eXtensions - Wednesday 24 January 2018


eXtensions: The Wednesday File (41) - It's all Apple's Fault of Course

By Graham K. Rogers


It seems that whatever Apple is involved in there are always some people to see the worst. The best way to deal with this is to find a friendly lawyer and sue Cupertino, whether it is for a hamfisted approach to battery mitigation or 20-year old hardware problems. Apple is also at fault for zombie phone users, whatever handset they use.

Next week, Apple will announce its quarterly results and as this set of figures will include the end of year (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year) period, we might be looking forward to some good numbers with the iPhone 8 models said to be outselling the more expensive iPhone X: no surprise there if anyone actually thinks about it. I am sure it is just a coincidence, but in the last week or so, some analysts have been predicting lower sales for the next few months, and there has been some downgrading of Apple, with the shares falling slightly (after a healthy rise last week). Profit time by the cynical?

I have sometimes made comments about the declining medium of print over the years, so it was not a surprise to me when - after a glance at the falling web hit statistics - the Bangkok Post decided on another cutback last April and my eXtensions column on Apple-related ideas was cut. As this was the second time I had been on the receiving end of such economies, I shrugged my shoulders and am waiting for the end of the print version of the Post. Not long now, I shouldn't wonder.

Traditional media forms are having to rethink the approach to output and there have been many tales of failures and a few successes. The web is a visual medium and that is where hits lie; but it is not just about photos and video clips, there is also a need for text. It is just that few people want to pay for it, so monetization is a hurdle that needs to be jumped.

Organizations like Bloomberg have a captive audience - in Wall Street and Financial markets - and a lock on the data needed for efficient work within those areas. What is basically a subscription plan works well there. As many newspapers have found, unless there is unique content, the subscriptions will not be enough to support the organisation. The Bangkok Post cutting its local interest and relying more on wire items (the sort of thing you can find on most news sites) cut off its lifeblood.

An interesting confirmation of this came from The London Economic, a left-leaning online journal that may not suit everyone. Jack Peat writes, "The problem with old media is that they had become so consumed in their own bubble that they were caught napping on the job," noting that this growth of new media has led to a crisis in trust. On British politics however, he asks, If people think that [traditional news] "is so trustworthy, why is nearly 70 per cent of national newspaper circulation being controlled by only three different companies?"

Old Time Media

Advertising has always been the way to make money for news, with the cover price hardly covering the cost of the paper. With thousands more online sources, the revenue from advertising is spread thin, and with falling circulation figures or reduced numbers of hits, news outlets cannot charge the same as they used to.

One source that seemed to have it right was the Huffington Post with a mix of paid contributors and those providing content free: the publicity from wide circulation was a reward itself and would lead (in theory) to more and better offers. I was surprised to read at the weekend that this organisation is to end it unpaid blogger platform (Ingrid Lunden, TechCrunch), the engine that drove the growth with over 100,000 unpaid writers on the US site. Other HuffPot locations, like the UK, will continue with the free contributions.

Much of the reasoning behind this is that the openness was risky with what has become to be called, Fake News: "When everyone has a megaphone, no one can be heard" I guess that some things can become too popular.

And then a few hours after I wrote that on Monday, I saw a note on Twitter that the other English newspaper in Thailand, The Nation Group, is apparently being rescued by what is described as a far Right organisation. I am sure it is only coincidence that the main voice of the Nation, Sittichai Yoon, was banned from holding any director position last year after some boardroom antics. How does this square with the comments on "trust" from Jack Peat (above)?

I had decided to write nothing more about Apple's battery problems. It is out of control with more experts online than ever, and more lawyers worldwide reaching for litigation, because Apple tried to help. A couple of countries are also looking at legal action: South Korea, because Apple; and France, because Europe opposes Americans when they can.

From Apple there seems to have been a deer-in-headlights response, with no understanding of the anger (justified or not) their actions and comments have caused, along with the bandwagon that has been put into motion. I intended to sit on the sidelines and watch what happens.


The problems with Spectre and Meltdown also allowed more to decide litigation was the best, first step, and Apple has been sucked into that, being sued in at least two cases because they did not tell users despite knowing for months. This displays a complete ignorance of how developers (and responsible people) work together when insecurities are discovered.

The two hardware problems, which have existed for up to 20 years, are concerned with a type of predictive processing called speculative execution: operations start, for example, before complete data is available. John-Louis Gassé has several good observations in his Monday Note from last week. It may also be educating to read the comments from Linus Torvalds (Thomas Claburn and Kat Hall, The Register) on what he thinks Intel is doing wrong.

The point that it is hardware and not software means that any protection may be less easy to provide. These will not be fixed and Apple was careful when releasing updates to use the term, "mitigation" - reducing the effects or risks. Usually, when insecurities are discovered companies or developers are informed and no information is put out. If it were, it would be possible to develop an attack that could use the weakness. There is a sort of agreed time-limit and often the discoverer of the problem will keep mum for around 30 days.

In this case, Intel, Microsoft, Apple and others were working together (itself a positive sign) for several weeks before the information was outed, with some strengthening already having occurred. If Apple or any of the others had put out the information earlier, it would have done much damage to those working on the problems (not to mention damaging trust), and put more users at risk. The only question (and one being investigated) is how or why the CEO of Intel unloaded stock when he already knew that this problem existed and would (more than likely) affect the stock price.

