Posts tagged ‘Google’


Google’s knowledge panels: they don’t know how to give access to a verified user

08.09.2020

After my last post, it seemed fair to give Google a chance to respond. I filed some feedback with them, and, surprisingly, I got a reply. But then I was taken around in circles, again, just like in 2009, though the respondents aren’t arseholes like ‘Chuck’ all those years ago.

I clicked to claim this knowledge panel. You send me a verification. In that verification you have ‘Review info’. It’s just a blue box. I can’t click on it or do anything with it. Then when I go to the page to publish on Google Search, you tell me my address doesn’t have permission. I can’t remember how I got there, but you also show me another window saying someone is already managing my company on Google. That can’t be so as I’m the only person logged in via the Search Console and you verified that I was the right person.

   Google’s first response (links removed):

Hello Jack,

Thank you for contacting us.
   You are currently the verified owner of the knowledge panel entity “Lucire”. If you don’t see “Suggest an edit” option at the top of your knowledge panel, please confirm that you’re logged in to a Google account that was used for the verification. Also, check that your Web and App activity is turned on. If you are using a G Suite account, turn on the Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin.
   If this issue still persists, please send us the following so that we can investigate further, examples of these images are attached:

  • A screenshot of your knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner); and
  • A screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page.
  •    Also, we’re hoping to bring more features to you in the future. Unfortunately, Posts on Google is not open to every entity at this time.

    Regards,
    Jay
    Google Search support team

       It would be rude not to comply.

    Hi Jay:

    I really appreciate your reply. In the past, whenever I’ve contacted Google, I get radio silence, so I’m really happy you’re there.
       I signed in as me but there’s no ‘Suggest an edit’. I fail on the first hurdle, actually, as I believe I had turned my web activity off a while ago. Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to turn it back on or to access the first link you gave me.
       I have a Gmail with a school I work with. Even though I’m logged in with [redacted], the verified address, I get prompted to log in with my school address when I hit your first link. I switch accounts, which is the logical thing to do, and log in again. Except the site prompts me to log in with my school address. It’s a never-ending loop.
       Hopefully the attached screenshots will help with troubleshooting or to find out what I’m doing wrong.
       The browser is Opera, which is Chromium-based, and it has no privacy settings or blocked cookies that might prevent me from accessing Google.

    Thank you,

    Kind regards,

    Jack


    Above: This is the knowledge panel screenshot Google keeps asking me for. I’m logged in, with the verified address, and there’s no ‘Suggest an edit’ as they claim. That’s actually why I contacted them—because I’m literate and I’ve already read their instructions, which are either wrong, or I’m encountering something unexpected on their systems.





    Above: What happens when I click on Google’s web and app activity link that their reps send me. It asks me to verify my email but it’s the wrong address (this is the school one). I click ‘Next’ and get to the second screen, where I can choose the address that Google confirmed was the verified address, and the one used for its own search console. Notice the verified address has a green circle with a J inside it, just like in the top image. I then get taken to the third screen, but note that I have not been logged in. I sign in again. And guess what? We’re back to square one.

       This is where it starts to go awry, because despite a really good start from Jay, who confirmed that my regular address was the one that was verified to edit Lucire’s knowledge panel, I next receive this.

    Hello Jack,

    If you got your Google Account through work or school, you might need to contact your administrator to turn on the Web & App Activity additional service for your organization.
       If this issue still persists, please send us the following so that we can investigate further, examples of these images are attached:

  • A screenshot of your knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner); and
  • A screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page.
  •    Also, please confirm that you’re logged in to a Google account that was used for the verification and check that your Web and App activity is turned on. If you are using a G Suite account, turn on the Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin.

    Regards,
    Jay
    Google Search support team

       I fired this off in reply to Jay.

    Hi Jay:

    Thank you. A couple of things here.
       The school account has nothing to do with this. I’m just saying that your server keeps defaulting to the school account and every time I log in with the correct verified account, it logs me straight out again. Every time I switch to the correct account, your system doesn’t like it.
       You already have the screenshots. I already sent the screenshot with the knowledge panel. I have re-attached it. This is logged in with the correct, verified account, the one that’s used for the search console, and the one that was used to claim the knowledge panel.
       As explained, your server will not let me in to get a screenshot of the web and activity page.
       I am logged into the correct account.
       As explained, you will not let me get to the web and activity page in order to get a screenshot.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       Jay wasn’t the only one on my case. Tanvi sent me something even more left-field.

