Google Maps and feature regression

The new Google Maps isn’t as useful.  I am sure of it now because I recently got an old Droid, an HTC EVO, with the old Google Maps.  It was awesome because you could see little dots in the map view which corresponded to places where you had to perform an action such as turn left or right or continue straight.  You could click on any individual white dot and a little popup would tell you, “turn right on x street” or get off at exit 295 or something.

Contrast that with the new version of Google Maps that the HTC EVO helpfully updated itself to:

Now, when you want to see directions, you have to pull up a list of directions.  This takes your eyes off the map.  The only option that combines turning directions and a map is the realtime Google Navigator or navigation, which is a battery hog and downloads lots of data.  I work mobile, and I depend on Google Maps.  Perhaps a little too much.  I also depend on a second tier mobile provider that is really inexpensive but also good, but this is contingent on me staying below 1 GB per month.

Google finally added me to Google Maps again

Months after deleting me and listening to me carp about it on their forums, and then making a new google login to make another business listing, and then calling Google multiple times to ask about it, they finally added my business back to Google Maps.  It isn’t correct because I selected the option of hiding my address (since I am mobile only) and they lost my reviews, but at least I am there again.  I got two calls today from Iphone users and usually I don’t get any calls so it is possible that this has affected my search results on iphones.  Now we will see if those knuckleheads can remove all of the spam around me!

Layers of Security for cheap

You are worried about somebody breaking into your property?  Remember that criminals take the path of least resistance.  They won’t be picking the locks on your front door unless they have something serious to gain from it.  They would rather crawl in your window.

One of the best ways to prevent this is to make your property look more difficult and less interesting than neighbors.  Motion detector lights, signs advertising your investment in alarm systems, little blinking led lights indicating alarms, thick door frames, imposing looking locks, and of course solid doors are all part of presenting a difficult-to-break-into property.

In addition, it is wise to keep really expensive looking objects out of public view.   Just as we don’t leave purses in our cars, it is unwise to leave expensive electronics such as laptops near windows.  Windows are inexpensively secured by the addition of small clamps to inhibit their opening past a certain point.  You can also put a grill on them to avoid people crawling through them.

I like plants more than the next guy.  My living space is full of plants.  I wouldn’t keep plants outside near my windows, however.  When planning your landscaping, keep any possible shelter or shadow from near your house for criminals to hide in.  This makes it more difficult for them to work on opening some entryway surreptitiously.  This is one place where privacy fences can work against you.  All a criminal has to do is jump your fence without being seen and if your fence is opaque, he can take hours to open your door or window quietly.

Security hardware is built with the best intentions, but the reality is that you can only hope for it to slow criminals down.  The locks I put on my motorcycle are measured by their effectiveness in criminal deterrence, but also how much longer it takes a thief to steal it with the locks on it.  I have an eye bolt drilled into the ground in my parking spot so that I can lock my bike to the ground, which avoids people just picking it up.  It is 800 Ibs, but that can be accomplished with three men who are drunk strong.  Additionally, the cable is very long to avoid them twisting the cable to break it.  They would spend a very long time twisting my cable.  It is also very thick so it would take them at least a few more minutes with a boltcutter to cut through the cable.  Then they would have to deal with the disc lock, which would require an angle grinder or something unless they just unscrewed the wheel and then took off the disc brake.

Anyway the point is, think about your security in terms of all points of entry, and make sure that your house or car is more difficult looking to break into than your neighbor’s.  But not so much more difficult that it appears you have a fortune hidden inside.

You are locked in your dwelling because your lock malfunctioned!

So, you are here because there is only one reasonable entrance to your dwelling without considering rappelling out of your back window.  Your doorknob or deadbolt won’t disengage, despite every method you can think of to unlock them.

Whichever oneit is, your latch is probably at fault.  Today I had a latch malfunction, and it was a big problem.  I had to disassemble the whole knob to get to the latch and force it open.  This was an extreme case.

