eXtensions - Thursday 24 November 2022


Thursday Comment: Covid measures and China; Apple and Unix; AirTag Batteries

By Graham K. Rogers


With a new outbreak of Covid-19 authorities in China are taking strong measures. This affected the Foxconn workforce, who have had enough of how the company has been treating them. A useful look at the Unix underneath macOS, OS X before it and iOS. What has Apple been doing to the interface of its apps? My AirTag batteries have finally been changed.

I am not convinced that Covid is over. When it first appeared here, the government was quick to shut everything down. People had already experienced bird flu, then SARS as well as annual pollution that is best dealt with by wearing masks, so the new virus was dealt with fairly calmly. Most people here complied with masks and other restrictions. When vaccines arrived, most people were keen to have these and apart from a surge with the Omicron variant, infection levels began to fall. The government opened things up and tourists arrived. They are easy to spot: no masks; as well as the usual sunburn, and those awful elephant pants.


Most of my students and colleagues continue to wear masks. As do I: I still fear infection despite multiple shots and would not be surprised to see another surge as people let their guard down. The Chinese government has been trying to control the latest outbreaks of Covid with some draconian measures. I cannot say I blame them entirely, with the huge population and how people in cities live in close proximity to each other. The factories have also been affected. Multiple reports coming from China show that the workers at Foxconn factories are furious at the way the company has treated them: not the government, not Apple, although the western press in particular cannot resist linking Apple to this as if it were Tim Cook's fault. Complaints have been coming for a couple of weeks or more, but the latest appear to be related to bonuses (not paid) and new, untested people allocated to dormitories used by those already cleared.

There will be effects for Apple as production was already falling, but now with the dissatisfaction reportedly now turning into rioting, the wait for iPhones is bound to increase. That in turn will put pressure on Apple share prices. The latest report I have seen from the Guardian with its sloppy title referring to "protesting iPhone workers" shows a lone protester being arrested by guards in protective clothing. Another photograph shows lots of people in protective clothing and a few protestors, although the text does tell us that "thousands of employees walked away from the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou last month after complaints about unsafe working conditions." That does not sound unreasonable. That may well be why there are thousands in the streets. But Apple.

Note that over the last few months (or more) Apple has been arranging for production to be shifted to other countries, including India, Thailand, Vietnam and the USA where TSCM has a factory that will soon be producing chips made with the 3nm process.

Apple M1 Ultra chip - Image courtesy of Apple

There was an interesting article by Chip Loder (AppleInsider) this week that looked at the UNIX background of macOS. As Loder writes, it is still there. When OS X (ten, not X) first appeared, I took to it like a duck to water . . . after a small pause. The Macs I used had both System 9 and OS X (10.1) installed and it was easy enough to switch using startup Disk (which has now been moved to System Settings > Startup Disk). The first time was such a shock that I hurried back to System 9. A few days later, realizing that Apple was not at all likely to go back, I opened OS X and that was it.

In those early days, few people used OS X. Or System 9 for that matter. Only a few people were using Macs back then. I used the UNIX quite often and was fairly comfortable as only a couple of years before, entering UNIX commands was the only way to use the internet. It was all text, including the first browser I used: Lynx. I did install this on a Mac a couple of years ago, but the early magic of linking to other countries (as had already been done with Gopher - a library system) was gone. We demand graphics these days. Loder spends a lot of time on the use of invisible files, and this will be useful for some, particularly if you are hunting for a specific file that Apple hides in a nested directory system.

Command line UNIX - easy to use, but easy to make mistakes

He also mentions Preferences and his comment is worth repeating in full: "Don't change the permissions on these folders to view their contents unless you know exactly what you're doing. Setting incorrect permissions on system-restricted folders can render your Mac unbootable, and can prevent the Finder from operating correctly."