    Hello Jack,

    As informed please, you might need to contact your administrator to turn on the Web & App Activity additional service for your organization.
       Also, please confirm that you’re logged in to a Google account that was used for the verification and check that your Web and App activity is turned on. If you are using a G Suite account, turn on the Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin.
       If this issue still persists, please send us the following so that we can investigate further, as per attached image format:

    • A screenshot of your knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner); and
    • A screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page.

    Regards,
    Tanvi
    Google Search support team

       Notice how they keep asking for the knowledge panel screenshot, and I keep sending it, but no one cares.
       And they keep wanting this web and app activity page, which they won’t let me access. My response to Tanvi:

    Hi Tanvi:

    I am the administrator for my organization. There is no one else.
       I am logged in to the account used for verification.
       As explained, I cannot access the web and app activity page. Every time I do, you log me off.
       I do not know what a G Suite is.
       I re-attach for the third time the knowledge panel.
       I cannot make a screenshot of my web and app activity page because you will not allow me access to it.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       They just need to check their own records to find I am the only person registered to look after Lucire, and if I’m not, then their security holes are pretty damned massive. But doing something logical like that might cut to the chase too quickly, and we know from 2009 that Google likes giving you the run-around. I don’t know who teaches them customer service but I bet it’s the English.
       They keep asking for a web activity page that their own systems won’t let me access.
       I think we can realistically chalk this one up to another failed Google service. I hope they can get it cleared up, as the knowledge panel is Wikipedia-based and, therefore, not accurate. While I don’t use Google, I know the majority of people do. I’ll continue being as nice as I can, as I want to see this fixed, but somehow I don’t think it will be remedied any time soon. The folks on the frontline won’t understand why their systems cannot accept that one person has two separate email addresses and two separate Google accounts, one linked to each. You’d think I was the first person ever to have two email addresses, just like Marty McFly telling his uncle that he has two television sets in 1955.

    PS.: It just gets nuttier. Just because you keep asking the same things doesn’t mean the answers will change.

    Hello Jack,

    Thanks for proving screenshot but please provide screenshots as per attachment only.
       Please confirm that you’re logged in to a Google account that was used for the verification and check that your Web and App activity is turned on.
       To get access to your suggest and edit, please contact your G-Suite Admin. If you are using a G Suite account, turn on the Web & App Activity settings in G Suite Admin. To know more about G Suite please look into G suite Help Center.

    Regards,
    Tanvi
    Google Search support team

       Here you go, Tanvi. We can keep going around in circles and your firm will look more and more useless.

    Hi Tanvi:

    I have provided screenshots as attachments. I don’t know any other way to send you screenshots.
       Again: I am logged in to the correct Google account and it was the one used for verification.
       Again: I do not know if web and app activity is turned on because you will not let me access it.
       There is no G Suite. I am not using a G Suite. I am the only person authorized to deal with this. I am the admin.
       Please check your records. You will find that there is no one else authorized to deal with this matter. Mine is the only account that deals with the search console and it is the only account verified to edit the knowledge panel.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

    P.PS.: September 10. Where did we get up to? I forget, because the same thing keeps happening. It’s Groundhog Day at Google.
       Right, it’s back to Jay.

    Hello Jack,

    The screenshot that you have provided is not in the correct format, please resend the following screenshot in correct format so that we can investigate further, example of the image is attached:
    A screenshot of your knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner). Please refer to the attached screenshot.

    Regards,
    Jay
    Google Search support team

       Fair enough. Jay included a screenshot of exactly what he wanted. I send this to Jay. (It makes no difference. See below.)

    Hi Jay:

    I wasn’t sure what you meant by correct format but the screenshot helps. Please find that attached.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       SaiKumar is now on the case. He’s got what I sent to Jay.

    Hi Jack,

    Thank you for providing the screenshots.

    Could you now please try the following and let us know if anything has changed? If not, please send screenshots.

  • Incognito mode
  • Mobile device
  • Different web browser
  • A screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner).

    Regards,
    SaiKumar
    Google Search support team

       This seems pretty reasonable.

    Hi SaiKumar:

    I’ve attached what I see in incognito mode. I’ve also attached the same screenshots using a fresh copy of Edge instead of Opera.
       I can’t help you on a mobile device, sorry. It’s not something I’m prepared to use.
       As discussed, Google will not let me access the web and activity page so I cannot supply a screenshot for you. What happens when I click on the link in your email is explained in my email sent on September 7 at 22.51 GMT.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       How many times to I have to tell them that they won’t let me access the web and app activity page? They keep asking, I keep telling them I can’t access it, and they ask again.

