Crappy iPad In-App Purchases: Frisbee® Forever Scam

First, the non-crappy part of this incident:

Apple did the right and reasonable thing and reimbursed me for a $99 scam that the iPad game Frisbee® Forever ran on my 7-year-old son.

Now, the crappy part of this scam.

A Danish company called Kiloo markets an iPad game titled Frisbee® Forever. It’s distributed for “free,” but they entrap you with in-app purchases of “star coins.” The screen where you buy these coins is very misleading, with two of the options labeled “100% FREE” and “150% FREE.”

(Image missing because of some crap Blogger pulled–deleting dozens of Crappy Software images when this blog was hosted there.)

My 7-year-old son was playing the game and he unwittingly made a purchase for $99.99! He does not know the password to my Apple account and I did not authorize this purchase. I suspect the purchase was approved because my password had been cached by my iPad and thus the purchase went right through.

I didn’t know anything about it until I glanced at an emailed invoice from Apple and I had the sticker shock of seeing this $99.99 charge! What the hell? The highest price I’d seen on an iPad game was mebbe $10. This $100 (over $100, if you count tax) charge seems waaaaaaay out of line.

The happy ending, as I noted at the start of this post, is that I contacted Apple through their email support system and they reasonably replied:

I understand that the purchase of “275.000 Star Coins” was unintentional. In five to seven business days, a credit of $108.99, plus any applicable taxes, should be posted to the credit card that appears on the receipt for that purchase. Please note that this is a one-time exception, as the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions state that all sales are final.

You can be sure I have now locked down in-app purchases so that we will not have a repeat of this situation. But I do think Apple shares some of the blame with Kiloo. In-app purchases are a relatively recent addition to iTunes and I think their implementation is crappy.

Here are two suggestion I sent to Apple that would make it less crappy:

  1. I would recommend that in-app purchase NOT be enabled by default. If the user had to specifically opt-in to in-app purchases, many of these mistakes could be avoided.
  2. If, as I’ve read, it’s true that the iPad caches one’s password for 15 minutes or more, I recommend the user be allowed to configure any password caching–perhaps turning it off entirely.
And to Kiloo, I say, Quit entrapping children with crappy, misleading in-app purchases!
Update, 6/6/2011:

A couple of friends asked about how to request that Apple review an in-app purchase. I put together a little screencast to show how, but Blogger deleted it.

As I said above, Apple has been good about canceling improper charges. The speed with which they do so leads me to think that they get a lot of such complaints. So, I must ask again: Why do they enable in-app purchases by default?

Crappy Gmail Backup

Don’t you hate it when you pay for a new software utility to make your digital life slightly easier and it throws all sorts of odd, undecipherable error messages at you?

Recently, I paid for Gmail Keeper in hopes of automating my Gmail archiving. I’d read a positive review of it online somewhere and opted for it over a free, open-source alternative (Gmail Backup) that would have to be run manually. Big mistake.

Gmail Keeper fails with the following, unhelpful, crappy error message:

8:32:04 AM: Your Gmail display langugage has changed to none-English language, try to edit the profile and identify Gmail folders manually.

“none-English”? What the huh?

To be fair to Gmail Keeper, I have contacted its support email and it’s only been 24 hours since I did. If they respond in a timely and helpful manner, I’ll update this post.

Until then, I’m going back to using Thunderbird for manual backups.

Update 5/19/11:


Well, I will say that Edwin Yip, of Gmail Keeper, responded promptly with the following solution:

Please edit the backup profile in question and set ‘important’ as a ‘label’. actually, it’s corresponding to  ‘priority inbox’.

Making this change allowed Gmail Keeper to run, but it still did not succeed in backing up the thousands of messages I have accumulated over the past seven years of using Gmail. This time, it threw several other errors — after running for five hours:

6:31:41 AM: Error adding the EML file into the ZIP archive. Make sure the ZIP arhive is not opened by other archiver programs and it’s writable. Error message: Error code: 527; Error message: Error creating file
Due to a temporary Gmail server error the following 7253 emails couldn’t be downloaded.
Retry again might solve the problem.
6:31:41 AM: Subject [Re: Featuring TV Styles in CSM newsletter?] From [Steve Anderson <sfanders@usc.edu>] . Error code: 312; Error message: NO System Error (Failure)
6:31:41 AM: Subject [The KODAK Gallery: Your order has partially shipped.] From [service@kodakgallery.com] . Error code: 6; Error message: 

At this point, I prefer not to do any further trouble shooting as it appears that Gmail Keeper is not going to suit my needs.
And so I have requested a refund. Their Website promises a “60-day money guarantee”. I’ll update this post to report on how promptly they process my request.
Mozilla Thunderbird, with a few tweaks, will have to serve as my back-up system. I’ll have to see if I can figure out a way to automate it…

The Canon T2i DSLR Camera Is Not Crap, But It’s Not For Me

Lately, I’ve been thinking about buying a DSLR camera in order to shoot video on a flash-memory camera. I recently borrowed a Canon T2i, which is generally well respected as a prosumer camera, and gave it a spin.

