Wireless Emergency Alert System Flops Badly

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will soon. Your phone or someone’s near you will alarm loudly, and you will see an important-looking message.  This is the government-mandated Wireless Emergency Alert system in action.

This is an alert I received this morning on my android phone:

Amber Alert

A system like this depends on user acceptance to function properly. So far, the main reaction of users has been “How do I turn this off”? Why?

There are several serious problems with this particular alert and the system in general. First of all, the alert on Android is presented as a one-time modal dialog box. You have to press OK before you can do anything else. Most people will do that within seconds. On my phone, at least, once OK is pressed, the alert is gone. You have no way to retrieve or review it. How many people will remember the license plate number even a minute later? The only way I could capture the alert dialog was to take a picture of it with another phone. I  understand that on iOS, the alert remains visible in the notification center. Can anyone confirm that? Two points for Apple if so.

I have no confidence in a system where I cannot review past history. Alerts should remain reviewable for some time, even if they are cancelled, if they appeared on my phone once, I should be able to look at them again.

The second problem is that the alert does not say who sent it. My first question on seeing one of these for the first time was, what app generated this alert? I had installed some weather apps, maybe it was one of those. I was vaguely aware of the WEA system, but wasn’t sure if that was the source of the alert I was seeing. The question of who sent the alert also applies at the agency level. Did this come from the governor, the corner police station, who?

Problem number three, the alert doesn’t say what to do. What do I do if I see the missing pickup? The weather alert said to turn on the TV, I believe, which is a little more useful. I can’t check that though, because there is no way to recall past alerts.

The fourth problem, is there is no way to get more information. Any half-baked messaging app will let you click to see a photo or web page. How about some photos of the missing person, the vehicle and the suspect? How about a weather map of the tornado warning area? We get none of that.

Another, less serious, problem is that users are unfamiliar with these alerts. They have never seen them before. I would suggest that in the settings for WEA, there be a button for users to generate a demo alert, just on their own phone, so they can see what the alerts look and sound like.

Ask about these problems, and you will hear that there are technical limitations — the system only allows 90 characters of text. I must say, that’s a pretty bad design. What do you expect from a government design? It needs to be changed. Some high school students could make a better system than this in an afternoon.

WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) Overview

WEA sends alerts through the cellular system. The alerts are sent only to phones and cell towers in the affected area. The system only operates on relatively new phones. On AT&T, the Apple models supported are the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, 5C and 5S.

The switches to turn off Amber Alerts and Emergency Alerts in iOS are in Settings/Notifications/Government Alerts. There is still the “Presidential Alert” which cannot be disabled.

I haven’t been able to determine for sure whether WEA alerts are supported on any model of iPad or not. They are not happening on mine which does have cellular.

Links

WEA Overview from CITA

A good blog post about problems with WEA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create a Paragraph Without Submitting

On many web pages, when entering text, if you press enter or return, it submits the form. If you want to create a paragraph, but don’t want to submit yet, what do you do? You can press shift–return or option-Enter. (They seem to work the same on the Mac.) This will create a new paragraph, but not submit yet. One place that this helps is while entering a Facebook comment.

March 2014 Meeting Summary

2014 MacMAD Election results:

  • President – JR Staal
  • Vice President – Jamie Cox
  • Treasurer – Eric Emerick
  • Secretary – Dennis Crowley

Miscellaneous Notes:

  • iOS 7.1 is out and working well for folks
  • Microsoft One Note is now free on the app stores (Mac and iOS)
  • press fn key twice quickly to open dictation on Mavericks – uses on-line speech to text (and yes, my (older) USB keyboard has NO fn key.)

Dan Wadler presented on Free Software

He showed us some perhaps lesser-known Mac freeware. All links current as of March 2014.

www.macupdate.com – a good place to look for software if you don’t know what apps are out there

Libre Office – A free office suite including Word processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Drawing and Database applications.

Stellarium – Cross-platform Planetarium software – see the stars and planets from your location and time – with modules and plug-ins. Yes, there’s an exoplanets plug-in.

Celestia – Real-time 3D visualization of space

Tide Widget – tide forecasts for your location – in a Dashboard widget

Album Artwork Assistant – Helps find Cover Artwork for iTunes

VLC Media Player – plays video in a great variety of digital formats

MacTubes – Play and download YouTube videos

MacTracker – detailed specifications for everything Apple Computer ever made

The Unarchiver – quick and easy app to open many different archive file types: zip, Tar etc.

Free Browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Dolphin (iOS), Mercury (iOS), Omniweb

Free Cloud Storage sites: Dropbox, Copy and Box.

Calibre – eBook manager

Sophos – Free Antivirus. Also, ClamX AV free antivirus.

Chess Knight – not overly tough computer chess game

Free Password managers: KeePass and LastPass.

 

 

 

 

 

Mac and iOS Security Bug: GotoFail

Safari on both the Mac and iOS (iPhone and iPad) has a potentially serious security problem. This problem is especially worrisome for mobile devices that may be used on public WiFi. Apple has released updates for this problem, so go get them. You can test if your Safari browser is still vulnerable to this problem by visiting http://gotofail.com . If so, update your system.

Smart Folders

I had to miss our February meeting at the last minute and would like to share what I had hoped to show the group. I found a nice little ditty about Smart Folders and how they could help me organize the new FCPX Libraries introduced in the 10.1 update. The usefulness of Smart Folders is dictated almost solely on the needs and imagination of the user.  And anyone who works with FCPX.1 knows how important  Libraries are to your workflow. They contain EVERYTHING needed for a given project. Of course Smart Folders don’t care what or how they organize so the lesson is easily transferrable to any other kind of data you may need to keep easily accessible. So with out further explanation, please go here to see the tutorial.