Four days ago, I responded to a call for some women who were locked inside.  They could have exited by using a coat hanger to pull their latch back.   Of course, if your door is installed well you can’t fit anything in between the door and the door jam to manipulate the latch.  You have to cross your fingers and hire a well-trained professional to install your locks and hope that all is well.  Some precautions to keep in mind follow anyway:

Make sure if your lock starts malfunctioning to mess around with it while the door is open.  If there is a problem, you want it to occur while you can still easily access both sides of the door.  If the lock completely fails, better that it fails while the door is open so that you can still exit freely.  The ladies I responded to thought that closing the door would fix the problem.  Boy were they wrong!  I could have had them out in fifteen minutes, but there was an AIDS awareness march going down the street near their condo so it took me an extra twenty minutes!  I am not sure if they are now more aware of AIDS or not, but they certainly know not to shut the door if their lock is not functioning as expected!

The key to trying to get out when your lock is malfunctioning is to try to either manipulate the latch, or take the lock off the door, at which point you must also manipulate the latch.  The latch is what keeps the door closed and moves from inside the door to the door jam.  The lock only serves to move the latch back and forth.

Sometimes the lock manufacturer has funny ways of obscuring the bolts that hold the lock on.  You may have to remove the interior knob via a spring loaded mechanism in the side of the knob, or a rose on the door.  As the little Liebowski says, there are a lot of ins and a lot of outs.  You just have to work at it.  If you are like me, you have taken every single thing in your house apart already so you know how it is disassembled in times of need.  Otherwise, you can spend the time figuring it out with wire, credit card or screw driver, rappel out the window, or call me.  Good luck!

What to do when your key doesn’t work very well

So, the years have passed and your key works but only if you jiggle it or if you pull it out a little bit?  Chances are that your key and/or the pins in the lock have worn down.  You can remedy this situation very easily and inexpensively by having your key copied but shimming the original key with a folded piece of paper to raise up the heights and counteract the forces of abrasion over the years.  This will compensate for lost material on your key as well as the pins in the lock.  This should only cost you $3 or less, if you have a common key blank.

Bluetooth Locks

My experience with bluetooth has been pretty successful over the course of the last few years.  I have a mouse that works wirelessly through this tech, my car stereo connects to my phone and plays music using it, etc.  I also have an RC helicopter which is supposed to work through bluetooth and let my phone control it but it doesn’t work at all.  The helicopter seems not to receive commands all the time, and a pilotless helicopter doesn’t stay airborne long.

This brings us to the newest bluetooth device of interest: The Kevo bluetooth deadbolt made in coordination with Kwikset.  It looks like a really fantastic device and knowing my high-tech clientelle I immediately started working to find out if any of my distributors were selling it, because I know there will be demand by tech savvy people who want to use hands-free locks.

Carrying this lock and recommending it, however, are two different things.  I rarely take a chance on new technology because there is always a lot of bugs to iron out, especially in the last twenty years.  I have a lot of experience with open source software and the trend lately seems to be to push the product out the door working or not and then roll out fixes later.  Product manufacturers seem to think it is fine to use their customers as beta testers!  And so what if the device malfunctions or gets bricked in the course of this testing?  The stipulations of the warranty are that the customer has to pay for shipping, and half the time that alone is half the cost of a new device!

With my bluetooth-enabled RC helicopter experience in mind, I suggest to my customers that they hold off on buying any bluetooth enabled locks.  There are lots of things people haven’t thought through here, like how hard is it to clone a phone’s bluetooth profile and spoof somebody’s phone?  If somebody made a device that could read the handshake between the phone and the lock, they could probably spoof the device and do that themselves when the owner left his home next.

Second question: if you are in your house with your bluetooth phone, can somebody else walk up and touch the deadbolt and it will open, because the bluetooth device is nearby?  That would be worrisome if you were asleep and your phone was in range of your lock.