My main issues with the T2i camera is how it fails to significantly improve upon what I can do with my little Canon S95 camera.

For example, the T2i records video at 1920×1080 which looks great and all, but the S95 can do 1280×720 and that’s probably HD enough for my needs. My home computer could barely play the T2i-recorded video without stuttering.

The T2i offers many manual controls, which I used to love, but my eyesight has gotten so bad that I’m better off with an automatic control for focus than I am trusting my own peepers. The T2i and the S95 have virtually the same auto-focus algorithm so this is a tie and the manual controls are superfluous.

The T2i, oddly, does not let you use the eyepiece when shooting video. You HAVE to use the LCD panel, which is a problem in direct sunlight. You can barely see what you’re shooting. The S95 doesn’t even have an eyepiece, true, but its LCD seems to be easier to see in direct sunlight.

The S95 is lacking in the telephoto lens category, since it’s zoom is pretty pitiful and its lens cannot be changed. Score one for the T2i.

But of course, what the S95 lacks in zoom/manual controls it makes up for in portability. And if I need to do extended long-lens shooting, I can go back to my miniDV camcorder.

And so I’ve decided to apply the $1k I’d have spent on a DSLR on a “boutique” high-performance computer! MainGear here I come!

http://www.maingear.com/custom/computers/custom-desktops.php

Crappy Subscription Ploy

The New York Times is locking its material behind a paywall. I get that.The free ride was nice, but now it’s over.

What I think is crappy, however, is that this solicitation email does not anywhere mention what the subscription rate is after the introductory period. Oh, the asterisked fineprint tells you that you’ll automatically be charged at the regular, higher rate, but it doesn’t say what it is.

Pretty crappy move, Gray Lady.

NY Times solicitation email —

Dear NYTimes.com reader,
As you may know, The Times is now charging for unlimited access to NYTimes.com and our NYTimes apps. But as a valued NYTimes.com reader, you are invited to enjoy unlimited access at an introductory rate: just 99¢ for your first 4 weeks.*
Unrivaled coverage. Unlimited access.
Visitors to our site get 20 free articles a month, but that’s fewer than 1% of all the published articles on NYTimes.com each month. Subscribe now at our introductory rate and enjoy unlimited access to all the breaking news updates, video, audio, multimedia and more. The finest reporters in their field keep you informed 24 hours a day on your computer, smartphone and tablet.
Act now — just 99¢ for your first 4 weeks.
Subscribe today and choose from packages that include unlimited access to NYTimes.com, plus our smartphone and tablet apps. And enjoy access to the world’s finest journalism — any way you want.
Please note: At this time, we are unable to process orders for this special offer from smartphone and tablet (iPad™, Galaxy Tab, Xoom) browsers. When you are ready to subscribe, please place your order from a browser on your computer.

*New York Times digital subscriptions are sold separately from e-reader editions, Premium Crosswords and The New York Times Crosswords apps. Mobile apps are not supported on all devices. All subscriptions will automatically renew and the credit card will be charged in advance of each billing period unless canceled. If the subscription is canceled, refunds and termination of access will follow the Terms of Sale policy. Prices are subject to change. Other restrictions and taxes may apply. 

The Crappy Movie Theater Software of The Theatres (sic) at Canal Place

Last Saturday (3/12), while in New Orleans for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, I attempted to attend a screening at The Theatres (sic) at Canal Place — a “first class”, elitist, ostensibly upscale theater that refuses entry to anyone under 18.

When I arrived at the theater, I went to the cashier to buy a ticket and she and the manager were tied up, trying to refund a woman’s tickets and free the seats for them. You see, TTaCP is one of those stupid, crappy theaters that forces you to use reserved seats. What is this? The frakkin’ opera? So, when the woman got a refund — for what transgression by TTaCP I do not know — they had to release the seats she had reserved.