I smiled when I read that as in the early days of OS X there were a lot of new users who changed things without really understanding what they were doing. In one case a local user decided to change the permissions on the hard disk as he did not want Everyone being able to read what was on it. The UNIX "everyone" is not the same. Having changed the permissions, he was unable to start the Mac and there was a frantic messaging session (pre-iPhone and on small green screens). I sent him the commands to log in using Single User Mode, to unmount the disk (or it could have been mount) and then change the settings. Reading from the phone screen, he laboriously typed the commands into the command line interface. The relief was palpable. My motorcycle maintenance adage applies: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

While details are still relatively sparse, there were several reports about a car crashing into the Apple Store in the Greater Boston area at Hingham, with several people injured and one fatality. The man killed was a construction worker. The driver who was slightly hurt but not hospitalized was arrested and was questioned. I expect that the vehicle, a Toyota SUV, will be examined for problems. With the electronics several cars (such as Tiger Woods' Toyota Genesis SUV), now have an event data recorder (EDR) and the investigators will be keen to look at this.

The Boston TV station WCBV5 has a report with several video clips embedded. One witness estimated the speed across the parking lot of the vehicle across the parking lot at 50mph (80kph) which sounds high to me, although the massive hole in the toughened glass of the Apple Store window and where the vehicle finally stopped does suggest the vehicle passed through that glass quite fast. The facts will be confirmed one way or another. Apple sent a message of condolence to the TV station:

We are devastated by the shocking events at Apple Derby Street today and the tragic loss of a professional who was onsite supporting recent construction at the store. Our hearts go out to our team members and customers who were injured and all of those who were affected by this terrible incident. We are doing everything we can to support our team members and customers at this very difficult time.

Thinking back to death by dangerous driving files that I put together (in the UK these were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions - the DPP), as the driver was conscious after the event, unless there is a fault with the vehicle there would seem to be an element of recklessness here: a reasonable person would imagine that there might be people inside the store and a moving car would hurt them. The driver was charged with reckless homicide, I note in a MacDaily News report. That report also suggests there is a need for bollards outside the store as is the case in other locations.

A later report from MacDaily News tells us that, the driver's "right foot became stuck on the accelerator as he drove through the lot" and was unable to brake. This sounds dubious, but a full investigation will prove this one way or another.

I had commented in recent items how I was disappointed with some of the changes in the interfaces of both Mac and iOS apps. I saw some of these as unnecessary; although the addition of Perspective and Keystone to Photos on the Mac was welcome, but was spoiled by the limited control that the sliders allow. Does anyone actually try these out before signing off on the changes?

Sliders in Crop
Limited size and range of sliders in Crop

I do not use the Books app much, but Mitchell Clark (The Verge) is dismayed by the change in behavior he found: instead of "the classic page-turn animation" which he really liked, the new iOS 16 version, has "a new animation that makes it feel like you're moving cards through a deck instead of leafing through a digitized version of paper". His article has a series of GIFs that show these animations and, Yes, the new version borders on the boring. Who signs off on these bland design decisions?

I finally replaced the batteries in two of my AirTags. I had been seeing messages for a few weeks and knew the batteries were down. The AirTags arrived here along with 3 key fobs in June 2021. I used them with two sets of keys almost right away so that original battery has lasted about 17 months. I hid one other AirTag in a case a few months later and I do not expect that to need a new battery for a while.

AirTag battery change Changing the battery was fairly easy: press the shiny side and turn it clockwise and it soon becomes free. I swapped the battery and then put the silver cap back but had to try two or three times to be satisfied that it was secure. As the back makes contact with the battery there is a little chirp. The second AirTag battery change was easier.

I also have a spare AirTag, but the devices I want to track, like cameras, have nowhere I can hide the AirTags. If I put them on the outside and the camera is stolen, the AirTag is the first thing a thief would remove. I did see a camera cap (DP Review) that had a secret compartment for the AirTag, but I have lenses attached to my cameras all the time.

It is a pity camera makers do not include some detection system which should be easy enough to do these days with the size of electronic components. If you are paying over $1000 for a camera, a few dollars more would be nothing if there is a theft risk.

Last week I mentioned the difficulties I had ordering from a site that just would not accept my address details. Over the last few days I have ordered a couple of books from a UK site, coffee from a Bangkok-based distributor, Peter's Coffee, who roast their own beans (just remember to select the type of grind wanted), and a local supermarket with a quite short but secure checkout procedure. See. . . it can be done.

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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