Finally, this lock is $200 but at its heart there is still an insecure kwikset deadbolt with smartkey tech, and this has been shown to be vulnerable to numerous attacks involving brute force which leave no sign of entry.  Adding bluetooth to this lock is sort of akin to polishing a turd, if you get my drift.

So, if you are interested in hands free technology, there are other options like Zwave technology as well as the Arrow touchpad, and also voice recognition technology.  Just don’t get a Kwikset Kevo until the tech has been around one generation.  Especially with real world hardware that can lock you out if it malfunctions!  I like to sit back for six months and watch all of the early adopters break their new toys and find fixes before I embark on the upgrade process.  This is how I’ve been doing it with my android phone, my mp3 player, my linux computer, my routers, etc for years and years.

Poor Kwikset is dragged through the mud again

Today Wired ran an article about Kwikset Smartkey locks and how easily they are compromised. They use nearly the same technique that I use when people are locked out of a Smartkey lock, except that I torque an actual key. They hammer a key blank into the lock so they can’t take it back out. My method, I take the key back out after I am done, and the regular key still works half the time.
The main premise of their argument, however, is correct: Smartkey locks are not that smart. They won’t keep criminals out. Their main use is for low security rental units that landlords want to rekey after each change in occupancy. I know my key looked very worn when I got it from my property manager.
So, in an analysis of what these guys did wrong: They should have tried torquing a nickel key so that they could remove it. This would have two beneficial results: they wouldn’t have damaged the lock face with their screwdriver, and there would not be a key still inside the keyway. There would be absolutely no sign of forced entry. The lock would probably still work. I feel like an idiot for not pulling their grant money for this study, because I could have done this a lot better. On the other hand, maybe they purposely obfuscated the methods I describe because they don’t want to give criminals the ability of forced entry with no forensic signs.
At any rate, the old adage remains true: if the criminal wants into your house, they will get in. The trick is making it look harder to get into your house than your neighbor’s (but not so hard as to attract interest). Kwikset advertises this deadbolt as grade 1, meaning that it can be used thousands of times without failure. I have lots of customers whose smartkey locks have failed after a few years. They seem more likely to fail if poorly copied keys are used in them.
Another thing this video points out is the need for a keyway that is less common or restricted entirely. This method wouldn’t work if these men weren’t able to stick a blank that fit the keyway into the lock. I always offer customers the choice of changing the keyway to a less common one or a restricted keyway for a little bit more money. Then you are far safer from bumpkey attacks, not to mention how much harder picking a lock is if it is not kw1 or wr3. There is a lot of room for manoeuvrability in these latter keyways.

Getting a business onto Google Maps and keeping it there

Everybody knows that successfully running a business is a PITA.  You have to constantly be worrying and networking and thinking about your business.  Mine is no different.  Complicating matters is the recent removal of my business’s listing from Google Maps.  You can read about it here.  Or, you can read my summary

1.  Google removes my listing from Google Maps

2.  I ask google why they removed my listing via email as they recommend

3.  4 weeks later they respond and say that my business listing doesn’t meet their quality criteria, and that my business’s category, locksmith, is very contentious.

4.  I renew questions on a thread I started about my deleted listing, because I already made one when google deleted my business listing the last time.

5.  Some guys that hang out in the Google products forums respond, and basically tell me that my business looks sketchy and they can’t tell my business from all of the other sketchy locksmiths around, even though my business is registered with the city and the state and I only have one listing.  They tell me that they would reinstate me, but they just don’t have enough evidence that I run a legitimate business.  They suggest I should join ALOA amongst other things.  Apparently seeing my business registered with the state is not enough for them.  They also suggest that my business name is an example of keyword stuffing, even though my business name is succinctly expressing my location and my profession.

This all reminds me of the time my parents started a winery, and the city of Lacey made up some arbitrary rule that they couldn’t have a sign on the freeway advertising a winery unless they also had a vineyard.  So my father planted a grape vine next to the door of the warehouse we are using as our winery.  Unfortunately, these guys want me to jump through far more hoops.