    Hello Jack,

    Thank you for sharing screenshot.
       We need your a screenshot of your “Web & App Activity” page for our investigation. You are only providing screenshot of knowledge panel (please make sure that your verified email/Google account name is visible at the top right-hand corner).

    Regards,
    Tanvi
    Google Search support team

       At this point, I have my doubts if Google’s staff is even literate.

    Hi Tanvi:

    I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, Jay and Saikumar this, but I cannot give you a screenshot of the web and app activity page because your system will not let me access it. Please see my email from September 7, 22.51 GMT.
       I have already provided you with the correct screenshot from the knowledge panel page but here it is again, from two different browsers.

    Regards,

    Jack

       OK, I shouldn’t have sent Tanvi those SERP screenshots again, but what’s the bet she’ll come back and demand I send her the web and app activity page screen that they won’t let me access?

    P.P.PS.: This feels like the final email for now.

    Hello,

    Thank you for contacting us. We are looking into this. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

    Regards,
    Tanvi
    Google Search support team

    I thanked her and I think we can leave it there for the next few years.

    P.P.P.PS.: I actually got a reply (September 12, 21.56 GMT). Links removed because I can’t be bothered making them active.

    Hi Jack,

    Thank you for patiently waiting while we looked into the query for you.

    We would request you to try to claim the knowledge panel using a different Google account. If you don’t have one, then create a Google account. Once you create a Google Account, use the email address to add it in the account. Please follow these steps in order to add users to your account:

  • Visit https://www.google.com/search/contributions/manage
  • Under “Add people to this account”, click Start now.
  • If you need to switch accounts, use the dropdown menu next to your profile image to select the account you want to manage.
  • Click Add new user.
  • Enter the Google email address of your new user.
  • Choose whether the user gets manager permissions. To grant manager permissions, move the toggle to the right.
  • Click Invite.
  • You can set different permission levels for users:

  • Manager: Can suggest changes to the knowledge panel, and add or remove users.
  • Owner: The primary user on the account, and has the same permissions as managers.
  • Contributor: Can suggest changes to the knowledge panel.
  • You can read more about updating users here.
    Regards,
    Aghrajit
    Google Search support team

    I followed his instructions as they seemed pretty reasonable but, as it’s Google, they’re not really supposed to work.

    Hi Aghrajit:

    Thank you for your detailed instructions. I have followed them, added my other Google account [redacted], and invited myself as a manager.
       I received the Google confirmation and clicked on ‘Get started’.
       However, there is no link to allow me to claim the knowledge panel, just a link to give general feedback, as though I were a regular user. I don’t have any additional privileges.
       Please find the resulting screenshots attached.

    Kind regards,

    Jack

       I think they need to face the fact that their knowledge panels don’t work as advertised, a bit like how their blog review process didn’t work as advertised, or how their anti-malware warnings didn’t clear as advertised, or how their Ads Preferences Manager didn’t work as advertised, etc. Remember, this is the company that didn’t even know where the White House was in Google Earth—and it was version five when I discovered this!

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    Posted in internet, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


    More things that don’t work: Google knowledge panels, and typing in te reo Māori in Facebook

    06.09.2020

    A guide to emojis for 2020.

    At least Twitter works. Google, as usual, doesn’t.
       I had a check to see how Lucire was performing in a Google search yesterday and noticed there was a Wikipedia box to the right, and a message saying that if it was about us, I could ‘claim’ the box. I clicked on the link, and as Google knows my email address is associated with Lucire through its search console, it verified me. ‘Congratulations, you’ve been verified’, according to the Google website, and I could ‘Add or change info’, with a ‘Review info’ box that I could click on.

       Actually, it’s just a coloured rectangle. Clicking on it does nothing.
       Maybe it’s my privacy settings, so I used my fresh, unblocked, Google-can-plant-what-it-likes Chromium browser. I log in as me on Google. And here’s what I get.

       Another variant is the below:

       ‘This account doesn’t have permission to publish on Google Search.’ Um, it does. You just told me I did.
       The box remains claimed but there’s not a damned thing I can do.

    Long-time readers will remember my pointing out many years ago how the Google Dashboard isn’t accurate, especially when it comes to arithmetic. Nothing has changed.
       Google says I have one task. Well, I can’t, since I’ve never used it. Click through: I have none, and Google returns a ‘Get started’ page. Google says I have two albums. Again, impossible. Click through: I have none. It says I belong to one group. Click through: zero. I’m honestly astonished at how bad they are. If you can’t do maths, you probably shouldn’t be working with computers.




