An explanation on why setting your iPhone to 1/1/1970 will brick it.

There’s been a rather nasty meme going around on Facebook recently that suggests there’s an easter egg in iOS that will give your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch a retro looking original Macintosh theme if you set it’s clock back to January 1st, 1970:

NOTE: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS!

NOTE: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS!

What really happens if you do the above is you’ll end up with an essentially bricked iPhone that isn’t able to get past the boot screen. The reason why has to do with how dates and times are stored in most operating systems these days and a bug someplace in iOS. YouTuber Tom Scott has put together a handy little explanation on what is probably happening and why:

So, as a PSA to those folks out there who have one of these devices, don’t try to set the clock back to January 1st, 1970 unless you want a very expensive paperweight. Presumably Apple will get around to patching this bug at some point, but even when they do there’s not a good reason to do it anyway as there is no easter egg associated with that date.

Apparently Apple is now targeting the idiot demographic with their latest ads.

If you’ve been following along for any amount of time you already know I’m not a huge Apple fan, but that has more to do with the policies of the company than the quality of their products. The hardware is fine — it’s the same thing you’d get if you bought a Wintel box only with the price jacked way the hell up — and the OS works pretty well, if not quite as flawlessly as they’d have you believe.

For years Apple has hinted in subtle ways that they design their computers for the average person. I’ve often joked that their definition of average was “people who can’t tie their own shoes without drooling on themselves,” but my only evidence for that observation was their attempt to sell Macs with a single button mouse. The whole mouse was all one big button so you could flail at it wildly and still get it to do things.

That said, their ads have always suggested that you didn’t need to be a computer expert to use one of their computers, but for the most part they didn’t portray their customers as gibbering idiots with horribly misplaced priorities. Well, that’s all changed with their latest round of ads:

Ha ha! Isn’t that funny? Mr. Green is more worried about making birth announcements on his Mac than getting his wife to the hospital when she’s in the middle of labor. I’ll bet she’s real glad she married that winner!

I get that their tying to hype up their “Geniuses” that they have at their stores to help you figure out how the hell to use that fancy new Apple product you spent three times what you should have on even though it’s as user friendly as you can get without it actually reading your mind to do what you want. But did they have to make the customer he’s helping look like such a moron?

Then there’s this:

Happy Anniversary sweetheart! I hurriedly slapped this video together on my Mac using whatever the hell I had on hand with the help of an Apple employee who is probably contemplating suicide from dealing with idiots like myself all day long! Sure, I could have used the time to actually book us a nice restaurant or some other romantic evening out, but look at the effects I used! Isn’t the CP one awesome?

Not quite the gibbering idiot of the first ad, but still pretty pathetic. They certainly don’t make the life of an Apple “Genius” look all that appealing what with not being able to fly someplace without every idiot on the plane suddenly having a computer “emergency.” Or being able to sleep through the night without some asshole banging on his door for help on how to make photo cards.

The only way it could have been more overt is if they had plastered a big “Apple: Products for Stupid People” at the end of the commercial. It’s a move that risks alienating the non-idiots that love their products, but considering how huge the moron demographic is, could end up being a profitable one. Assuming, of course, that the idiots aren’t so stupid as to realize that Apple is trying to advertise to them.

A few thoughts on the passing of Steve Jobs.

I’m not an Apple fanboy by any stretch of the imagination — I have one original iPod that was given to me by a company I worked for at the time — but I would be remiss if I didn’t pay my respects to Steve Jobs and all that he accomplished. To say that he had an impact on computing and gadgets would be an understatement. He made PCs fashionable as well as functional and he revolutionized the industry several times over.

Arguably the greatest testament of his genius is the fact that Apple at one point kicked him out of his own company and then proceeded to drive itself into the ground, nearly going bankrupt in the process, only to have Steve return and build the company back up into the tech powerhouse it is today. Windows PCs still dominate the market, but Apple arguably has a bigger influence on form and function of how we get things done.

A good example is the tablet PC and this image that’s been making the rounds illustrates exactly how Steve Jobs and Apple could change everything with the release of a single product:

Click to embiggen!