I stood there patiently for 10 minutes while they fumbled with the computer. Eventually, I commented on the wait and the cashier referred me to a ticket-purchasing kiosk. As a final insult, the show I wanted to see was sold out. So, I left, angered by the incompetence of the theater’s staff.

I am irritated by three aspects of this experience:

  1. There is no obvious sign directing patrons to the ticket-purchase kiosk and the cashier did not think to refer me to it before I asked,
  2. TTaCP’s computer system is such crap (or TTaCP’s employees are so poorly trained) that a simple refund transaction can gum up the works and
  3. Reserved-seat systems in movie theaters are an abomination. Why would I want to choose my seat in the lobby? I’d much rather wait until I was inside the theater and could position myself as far away from potential noise/trouble makers. And what if someone beside/behind you takes a phone call? You’re locked into your reserved seat and can’t distance yourself from him/her.
I’ve managed movie theaters in New York and Chicago. I’ve been a professional film viewer/professor since 1980. This is one of the crappiest-run theaters I’ve ever seen.

Apple: Same Old iTunes-Update Crap

I thought Apple had stopped pulling this crap when they inveigle you into updating iTunes (an, inevitably, piling on more DRM crap), but no. When I went to update iTunes/QuickTime two days ago, Apple Software Update defaulted to installing Apple software that I do not want: Safari and MobileMe Control Panel (see illustration).

Yes, if I had blithely clicked the install button without checking what crap Apple had bundled with iTunes, I would have had my computer infected with Safari and MobileMe.

‘Course, iTunes is crap to begin with, but I’ll save that rank for another time.

(Image missing due to crappy behavior by Blogger, which deleted dozens of my images when Crappy Software was hosted there.)

I Have No Status! Crap!

Y’know how Facebook’s key feature is your ability to update your status? Well sir, I just lost that ability–when using the Chrome browser.
Normally, a “What’s on your mind?” status update box appears at the top of the news feed. Like this:
(Image missing due to crappy behavior by Blogger, which deleted dozens of my images when Crappy Software was hosted there.)
But, starting yesterday, the top of my news feed looks like this:
(Image missing due to crappy behavior by Blogger, which deleted dozens of my images when Crappy Software was hosted there.)
See? And it’s the same on my FB profile page, too.
I have no status! Crap!
Doesn’t Facebook want to know what’s on my mind anymore?
Oh wait! I might have solved the mystery!
I just noticed a little “Status” button that I don’t remember seeing before. Has FB tweaked its user interface without telling me? No, that would NEVER happen.

Crappy Telemarketers: Text Messaging That I Pay For

There’s something particularly galling about getting a telemarketer’s scam via text message. I don’t have a text-message package with my phone so I have to PAY for each of these messages from these crapheads.

This week, I’ve received two such messages. The latest, according to caller ID, came from 7605769989. I don’t know if this is accurate or if they somehow spoof the number.
The text reads:

Homeowners! Would you like to make your house energy efficient and cut your electric bill? Just text back the word “SAVE” to learn more, or STOP to cancel.

Well, I ain’t gonna text anything to a scammer. Any suggestions on how to really get them to stop?
Crapheads!

DRM and CoDec Crap

The Librarian of Congress has given media-studies professors like me an exemption to the DMCA so that we may break the copy protection on DVDs in order to create video clips for pedagogical purposes.