    Finally, I see Facebook has forced a lot of people to change to its new template. I actually don’t care what the UI looks like, as I’m not there sufficiently to care. And I bet that if you were Māori, you’d want to have the old template back, since you can’t type macronized vowels. The macron just winds up on the baseline on any Chromium browser.

       One friend tried to replicate this on Windows and couldn’t, so this might not be a universal issue.
       The font being called by the stylesheet is Segoe UI Historic. I have it installed, and it’s not something I’ve ever edited. I will point that that, according to Character Map, no macronized vowels are visible in the relevant Unicode range, though I haven’t opened it in Fontlab to confirm. If the browser has to substitute, that’s fine. But what font (indeed, which of the Segoe fonts) has macrons on the baseline? It appears to be Microsoft’s Segoe, so if it’s not a Facebook linked font (the code inspector suggests it isn’t), then we can point the finger at Microsoft for a buggy font on a standard Windows 10 computer. Either way, someone in a Big Tech outfit goofed.

    I had bookmarked this on my cellphone but because it’s my cellphone, it takes a long time to get it on this blog. I have to remember to grab the phone, then look up the post. But it’s your regular reminder that Facebook usually does nothing, despite saying it actively takes down hateful content. As I noted on The Panel in late August, eight copies (I believe in part) of the Christchurch massacre still exited on the platform as of March 15, 2020. The lies are laid bare once more.

       As a company, they also take their sweet time in removing bots. Here’s Instagram in a message to me on August 27 (it’s not the only 2018 report they responded to that week):

    Same old, same old.

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    Posted in culture, internet, New Zealand, publishing, Sweden, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


    After 18 months, some progress on the Meizu M6 Note

    23.06.2020

    That was an interesting day in cellphone land. I collected the Meizu M6 Note from PB last Friday and switched it on for the first time in the small hours of Tuesday.
       I originally wasn’t pleased. I had paid NZ$80 for a warranty repair (there is provision under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 in some circumstances) and was told at the service counter that all that was performed was a factory reset, followed by a week’s testing. In other words, what I had originally done, twice, before bringing the phone in. I replied that that was not going to work, and was told by the PB rep that maybe I shouldn’t have so many apps open. Conclusion: a newer phone is far less capable than an older one.
       But he wasn’t the technician, and as I discovered, Joe had done more than a mere factory reset. When I switched the phone on, it was back to square one, like the day I bought it, complete with Google spyware. I wasn’t thrilled about this, but it suggested to me that the ROM had been flashed back to the beginning.
       Meizu’s factory resets don’t take you right back to factory settings, not if you had rooted the phone and removed all the Google junk.
       To his credit, this was a logical thing to do. However, within 10 minutes it developed a fault again. The settings’ menu would not stay open, and crap out immediately, a bit like what the camera, browser, and gallery had done at different times. All I had done up to this point was allow some of the apps to update, and God knows what Google was doing in the background as messages for Play and other programs flashed up in the header. The OS wanted to update as well, so I let it, hoping it would get past the bug. It didn’t.
       So far, everything was playing out exactly as I had predicted, and I thought I would have to head to PB and point out that I was taking them up on the three months they guarantee their service. And the phone was warranted till December 2020 anyway. Give me my money back, and you can deal with Meizu for selling a lemon.
       However, I decided I would at least try for the umpteenth time to download the Chinese OS, and install it. Why not? Joe had given me a perfect opportunity to give this another shot, and the phone appeared unrooted. The download was painfully slow (I did the same operation on my older Meizu M2 Note out of curiosity, and it downloaded its OS update at three to four times the speed—can we blame Google for slowing the newer phone down?) but eventually it got there. The first attempt failed, as it had done countless times before. This was something that had never worked in the multiple times I had tried it over the last 18 months, and I had drawn the conclusion that Meizu had somehow locked this foreign-market phone from accepting Chinese OSs.
       I tried again.
       And it worked. A fluke? A one-off? Who knows? I always thought that in theory, it could be done, but the practice was entirely different.
       It took a while, but I was astonished as the phone went through its motions and installed Flyme 8.0.0.0A, killing all the Google spyware, and giving me the modern equivalent of the Meizu M2 Note from 2016 that I had sourced on Ebay from a Chinese vendor.
       I may be speaking too soon, but the settings’ bug disappeared, the apps run more smoothly, and as far as I can tell, there is no record of the phone having been rooted. I had a bunch of the APKs from the last reset on the SD card, so on they went.
       Meizu synced all contacts and SMSs once I had logged in, but there was one really annoying thing here: nothing from the period I was running the western version of the phone appeared. The messages prior to December 2018 synced, plus those from the M2 Note during June while the M6 was being serviced.
       It appears that the western versions of these apps are half-baked, and offer nothing like the Chinese versions.
       With any luck, the bugs will not resurface—if they don’t, then it means that the read–write issues are also unique to the western version of the M6 Note.
       I’ve spent parts of today familiarizing myself with the new software. There are some improvements in presentation and functionality, while a few things appear to have retrograded; but overall, this is what I expect with a phone that’s two years newer. There should be some kind of advance (even little things like animated wallpapers), and with the western version, other than processor speed and battery life, there had not been. It was 2016 tech. Even the OS that the phone came back with was mid-decade. This is what the western editions are: out of date.
       The only oddity with the new Chinese Flyme was the inability to find the Chinese version of Weibo through Meizu’s own Chinese app store—only the foreign ones showed up on my search, even though the descriptions were all in simplified Chinese.
       These mightn’t have been the developments that Joe at PB expected but if things remain trouble-free, that NZ$80 was well worth spending to get a phone which, for the first time in its life, feels new. The other lesson here is to avoid western-market phones if you don’t find the Chinese language odd. I had already made enquiries to two Aliexpress sellers to make sure that they could sell me a non-western phone, ready to upgrade. Hopefully that won’t need to happen.
       Next week: let’s see if I can shoot some video and have that save without killing the gallery, the bug that kicked all of this off.