February Meeting Summary

Club elections will be next month in March – round up the usual suspects.

Upcoming meeting topic suggestions mentioned

  • Web Design Tools
  • Synchronizing folders, drives and computers
  • Looking for guest presenters
  • Video Production

The Mac OS features Spaces and Exposé were combined into Mission Control in 10.8, Mountain Lion. These tools are all about managing your multiple desktops and open windows.

Products Mentioned in the Meeting

Dinner after the meeting was at Steak and Shake.

 

Free iCloud Beta Apps: Pages, Numbers & Keynote

iCloud Apps 2

iCloud On-Line Apps
iCloud On-Line Apps

You can use the Beta versions of Apple’s iCloud Apps, live on iCloud.com. These are available whether or not you have ever bought the corresponding iOS or Mac Apps, and whether or not you device came with them installed.

These seem adequate to me. Some features may be missing or hard to find, but for casual use, they seem to work fine. Pretty good for Beta versions.

Bluetooth Keyboard Controls Apple TV

Wireless Keyboard Controls Apple TV
Wireless Keyboard Controls Apple TV

I have been using a Bluetooth keyboard with my Apple TV 3. With recent (2013) updates of firmware for the Apple TV, the Bluetooth keyboard feature has now become useable. The keyboard is really great when you want to search for something. You can actually type instead of using the painfully slow on-screen keyboard.

I  have been using the Apple keyboard that came with my iMac. I don’t like it for computer use, so I’m using a USB keyboard on the computer, but this keyboard is an ideal remote control for the Apple TV. It’s fairly compact and fits on the sofa table. You don’t have to use an Apple keyboard. Any Bluetooth keyboard should work.

The keyboard mappings felt so natural, I guessed them the first time, but here they are:

  • Menu button = esc key
  • Select button = enter key or space bar
  • Arrow buttons = arrow keys

My Apple TV now seems to remember the keyboard pairing indefinitely. I have to wake up the keyboard maybe once a day with a tap of the power button. Range is at least 12-15 feet – if you’re sitting back further than that, you need a smaller TV. 🙂

One problem I ran into — I don’t think it was a keyboard problem per se, but I created an account on Crackle with a gobbledegook password. When I entered this password on Apple TV, it wouldn’t accept it. I eventually changed the password, and then it was accepted on the Apple TV. I don’t think this problem is  specific to Crackle, either. I suspect that the Apple TV software just filters certain characters. Some special characters are okay, but I’d watch out for ^ and ~ (caret and tilde), as those were in the rejected password.

 Update March 26: After Apple TV software update 6.1 was installed on my Apple TV, my Bluetooth keyboard stopped working. It also wouldn’t show up as available to pair. I restarted my Apple TV (Settings/General/Restart) and tried again, and I was able to get the keyboard to pair. You should also try just turning Bluetooth off and then back on, on the Apple TV. (Click where it says Bluetooth Searching…). Pairing has always been kind of finicky on the Apple TV.

The Bluetooth controls are under Settings/General/Bluetooth.

Update May 10, 2014: One cool thing about using the Bluetooth keyboard: it gives  your Apple TV an RF remote control that can work without direct line of sight. So, you can use your Apple TV even if it is concealed in a cabinet, or on the other side of a wall.

MacOS Mavericks Training

On the 22nd of January 2014 MacMad started a new initiative, presenting a series of classes directed at new Mac users. There were 19 people in the first class taking advantage of the opportunity for the free education.

In the first class Dennis Crowley, the instructor, showed how to navigate the OS X interface; use modifier keys for shortcuts; open and organize files and applications with Finder, the Macintosh “filing cabinet”.

Future classes will cover setting up your Apple ID and iCloud accounts and syncing your data with multiple computers and iOS devices; using the Dock and Mission Control; gestures on the Trackpad; Dashboard widgets; saving and searching files. He will also show how to run the most popular Mac OS X applications, including Calendar, Address Book, iChat, Maps, Safari, Notifications, Reminders and iTunes, and how install new ones from the App Store. The course will end with learning how to share files and back up your Mac to ensure you don’t lose a single bit of data.

The education is being conducted at One Senior Place in Viera. The remaining four classes will be held 6:30 to 8:30 PM on 12 February, 26 February, 12 March and 26 March, 2014

If you want to learn more about Mavericks come join us for this free education at One Senior Place, 8085 Spyglass Hill Road, Viera, FL. 

January 2014 MacMAD Meeting

MacMAD elections are coming up in March, with nominations in February.

The cloud storage company Box.com is upgrading free accounts from 10 to 50 Gigabytes of online storage for those users who download the free iOS app for Box. We’re not sure when this offer ends — maybe through January or February 2014. When you sign in to your account using the iOS app, you’ll automatically get the extra storage. I did it. Nice.

We also announced a 50% off deal from Take Control Ebooks. They were on sale thru Jan 25th. You missed it now, but they are not expensive, and they are well-written bargains at the regular price.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh and the 30th anniversary of MacMAD. Apple has some nice retrospective material on their site now. Also see The Mothership and www.macworld.co.uk for some old apple “adverts”. You can also now watch a video of Steve Jobs’ first demo of the Macintosh at the Boston Computer Society in 1984. This video has apparently been unavailable for decades. When watching this, you’ve got to remember that back in those days IBM was so big and threatening that they were about as popular with many computer enthusiasts as the death star. Now, they’re completely out of the personal computer business.

Dennis Crowley gave a presentation this month on using iCloud. I always learn something at our meetings. This month it was that you can turn off iCloud as the default storage location for Text Edit. The  option is buried in the iCloud system preferences.

By the way,  did  you know that the keyboard shortcut ?-, (Command-comma) opens the preference pane in most applications?