Consequently, we’ve put together some tutorials on how to create video clips as well as screen shots over on TVCrit.com:
One thing we have yet to figure out, however, is how best to capture high-definition video clips. Or, that is to say, we’ve figured out pieces of the process, but not the entire thing. Blocking our success is DRM and CoDec (i.e., video compression / decompression) crap. We can get the clip off a Blu-ray disc (BD), but we can’t convert it into a usable format.
I figure to use this post to chronicle what I’ve done so far and the failures I’ve encountered.
First, the success: Using the following process, I’ve been able to suck a video clip off a Blu-ray disc–using a Windows 7 computer.
  1. I use AnyDVD to remove DRM encrustations so that I can access the video on the BD. This runs in the background and works on any BD or DVD.
  2. After inserting a BD into the drive, I examine it in Windows Explorer, drilling down through its folders: BDMV –> STREAM. In the STREAM folder I find numerous .m2ts files (video files using the following codec: H264 – MPEG-4 AVC).
  3. By sorting the .m2ts I can find the video files — as they’re all several gigabytes big. They’re big files because the resolution is big: 1920 x 1080 pixels (in a 16×9 video).
  4. I right-click a likely file and choose to open it with VLC Media player. Ever since something like version 1.0, VLC will play BD’s!
  5. In VLC, I enable the Advanced Controls in the View menu. This adds a red-dot “Record” button near the controls for playing video.
  6. I start the view playing and then, when I reach the section I want to extract, I click the Record button. When it’s finished playing, I click it again to stop recording.
  7. This dumps a fat .ts file in the _________ folder (I forget where). E.g., a 3 minute clip was over 700 MB.
But here’s the rub. I can’t find anything to convert that .ts file into something more usable.
  • MPEG Streamclip, which I rely on for so much on the Mac, cannot handle the file on Windows. Don’t know if it’s a Windows issue yet. (Haven’t tried it on a Mac.) Gives me a blank image, although it will play the audio.
  • Handbrake is also useless. Just fails when I try to convert the file. No explanation provided.
  • VLC itself promises to do transcoding, but the resulting file has very crummy audio. There might be some setting I’ve got wrong, but I’ve tried two or three and gotten nowhere.
  • HDTV to MPEG2 barfs on the file, saying “Could not find a Channel!”
And that’s where I stand as of 13 September 2010. Defeated!
Update:
Another failure. Tried RipBot264 and got the following error from AviSynth (which RipBot runs):
DirectShowSource: couldn’t open file C:UsersJeremyVideosDamages20070814qq00_00_00qq.ts:
Unspecified error (E:tempRipBot264tempjob1getinfo.avs, line 2)
There are several guides out there. This Gizmodo one seemed more helpful than most.
Update, 9/14/2010:
Moderate success!
I followed the Gizmodo guide and managed to create in-sync, miniature versions of the clip I wanted. I had to use AnyDVD HD , RipBot264, .NET Framework 2.0, the avisynth, ffdshow, and Quicktime Pro, and the process took hours, but it does work.
Gizmodo goes into all the bloody details, but, essentially, I ripped an episode from the BD using RipBot264 (which took hours), then I opened it in Quicktime Pro (it’s gotta be the Pro version) and exported small clips. Here’s the files I dealt with:
  • Ripped hour-long episode at 1920 x 1080 pixels: 2.5 gigabytes.
  • Exported for Web (by Quicktime) files:
    • Desktop version: 852 x 480 pixels, 21.9 megabytes
    • iPhone version: 480 x 270 pixels, 14.3 megabytes
    • iPhone cell version: 176 x 99 pixels, 1.3 megabytes
The difference this time around in my use of RipBot264 is that I used it to pull video directly from the BD. Before I was trying to get it to transcode a .ts file that I had captured with VLC media player.

AT&T — No Longer a Monopoly, But Still Crap

At this moment, I’m 31 minutes into a call to AT&T’s support line. Why? Because when AT&T Uverse was installed last month they managed to knock out all of my upstairs phone jacks.

Now, don’t you reckon that they’d want to immediately come over and fix what they broke? Oh, noooooo. They won’t do anything unless I have the $7.50-per-month in-house wiring warranty. That’s right. They broke it, but they won’t fix it unless I pay them either an exorbitant service-call fee or start their warranty.
So, I waited about 20 mins to talk to a repair person about this. She said she couldn’t do anything about the fee and referred me to a “customer service” person. Then the customer service person gave me the crap about starting the warranty service. Or, she said, I could dispute any charges later if I wanted to.
I said to her, “Let me be clear about this. AT&T is going to charge me to come to my house to fix the phone lines that they broke.” Yes, she said, that’s correct. Or I can dispute charges later.
I told her I would accept the warranty, but I asked her to tell her supervisor that I was not happy with how AT&T was handling this.
Then, at the end of the conversation she told me that AT&T might call to check on her and asked if I were “very satisfied” with her (and “not the company’s”) handling of my situation. I told her I thought she had done all she could do. She pressed: “But are you very satisfied with how I handled your situation?” Essentially, she wouldn’t end the call until I said I was.
But of course she couldn’t then schedule a service call for me. Oh no, that would be too easy. She transferred me back to the repair service — where I’ve now been on hold an additional 10 minutes.
41 minutes into this repair call and still no resolution…

Finally resolved after 45 minutes on the line.
Update, 24 July 2010:

AT&T had the gall to send me an email confirming their extortion fee for in-house wiring that contains this hunk of crap:
Your satisfaction is our #1 priority.
Thanks again for choosing AT&T – setting the standard for a new era of integrated communications and entertainment services.
Oh, yeah, they set a “standard” alright. A very low standard.