Before the iPad came along  most tablets were clunky attempts at wedging a laptop into as small a form factor as you could and not one of them enjoyed mainstream success. Steve Jobs revolutionized a niche market and made it mainstream. He did the same thing with MP3 players and cellphones. Whether you’re an Apple fanboy or not, we’ve all benefited from the innovations that Apple has put out under Steve Job’s guidance.

The question now is: Can Apple keep it up now that Jobs is gone? I don’t follow the company close enough to know if Steve put people with a similar gift for innovation into key positions prior to his stepping down a few months back, but I assume he would’ve had the foresight to try and do so. Then again, it was Steve himself who persuaded John Sculley to leave Pepsi and come to Apple where he would eventually kick Steve out of his own company. That said, regardless of Apple’s future fortunes, there’s no dispute that Jobs legacy in technology will be felt for a long time to come. It leaves you to wonder how many more tech revolutions he might have started if he hadn’t passed at such a young age.

Thanks for all you’ve done, Steve.

Own an iPhone or iPad? It’s been tracking everywhere you go for the past year.

Pic of output from iPhone Tracker app.

A sample of the output. The bigger the dot the more times you've been recorded as being there.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about your iPhone/iPad: It appears to be keeping a record of everyplace you’ve ever been both the device itself and on your computer if you use iTunes to back up your phone. The folks over at AresTechnica.com have the details:

Researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed their findings on Wednesday ahead of their presentation at the Where 2.0 conference taking place in San Francisco. The two discovered that the iPhone or 3G iPad—anything with 3G data access, so no iPod touch—are logging location data to a file called consolidated.db with latitude and longitude coodinates and a timestamp. The data collection appears to be associated with the launch of iOS 4 last June, meaning that many users (us at Ars included) have nearly a year’s worth of stalking data collected.

In order to drive the point home, the two developed an open source application called iPhone Tracker that lets anyone with access to your computer see where you’ve been.

Now some of you might be thinking this isn’t anything new as these products have long had GPS features that will tell you where you are and they often notify you that they’re doing so when you use them. Yeah, but this is slightly different. This tracking isn’t being done using the GPS, but by triangulating your position relative to cell phone towers:

Users don’t get to decide whether their locations are tracked via cell towers or not—unlike GPS, there is no setting that lets users turn it off, there’s no explicit consent every time it happens, and there’s no way to block the logging. (Nitpickers will point out that you do give your consent to iTunes when you download and install iOS 4, but this is not treated the same way as the consent given to the iPhone every time an app wants to use GPS.) So, whether or not you’re using GPS, if you’re using your iPhone as a cell phone, you are being tracked and logged constantly without your knowledge.

The only way to avoid this tracking is to turn off the cellphone part of the device. Now the problem here isn’t so much that your devices are tracking your every move, but that you’re not being told about it. The good news is that, as near as the researchers can determine, this data is not being sent back to Apple or any other third party. The bad news is that it’s not at all difficult to get access to which means that if you lose your phone or your computer is compromised then anyone with the iPhone Tracker app can call up everywhere you’ve ever been with it. You can bet your ass that law enforcement absolutely loves this “feature” so if you’ve ever been anywhere you don’t want someone to know about, well, hope you didn’t have an iPhone with you.

Of course, this only really matters if you give a shit about people knowing your comings and goings. Something which more and more people seem to have stopped worrying about. In fact, the folks at Gawker are reporting that this discovery has spawned a hot new trend:

When it comes to technology today, there is barely any distance between outrageous privacy violation and cool new feature. When news broke yesterday that Apple has been secretly spying on iPhone users, many people immediately broadcasted the illicit data to everyone.

[…] Holy crap, Apple has been secretly logging our every move for months? Let’s… broadcast it to everyone on the internet! Many techies are now showing off their iSpy maps: “I find myself fascinated staring at this automatically generated record of where I’ve been,” wrote tech blogger Alexis Madrigal. Tumblr and Twitter arefull of them. “I don’t get out of West LA enough,” user aboycommemoi observed.