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    Posted in business, China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


    Online advertising dollars: Google’s cut from your work is 40 per cent

    02.06.2020

    From Bob Hoffman’s The Ad Contrarian newsletter of May 24: ‘two weeks ago a study by the ISBA and PcW that reported that half of every “programmatic” ad dollar is scraped by adtech middlemen’ and ‘According to a paper written by Fiona Scott Morton, an economist at Yale University, Google pockets about 40¢ of every online ad dollar before it ever gets to a publisher. Not just search dollars, not just programmatic dollars, but all online ad dollars.’ Just one more reason I refuse to sign these:

       I’m not part of the 90 per cent. And the bastards at Google are rich enough. Let them share it with illegal content mills as they are peas in a pod. Another solution for legitimate publishers is dearly needed.
       At least there’s been some sort of work with the commissions agencies take in other media, and that’s typically at 15 per cent here. Google is taking the piss with its automated systems.
       We know the US doesn’t have the balls (or funding?) to take them on at this point, but how about other sovereign territories in which Google operates? Surely they have to comply with our laws, too?

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    Posted in business, globalization, internet, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


    Even the web is forgetting our history

    26.04.2020


    Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

    My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
       The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
       There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
       His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
       That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
       Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
       Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
       Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
       I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
       Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
       Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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    Posted in culture, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


    Google isn’t working

    22.04.2020

    I’ve done several Zoom meetings since the pandemic was declared, and two Google Hangouts. While I’m not thrilled at having to use two companies with patchy (to say the least) records on user privacy, the meetings (three for Medinge, one for another board I sit on) have been productive, and the only bottleneck has been, of course, Google.
       I’ve never known what to do with those meeting.ics files that come in but I assume they are digital diary entries for those who don’t like paper. But I can open them in a text file and figure out when meetings start and end and with whom I’m having them.
       If someone sends me a Zoom or Google Hangouts’ link then I’m all good, as I can head straight there and attend the meeting. But for one organization, which has been on Google for longer than I’ve been on their board, I’m expected to get this from the ICS file itself. Fortunately they have an excellent secretary and convener who sends me the link privately since I’m the only one out of the 10 or so who attend these Google-based meetings who can’t figure out how to use this technology.
       Apparently, for everyone, they receive the email and they get a Google Hangout link inside a Calendar entry like this:

    and for me, and I’ve spent two hours on this, this is all I get:

