I've not yet heard of any interesting mpesa fraud - although allegedly you can pay kenyan police bribes with it!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

ISPs: Your Customers Are Not Idiots

Well well. That's a first. Today I picked up a Huawei ADSL 2+ modem/router from my local post office, where it had been imprisoned for the crime of being (only marginally) too large to fit through my standard sized postbox. After walking home in the Yorkshire drizzle, I decided to have a poke around in the box, despite the fact that my new Internet service doesn't kick in til Tuesday.

New Internet service. Sore point. My erstwhile ISP UK Online have given up the ghost, and are encouraging well-known bastion of customer service Sky as their natural successor. I was sad to lose UKO - as one of a handful of LLU providers, they're part of a limited number of "real" ISPs, rather than marketing bacon wrapped round the tiny cocktail sausage of BT wholesale. Anyway, I liked UK online. Their customer service guys were helpful and smart. Their prices where a bit rich, but not too bad. Their service was beautifully reliable. I never felt "capped", and I never had a peep out of any of the many and various VPN types I used on the connection. So - sad to see them go.

A lot of people raised an eyebrow at my choice of talk talk. I'm a techie.. and they're very... con sumer, no? Well.. to be honest, it was them or Sky! I already have a relationship with both companies for TV and phone, and my experience of talk talk for phone over the last ~5 years has been good. I know that may put me in a minority, but it has been. I had a mixed bag when I rang to order my new service - UK call centre, answered quickly... but I needed to give far too many details and was treated a bit like a new customer. Overall, a wash on customer service there.

Anyway - that's enough warbling.. what prompted me to post? Oh yeah. In the modem box there's a leaflet. This leaflet gives you a choice - you can use the enclosed CD to configure your new modem.. or get this - you can follow the manual, and here's your username and passowrd. Crack on. This is new to me. As techie-in-residence for family and friends, and as a long-time Smoothwallite I have set up more DSL connections than most BT engineers, and one of my pet hates is the unwavering adherence to "Put the CD in and follow the prompts". This sort of thing naturally gets my back up - a kind of presumption of moronicity, if you will. On top of that, I am a Linux user, and of course user of vaguely unusual firewalls, sometimes "Put in the CD and press buttons" just won't answer the brief.

So - big props to Talk Talk - you didn't treat me like an idiot, and come go-live day, your little modem might well just chill on the shelf whilst I use the information you chaps handily provide to configure my trusty-but-sadly-discontinued linksys am200.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Farewell Peter

It is with some sadness that we learn this week of the resignation of Peter Robbins OBE, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation. On Wednesday Eve Salomon, Chair of the IWF Board, announced that Robbins had tendered his resignation, effective July this year.

Robbins tenure at the IWF began in 2002 and it was with great pleasure that we at Smoothwall worked with he and his colleagues. Having met personally, I can say that he is true gentleman and clearly possesses a great understanding of technical and political nuance of work the IWF are involved in.

Media coverage of Robbin’s resignation reached The Register today and we were pleased to see kind commentary from Jane Fae Ozimek.
An interesting aside is Ozimek’s comment on the quantity of items in the IWF’s URL list. I believe that the supposedly “low” headline figure is a indication of the IWF’s success in their ‘Notice and Takedown’ role of tackling Child Abuse content at source, rather than a suggestion that the IWFs work may soon be complete*. Additionally, it is worth pointing out that unlike most URL lists, IWF’s list has a high degree of entropy, reflecting the rapidly changing hosts of abuse images - further testament of course to the takedown efforts of the IWF and other international Hotlines.

On that note we wish Peter every success in future, as Smoothwall continues to work with the IWF throughout 2011.

* - The IWF’s Annual Report for 2010 is due out later in the year. This yearly publication is an illuminating read and a great reminder of why we continue to support the IWF.