For its part, Apple hasn’t said shit about this discovery, but there is some indication that this may not have been an intentional breach of user trust. More likely it’s a bug or an oversight in the program. The folks at Gizmodo explain:

As Gruber’s been informed, consolidated.db—the tin-foil-hat-inducing log in question—is a cache for location data. (As Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan’s FAQ about their project implies.) What’s supposed to happen with the cache is that the “historical data should be getting culled but isn’t”—because of said bug or oversight. In Gruber’s words:

I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.

So how freaked out should you be? If you don’t own an iPhone or iPad then this isn’t really an issue for you. If you do then it depends on how much you give a shit if someone could potentially get hold of that data. The chances that you’ll be hacked and have it stolen for some nefarious, but unknown purpose is probably minimal. However that data is something that could potentially be used against you by law enforcement if they should happen to have reason to acquire it.

Given the recent hoopla here in Michigan where the State Police have been accused of extracting data from cell phones during routine traffic stops, that may be something to consider. (Note, the MSP put out a response to the ACLU’s assertions saying that they do not collect cell phone data during routine traffic stops and only do so with a court issued warrant.) And while you may say that you’ve nothing to hide from the police, it’s not like there aren’t cases where circumstantial and coincidental evidence got an innocent person convicted.

Just the same, forewarned is forearmed and it’s better to know what is being collected about you — intentionally or not — than not know.

Apple’s newest Mac as presented by The Onion.

We have several Mac fans here at work and I often harass them about how Apple seems to think a mouse with two buttons is too complicated for its customers. This new laptop is the next logical step:

Seven facts on why you should have anti-virus running on your Mac.

The security through obscurity that Mac users have enjoyed for years is finally starting to crumble and even Apple is owning up to it. They recently put out a support advisory last month in which they recommended that Mac user start running anti-virus software on their machines. It’s long been a gloating point for Mac users that anti-virus software was unnecessary on their systems, but as Apple’s market share increases it’s getting a point where there’s a profit motive for malware authors to start writing for the Mac platform and some of them already are.

Still there’s a resistance to the idea that the Mac may be vulnerable to the same sorts of malicious software that Windows users are and that prompted Graham Cluley to ask in a blog entry Do you really need anti-virus on your Apple Mac?

It started with just a small pebble being dropped into a pond. Apple updated one of its support advisories on 21 November, informing its customers that they are recommended to run anti-virus software.

Most people would never have noticed this announcement. I didn’t at first. I only heard about it when I saw the guys from Intego mention it on their Apple security blog on 25 November. A couple of days later, recovering from a bout of man-flu, I blogged about a new piece of Apple malware and mentioned in passing that Apple were now recommending their customers run anti-virus software.

Today, however, that small pebble dropped by Apple has turned into a tidalwave of commentary – and we’re seeing lots of news stories about Apple urging Mac users to protect themselves with anti-virus.

So, do you really need anti-virus on your Apple Mac?

From there he goes on to list seven facts and the comes to the following conclusion:

So, back to my original question, do you really need anti-virus on your Apple Mac?

The answer is yes.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Cluley works for Sophos, a company that produces anti-virus, anti-spam, firewall software packages for both big and small businesses, so it’s possible he may have a conflict of interest in promoting anti-virus software on the Mac. The fact that Apple has recommended the practice and that Mr. Cluley has been active in anti-virus research for some time prior to joining Sophos should help balance that out. That and the seven facts he lists make a pretty good argument.

The threat for Apple users is still relatively small compared to what Windows users face, but if Apple continues to gain market share then it won’t take long for it to grow. Of course the best defense is being educated about the threats, but for a lot of people that’s a commitment they don’t seem to be able to make.

The honeymoon is over for Apple iPhone owners.

The folks over at Gizmodo aren’t happy with the latest firmware update for the Apple iPhone. It seems Apple has followed through on their threat to render any iPhone that had been unlocked so it could work with a carrier other than AT&T into a $400 paperweight and, just to add icing to the cake, they also stripped out any unofficial third-party applications. This has caused the folks at Gizmodo to change their recommendation to Don’t Buy:

I get that Apple might not have wanted to wage a long back-and-forth war with hackers, as the PSP developers are. And this kind of big blow is going to be a devastating and effective scare tactic, even if a fix comes a few days later. Unlike a Sony PSP, people can’t go a few days without their phones, without social or work hiccups. This is why I never unlocked my main iPhone, only testing these hacks on a spare 4GB test dummy. But I don’t want to be held hostage like this. Did I buy these phones or am I just renting them?