       I can tell you it’s not inside the ICS file. There’s no link at all.
       Before you say, ‘Jack, you have non-standard privacy settings on your browser and computer,’ let me answer that now: I’ve downloaded a fresh copy of Opera with no privacy blocks whatsoever, and instead of retrieving the ICS from my usual Eudora email client, I’ve gone into Gmail, where they’ve sent the same invitation, and pretended to like Google and tried to do everything within their ecosystem. This is my only Gmail account, which we are all required to have on this board.
       I’ve opened the email containing this link. If I click on ‘Add to calendar’, I get the screenshot of mine above. Next to the meeting.ics attachment is ‘Download’. If I click on that, I download exactly the same file I had on my regular email, with no Google Hangouts’ link. Surprisingly, there is no way to add an ICS file from Gmail to your Google Calendar—not even a customized right-click option—which must rank as one of the stupidest things that Google could do if they expect us to use their products as a suite.
       There is no obvious way to open meeting.ics from within Google Calendar. However, you can import (Settings, then Settings, then Import/Export) the file, and the result? Same as before.
       Our notifications are sent through a service called Our Cat Herder, and when I click for the full meeting details, I just get taken to that site, again with no Google Hangouts’ link.
       I get that our brains are all wired differently, but there must be a simple, logical explanation on why everyone else can see this link and I can’t.
       I realize that when I spot something Google does, and write about it on this blog, I usually go, ‘That’s dodgy. These guys are a bunch of wankers,’ and 99 per cent of people go, ‘That’s dodgy but I’ll put up with it because free stuff,’ so I know we are different. However, I’m struggling to think how anyone has managed to navigate Gmail, Google Calendar and all their non-search crap to find this link.
       I’ve asked the person convening the meeting to show me in person how they get to their Google Calendar window after we come out of lockdown, but I really have clicked everything under the sun in Gmail, Calendar, Google Account, my profile, and anything else they let me access. I spent 90 minutes one morning and another half-hour today: two hours of letting this Big Tech crowd know all about my computer and invade my privacy. It just cannot be done. Except logic tells me if nine other people can, then their brains must be wired so differently that they are clicking on something that I obviously cannot see. That Google has made it that invisible or that illogical to my 1 per cent brain. But, Gmail users, what else should I click on? There isn’t anything else. I’ve clicked on everything that’s obvious and even on things that were obvious dead ends.



    Above: I’ve clicked on what I thought are the obvious links, so where’s this mystery Google Calendar file that reveals a Google Hangouts’ link?

       But logic also says that if we are all receiving the same emails and the same meeting.ics file then why are they different? Even the time is different (theirs is 4.30 to 6 p.m., mine is 4.30 to 6.30 p.m.) as is the title (theirs has the name of the organization in it).
       This is yet another case where Google doesn’t work. I’ve written plenty about why this company’s products are bad for us, their record of censorship, their exercise of a monopoly, their taking and exposure of user data, and their general incompetence. We all know about their failure to be transparent, especially with the one product which makes the most money—their (independently unaudited) advertising. Recently I wrote about how Google Drive does not work, and now you can add Gmail and Google Calendar to the list. Conclusion: this hodgepodge of services is a waste of time. Like Microsoft Word, I’m glad I didn’t get laboured with them early on—and know to stay well away from them in the general course of my work.

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    Posted in business, design, internet, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


    Twelve things I do to keep balanced while working from home

    17.03.2020

    When I was 13, my father became self-employed after being made redundant at his work. By choice, my mother did the same when I was in my early 20s. They both loved the lifestyle and I imagine it was inevitable I would do the same in my career, beginning at a time when I was still studying.
       As some who self-isolate because of the coronavirus pandemic say that their mental health is affected, I thought I’d share how I’ve been based at home for over three decades.

    1. For those working, make sure it’s not just one project. There’s nothing more wearing that having just one thing to work on the entire day. I always have a few projects on the go, and make sure I switch between them. The second project should be a lighter one or be of less importance. Even if it’s not work, make sure it’s something that gives you a bit of variety.

    2. Make sure you have a decent work set-up. I find it important to have a monitor where I can read things clearly. Also I set mine on a mode that restricts blue light. If you’re working at home, it’s not a bad idea to have comfortable settings on a screen. If your monitor doesn’t have a native mode to restrict blue light, there’s always F.lux, which is an excellent tool to make screens more comfortable.
       If you’re used to standard keyboards and mice, that’s great, but for me, I have to ensure my keyboard is either at around 400 mm in width or less, and my mouse has to be larger than the standard size since I have big hands. Ergonomics are important.

    3. Find that spot. Find a comfortable space to base yourself with plenty of natural light and ventilation. At-home pet cats and dogs do it, take their lead.

    4. Stretch. Again, the cats and dogs do it. Get out of that chair every now and then and make sure you don’t get too stiff working from your desk. Exercise if you wish to.

    5. If you relax to white noise or find it comforting, there are places that can help. One friend of mine loves his podcasts, and others might like music, but I enjoy having the sound of web video. And if it’s interesting, you can always stop to watch it. One site I recently recommended is Thought Maybe, which has plenty of useful documentaries, including Adam Curtis’s ones. These give an insight into how parts of the world work, and you might even get some theories on just what landed us in this situation in 2020.
       When Aotearoa had two network TV channels, I dreamed of a time when I could have overseas stations accessible at my fingertips. That reality is now here with plenty of news channels online. If that’s too much doom and gloom, I’m sure there are others that you can tune into to have running in the background. Radio.net has a lot of genres of music.