I am getting more business now than I ever have before thanks to positive reviews on yelp and also references from happy customers, so now I am just tilting at windmills trying to get reinstated because I am angry about getting kicked off of Google Maps while a bunch of obvious scammers’ listings remain.  I report all of these listings, and yet they remain.  As a result of Google’s actions I am planning on running my own email server and weaning myself off of all google services including gmail, which I happily used for the last decade and also set up those I know who are technically inept with.  Harder will be the process of removing their software from my Android hardware.

If you are a locksmith thinking about paying for adwords, don’t bother.  Just go with Yelp.  Yes, they charge more per click, but you are going to get a better return.  Nobody is going to click on your ads on yelp trying to learn how to lockpick in a video game, or find out where to buy a deadbolt.  And chances are after you invest $800 in adwords like I did, Google will decide that your business isn’t real and delete your business listing from Google Local, a.k.a. stab you in the back.  So, consider yourself warned.

Update: It has been almost two months since Google deleted my listing and I am still waiting for Google to tell me what I did wrong.  The most they can tell me is this:

Dear Bjorn,

Thank you for your inquiry.
Thanks for contacting Google. Your account has been suspended due to quality violations and we will be unable to assist you further. For more information on our quality guidelines, please see this article:



Mike S
Thank you ever so much, Mike S.  You and Faride deserve a pat on the back with this in depth customer service and sending me a link which confirms that there is nothing wrong with my listing.
Something new happened though.  Google actually called me and asked me what my business address was.  This guy with an Indian accent.  So I gave them my business address and he said thank you and hung up.  That was four days ago.  My business is still not on Google Maps.

Hands-Free locksets are here

Months ago I was pondering taking apart a car’s authentication system and using a car ignition as my front door lock due to the added security of transponders and the car’s ECU, which is two-factor authentication, somewhat rare on consumer door hardware. Today I noticed that manufacturers of door hardware have caught up with the times and I would be reinventing the wheel. Mul-T-Lock has had two factor authentication for some years now, but “unikey” has just come out with their “Kevo” lockset which interacts with Bluetooth 4.0 devices.
Apparently all you have to do is touch the lock while your phone is in close proximity. Knowing the distance that Bluetooth can go, I wonder if somebody could amplify the signal and unlock the Kevo by touching it while you are inside, if the phone is within 30 feet or so of the lock (distance required by bluetooth to work). According to this article the lock can determine if you are inside or outside, so this may already have been addressed by the manufacturer.

Most interesting to me is that the Kevo has the ability to share e-keys to different people’s phones, including one use only e-keys.  Unfortunately, the only devices able to interact with the Kevo at the moment are iOS devices, though android apps are in development.  Probably iPhone owners are the only ones who would buy a $200 deadbolt that works with their phone anyway.

A competitor that also offers these abilities is “Lockitron”.  Interestingly, they have engineered their lock to be connected to your wireless network allowing the owner to lock or unlock the door remotely from anywhere in the world they have internet access.  I imagine it is only a matter of time before somebody figures out how to defeat the security of this detail, if this lock becomes more popular.

Somebody reading this, if you buy one of these locks I will help you install it for free.  I am interested in seeing this beast up close.

Identity Theft and Your Mailbox

There are some crews around the Seattle area pillaging mailboxes and using the information gleaned from their bounty to steal your identity!  One thing you can do to prevent this is to get a locking mailbox.

Before you go out and buy a locking mailbox though, you have to know what kind of locking mailbox.  Sometimes the mailman won’t deliver your mail because the slot isn’t big enough!  Take notice of the size of your daily mail deliveries, because the thickness of these deliveries is the necessary dimensions your mailbox slot must have at a minimum.  Otherwise, the mailman will claim the slot isn’t large enough and you will have to go to the post office to get your mail that wouldn’t fit!

While on the subject of mailbox locks, I will change a mailbox lock or install one for $65 flat, no fees, service call already included, parts already included.  You can also see my mailbox lock page to view a video on how to change them yourself.