Screw the unlock for a second. Let’s talk about the those third-party apps. While my 4GB iPhone is a brick, and the 8GB phone, which I kept on a totally legit AT&T contract, is now stripped down. Programs like the faux-GPS, IM clients, Flickr Upload, and NES emulator—what did they ever do but make the iPhone far better than the stock original? They made it far more competitive with open-platform superphones like the Nokia N95, to which I will now be switching. I flew back from NY to SF today. While there, I would have liked to have pushed my photos from the trip to flickr; I would have liked to have played NES games on the subway. I would have liked to have used the Navizon GPS thing to figure out where the hell I was at any given moment, and when I used one of those web 2.0 IM clients, my battery took a huge hit, and I missed a lot of messages because Safari couldn’t tell me I was getting IMs while out of the browser. Very annoying.

I look at my iPhone with version 1.1.1 software on it compared to the old hacked one. I’m happy for the iTunes Store, which we’ve been waiting for. But it’s not more important than fixing things, and adding capabilities such as copy/paste and email search. And it’s certainly not better than all those programs I can’t use anymore.

This is why I didn’t buy Steve Job’s open letter he put out awhile back where he claimed he was all for releasing music without DRM on it. Steve Jobs and Apple are the ultimate control freaks and they stand to gain far too much to allow you the freedom to choose which carrier you use your iPhone on and which third-party apps you can install on it. For crying out loud, they want to charge you a second time just to turn a song you’ve already bought into a friggin’ iPhone ringtone! That’s 99¢ to buy the song and then another 99¢ to make it into a ringtone. And, no, you can’t use MP3s or songs you’ve ripped from a CD to make ringtones. You either do it Apple’s way, at a $1.98 a shot, or you don’t do it at all. They haven’t started releasing software apps for the iPhone yet so there’s no way of knowing how much they’re going to charge for those, but you can bet your ass they won’t be free.

Apple has always been great at making easy to use and stylish products, but they totally suck at allowing you to use those products in any way they haven’t officially approved of. Not if they can make a buck by preventing you from doing so. So if you’re one of those folks who unlocked their iPhone and loaded it up with third party apps then you may want to think twice before installing the latest firmware upgrade. And to think you spent $400 to have a phone that tells you how it will allow itself to be used.

NBC dumps Apple’s iTunes and moves to Amazon’s Unbox for video downloads.

NBC hasn’t been happy with Apple for awhile now in part because Apple refuses to deviate from its one-price-fits-all policy for downloads. So NBC decided to take its ball and go play with Amazon’s new Unbox download service. The other reason for the switch? Amazon’s Unbox allows for more restrictive DRM on downloads:

“This further expands our longstanding relationship to bring a robust content offering to the marketplace in a variety of ways that will benefit the consumer and, at the same time, protects our content,” said NBC Universal’s president of digital distribution, Jean-Briac Perrette, in a statement.

“Protecting content” is a tip of the hat to NBC’s concerns over DRM. Amazon and Apple both use DRM for video, but Apple’s DRM policies are considered to be “too lax” by many players in the TV and movie business. Apple’s terms allow for authorized for playback on as many as five different devices. Furthermore, Apple-approved devices can be authorized to play content purchased from five different accounts.

Compare Unbox: Shows bought from Unbox can be kept on two computers max and can be stored on up to two different (approved) media players. Users cannot “mix” accounts, meaning that a PC cannot have authorized content purchased from two different accounts accessible at the same time. As you can see, Unbox is more restrictive.

This is a bit of a gamble for the folks at NBC as Amazon’s Unbox files won’t work on Apple or Linux PCs nor on the ever popular video iPods, the latter being the most significant as it’s still the dominate portable media player. Again given the fact that all of the shows NBC is worried about protecting with more restrictive DRM are available for free on BitTorrent you have to wonder just who and what NBC thinks it’s protecting its content from. Once again they opt to punish the legitimate consumers in hopes of squeezing a few more pennies out of them.