    6. Find that hobby. No point waiting till you retire. Was there something you always wanted to learn about but thought you’d never have time? I recommend Skillshare, which has lots of online courses on different subjects. You learn at your pace so you can delve into the course whenever you want, say once a day as a treat.

    7. I do some social media but generally I limit myself. Because social media are antisocial, and they’re designed to suck up your time to make their owners rich (they look at how much attention they capture and sell that to advertisers), there’s no point doing something draining if you’ve got some good stuff to do in (1). However, they might be cathartic if you want to have some human contact or express your feelings. Personally, I prefer to blog, which was my catharsis in the mid-2000s, and which I find just as good today. It’s a pity the old Vox isn’t around these days as there’s much to be said for a long-form blogging network.
       Sarb Johal started the #StayatHomeEnts hashtag on Twitter where Tweeters have been putting up some advice on what we each do to keep entertained. I just had a scroll down and they’re really good!

    8. Many of us have this technology to chat to others, let’s use it. We’re luckier in 2020 that there’s Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. I had thought that if we didn’t have social media, we’d be finding this an ideal opportunity to connect with others around the planet and learning about other cultures. I remember in the early days of the web how fascinating it was to chat to people in chatrooms from places I had never visited. I realize these days there are some weirdos out there, who have spoiled the experience for the great majority. But I’m sure there are some safe places, and if they’re not around, see what friends are in the same boat and form your own virtual networks. Importantly, don’t restrict yourselves to your own country.

    9. Don’t veg: do something creative. For those of us with a creative bent, draw, write, photograph, play a musical instrument—something to de-stress. I can’t get through a day without doing one creative thing.

    10. Anything in the house that you said you’d always do? Now’s your chance to do it, and hopefully you’ve got your tools and equipment at home already.

    11. If you’re in a relationship, don’t get on top of each other—have your own spaces. Having said that, seeing my partner helps as I used to go into town a few times a week for meetings; because I see her each day, that need to meet up with colleagues to get out of your own headspace isn’t as strong.

    12. Take plenty of breaks. You’d probably have to anyway, in order to cook (since you’re not heading out to a café) so structure in times to do this. It soon becomes second nature. Don’t plough through till well after your lunchtime or dinnertime: get a healthy routine. Remember that self-isolation means you can still go for walks, just not into crowded places or with someone. When we self-isolated in January over an unrelated bug, my partner and I headed to a local park that wasn’t busy during the day and we were the only ones there.

       Normally I would have a small amount of meetings during the week but as I get older, they’re actually fewer in number, so I can cope with not having them.
       Do you have any extra tips? Put them in the comments and let’s see if we can build on this together.

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    Posted in culture, interests, internet, New Zealand, technology, TV | 1 Comment »


    I prefer the 99 per cent who don’t rely on Google

    10.03.2020


    Almost three screens of apps, none of which require Google.

    I had a good discussion on Twitter today with Peter Lambrechtsen, and if you want to have a peek, it’s here. He’s a really decent guy who makes some good points. But it does annoy me that my partner, whose phone is a stock standard one, with all the Google and Vodafone spyware, cannot run Über, either, and that it wasted half an hour of her life yesterday. Between us we’ve lost 90 minutes because of programs in two days that don’t do what they say on the tin.
       I have several theories about this, and one of Peter’s suggestions was to get a new phone—which is actually quite reasonable given what he knows about it, though not realistic for everyone.
       Theory 1: the people who make these apps just have the latest gear, and to hell with anyone who owns a phone from 2017. (Silicon Valley is woke? Not with this attitude.)
       Theory 2: the apps just aren’t tested.
       Theory 3: the apps are developed by people who have little idea about how non-tech people use things.
       We got on to rooting phones and how some apps detect this, and won’t function as a result.
       I’d never have rooted mine if there wasn’t an easy manufacturer’s method of doing so, and if I could easily remove Google from it (services, search, Gmail, YouTube, Play, etc.). Nor would I have touched it had Meizu allowed us to install the Chinese operating system on to a western phone.
       I wager that over 99 per cent of Android apps do not need Google services—I run plenty without any problems—but there’s less than 1 per cent that do, including Zoomy and Snapchat. I live without both, and, in fact, as the 2020s begin, I find less and less utility from a cellphone. So much for these devices somehow taking over our lives. You get to a point where they just aren’t interesting.
       So why does the 1 per cent become so wedded to Google?
       You’d think that app developers would believe in consumer choice and could see the writing on the wall. A generation ago, Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer got them into hot water. More recently, the EU fined Google for violating their monopoly laws. People are waking up to the fact that Google is wielding monopoly power and it’s bad for society. Why contribute to it, when the other 99 per cent don’t?
       If I build a website, I don’t say that you need to have used something else to browse it: there’s an agreed set of standards.
       And I bet it’s the same for Android development, which is why there are now superior Chinese app stores, filled with stuff that doesn’t need Google.
       We prefer open standards, thank you.
       While these tech players are at it, let us choose whether we want Google’s spyware on our phones—and if we don’t, let us banish it to hell without rooting them. (Next time, I’m just going to have to ask friends visiting China—whenever that will be—to get me my next phone, if I haven’t moved back to land lines by then. Just makes life easier.)