In the Wednesday File last week I looked at helping a couple of users who had experienced problems with the latest High Sierra updates. It was clear that they had no ideas of the tools available to them as part of the installation, particularly with regard to the Rescue Partition, which we can access when needed by starting up with the key combination Command + R.

Rescue disk One of the users had needed more than the usual advice and for the second time I had to wave my magic wand (and my disk with High Sierra installed on it) to ensure that data was safe. Once that was certain, it was easy to install a new version of the operating system from that Rescue Partition. In later conversation, he told me that his cousin who also uses a MacBook Pro was unaware of the Rescue Partition. This was another confirmation of a point I made last week, that Apple may be providing the tools needed, but the information is not reaching everyone, despite the online sources and local workshops that are run.

This rescue would have been easier if there had been a proper backup on an external disk. The second user had this and once the possible fixes were exhausted, he erased the disk, installed a new version of High Sierra in the same way, and transferred the data to the new installation.

I advised my friend to buy a disk, but while I was out during the week, saw a suitable 1TB Seagate disk and picked it up for him. He came at the weekend to collect this. There were three options: use the disk for Time Machine; make a clone copy of the installation; or just copy files across as needed. Time Machine files are not available on other devices, like PCs, although there are ways to transfer them, like email or USB drives. The disk needs to be formatted for Macs and I set about that, using the Erase function in Disk Utility.

Once done, I opened System Preferences and showed him how to start the process, by selecting the disk. We did not start this as the first backup may take some hours: best done overnight. Instead I showed him on my own MacBook Pro, by running a backup on a disk, with its Preparing and Cleaning up parts as well as the backup, which went from 37 to 5 minutes in 30 seconds, then stuck at 2 minutes for a while.

Time Machine icon
Time Machine icon in the Dock - Press to go back

Once the process was complete, I showed him the icon that is in the Dock. Pressing this shows a Finder window that disappears (virtually) into the past. By clicking on the panels towards the back, or the time-line to the right, data backed up for a specific date can be viewed and retrieved. If a file of the same name exists in the present the user is given a couple of options, including the option to keep both (with a rename). He was delighted by this as sometimes he has accidentally over-written files as data changes, but still wants the original.

Time Machine
Time Machine - Going back in time

As part of the new installation, he had also turned on the iCloud Drive features for Photos and the Mac (Desktop and Documents). I was told he had upped the data plan to 200GB as the original option of 50GB had left space a little tight, but was quite happy with the 99 baht a month. He was concerned however, that some of the folders he had, were still empty on the iPad.

I compared iCloud on the Mac and the iPad Files folder and he was right. A week or more and the files were still not there. On the Mac, several files and folders had dotted iCould icons beside them showing that the uploads were pending. I linked the iPad to my Wifi and almost immediately file names began to appear: there were a lot of videos.

iCloud Within a short while, the icons showed images and eventually an iCloud icon with the download arrow appeared. These were available in iCloud and could be transferred if needed. When I first looked at the iPad there was only a 4G icon and he was using this - not wifi - most of the time, so transfers were not taking place. As soon as both devices were connected to WiFi, the action began. This was helped because he had turned on Content Caching in Sharing preferences, so when both were connected to my system, the transfers were easier.

I also discussed the use of iCloud with another local user last week who, at my urging, decided to give it a try. His first comment afterwards was, "Wow, I turned this on and the result was havoc." The reason was specific to his installation. As a more experienced and long-term user, he likes to run some tasks using scripts. Some folders and their contents are expected to be in specific places.

The user writes, "I have lots of software (mostly shell scripts) that depend on the path "~/Documents" being there with needed stuff in it. Turning on Desktop & Documents put all that in a folder named "Documents - Mr Muscle". So, the software couldn't find the path in which to write log files, nor could it find other necessary stuff."

I guess Apple's modern computing may no longer be a world in which older types of user control are viable.

Of course it is all Apple's fault. I was irked when I saw a couple of items in the last few weeks that put the blame on the addiction that some people have - especially children - on Apple. Forgetting for a moment that although Apple makes a lot of money there are many commentators who insist that other manufacturers sell more phones. Actually, they are right: will you just look at all those Samsungs that have reluctant screens or plastic buttons, or the HTC models, Huawei, Oppo, Nokia and the rest. How on earth is this Apple's problem?

I am always bumping into smartphone zombies in central Bangkok. The most annoying is the pause at the top of the escalator on the Skytrain: with several hundred people piling off a train at Siam, someone with head bowed over a phone screen will stop walking to read a message and the whole platform full of passengers bunches up.

Pedestrians with phones

Last week I started a new class. The first thing I did was to put two bags at the front of the room and tell the students to put their mobile devices in them. Not a whimper; and as more students arrived (some are always late), they were told by their friends to put the phones in one of the bags. With no interruptions, and full attention, the class went smoothly. I am certainly going to do that again.

And when people complain about man-spreading I can now retort with the female Facebook Elbow. I am always being disturbed by smartphone users on the BTS Skytrain who sit to my left and scroll through their latest Facebook entries, frequently nudging me with the elbow.

I think Samsung should do something about this.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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