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    Posted in China, internet, technology | No Comments »


    Fixed Vivaldi’s poor type display, thanks to wmjordan

    07.03.2020

    It took two months but I finally got there.
       Vivaldi now displays type normally though the browser interface is slightly messed up. But I’ll take good type display, thanks.
       On the MacType forums, a user in China called wmjordan was in the same boat but had found a solution. In their words:

    For the recent version of Vivaldi 2.10, 2.11, you need to create a shortcut, and modify the command line, append the "--disable-lcd-text" parameter behind the executable name, and MacType will work on the web page content window. The "--disable-features=RendererCodeIntegrity" parameter is recommended by snowie2000.

    my command line:

    vivaldi.exe --disable-lcd-text --disable-features=RendererCodeIntegrity

       I used the latter method, but the type was still quite poor for me. I had to do one more thing: start Vivaldi in Windows 8 compatibility mode.
       It’s messed up the top of the browser a little but it’s a small price to pay to have everything readable again.
       Snowie2000, the main dev for MacType, says a registry hack is their preferred workaround, at github.com/snowie2000/mactype/wiki/Google-Chrome#workaround-for-chrome-78.
       It turns out that Chrome 78 (and presumably Chromium 78, too) did indeed have a change: ‘Starting from Chrome 78, Chrome began to block third-party DLLs from injection. But they provided a way to disable the protection either from the command line or by policy.’
       I was right to have investigated which version of Vivaldi represented the change earlier (it was 2.9, which equated to Chromium 78). After testing wmjordan’s suggestions out on 2.9, I upgraded to 2.11, and it was still fine.
       Opera GX is still the more resolved browser (works as it should out of the box) but there are some aspects of Vivaldi that I’m familiar with after two-and-a-half years (to the day). Looks like I’ll be going back to it for my main browsing, but I know I’ve found another great browser along the way, and I’ve updated my Firefox, too.

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    Posted in China, technology, typography | No Comments »


    Why I don’t sign up to new online ad networks in a hurry

    26.02.2020

    In the early days, banner advertising was pretty simple. By the turn of the century, we dealt with a couple of firms, Burst Media and Gorilla Nation, and we had a few buy direct. Money was good.
       This is the pattern today if we choose to say yes to anyone representing an ad network.
       I get an email, with, ‘Hey, we’ve got some great fill rates and CPMs!’
       I quiz them, tell them that in the past we’ve been disappointed. Basically, because each ad network has a payment threshold (and in Burst’s case they deduct money as a fee for paying you money), the more ad networks we serve in each ad spot’s rotation, the longer it takes to reach each network’s threshold. And some networks don’t even serve ads that we can see.
       They say that that won’t happen, so I do the paperwork and we put the codes in.
       Invariably we either see crap ads (gambling and click-bait, or worse: pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials and entire page takeovers for either) or we see no ads, at least none that’ll pay.
       Because we give people a chance we leave the codes there for a while, and that delays the payment thresholds just as predicted.
       At the end of the day, it’s ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ because no one really seems to honour their commitments when it comes to online advertising. With certain companies having monopoly or duopoly powers in this market, it’s led to depressed prices and a very high threshold for any new players—and that’s a bad thing for publishers. What a pity their home country lacks the bollocks to do something about it.
       Every now and then they will feed through an advertisement from Google because of a contractual arrangement they have, and the ad isn’t clickable—because I guess no one at Google has figured out that that’s important. (Remember, this is the same company that didn’t know what significant American building is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC on Google Earth, and the way to deal with whistleblowers is allegedly to call the cops on them.)
       We deal with one Scots firm and one Israeli firm these days, in the hope that not having American ad networks so dependent on, or affected by, a company with questionable ethics might help things just a little.

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    Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, publishing, USA | No Comments »