Sometimes I try to rationalize this by pointing out the my husband has more computers than I do… and more iPads, and… and… but that’s really deflecting.
Now one thing that I will say in my defense is that many of these things were not paid for at full retail. Most of the iPods, for instance, were picked up used, some of them with more than one previous owner before I got them. And, as I explained in Confessions of a penny pinching packrat, my childhood and early adulthood spent living (barely) paycheck to paycheck taught me to hang on to things. When I buy a new appliance or gadget or whatever the old one is seldom disposed of. Instead it is held onto as a backup in case the new thing breaks. Often older computers and such are passed on to friends and family who need them, and when that isn’t the case, I can frequently find away to sell them or trade them in to get a discount on something else we need.
But, I also love tools that work well, and I especially love tools that work well for particular tasks. The headphones I use for commuting, for instance, need to meet several requirements: they need to be wireless and feel comfortable and not awkward when worn with various hats and scarves and such that I need in various types of weather. They also need to be able to hold up to rain. Because of some issues with my inner ears, they can’t be in-ear. The models that meet those requirements don’t usually have fantastic sound fidelity. But I don’t necessarily want that, because I don’t want headphones to block out traffic noise, and so forth, because since I take a bus, a part of my commute involves walking on sidewalks along busy city streets. So I need to be able to hear what’s going on around me.
That means that the commute headphones aren’t ideal for other listening situations. So I have a pair of wired noise-cancelling headphones that live in my desk drawer at my office, so on those days that I need to block out conversations going on in the cubes and halls around me, I can. And also, if I’m going to listen to music while working, I’d like the quality of the sound to be a bit better than what I’m willing to settle for during my bus ride and walking, right?
Then I have a nice pair of wireless headphones to use at home for listening to music or podcasts while I’m writing or editing. And again, I prefer them to have better music quality than the commute headphones. Unfortunately, it is often the case the wireless headphone with great sound, have inferior microphones. So if I’m trying to have conversations or gaming sessions with friends online, I need a headset that has good sound and a good microphone, which winds up being a wired headset.
And then… well… so the nice bluetooth and wired headsets I mentioned in the above paragraph basically live with my laptop. So there is another set of headphones, wired, that some years ago used to be the primary for listening to music on the laptop, that have been handed-down to the desktop Mac Pro, so that when I use that machine, I can listen to my music without disturbing my husband on the other side of the computer room. And there is a pair of really nice wired noise-cancelling headphones that permanently live in the On The Go computer bag, so that when we’re at cons or whatever, I’ll have a good set on those occasions I need them…
…and then there is a small stash of some older ones that still work well enough in a pinch, and usually one or two pairs of still in box backups for the commute headphones, because when they die, they tend to completely die, and I need a backup right away, right?
It’s a little harder to explain how the primary laptop, iPad, desktop, and Windows-based laptop all fit some of my use cases but aren’t the best tool for some of my other tasks. I mean, I have the Windows laptop because occasionally I need to process a file in software that is only available on Windows. And some of my old backups were done on Windows, since I used that operating system for many years. My new laptop is, in theory, pretty water resistant, but I’m still a bit reluctant to take it outside when rain is likely. And now that we have such a nice veranda, I spend a little bit of pretty much every day out there either writing, reading, or chatting with friends. So the iPad is a better tool for that location, since it is much much much more water resistant than the laptop, right?
I also, whenever possible, I spend my lunch break at the office writing or editing my own fiction, and that happens on the iPad. Which is much tinier and easier to transport along with my lunch and stuff than the laptop.
This is a long way of saying: what works for me, works for me, but may not meet the your needs. Likewise, what works for you may not meet my specific needs at all. And it’s okay if some of us spend more of our time and resources on different things than other people.
You do you. I’ll do me. Okay?
The reasons I switched from the program I’ve been using for years isn’t important. The interesting bit was what I learned after setting up one specific account in the new reader. It’s an email account that is on a domain I own. The sole purpose of this account is to be the home account of one of my side Twitter accounts. I have an twitter account in the name of one of the fictional characters in my novel series. At the time I set it up I had vague plans to promote the books through it. Anyway, the mail services for that domain are outsourced, and for various reasons when I set up my new email reader to pull that account, the junk mail filters at the outsourced place are being ignored. So ever single bit of spam coming to that account gets downloaded to my laptop. This account has never been shared with anyone other than Twitter. The email account doesn’t appear on any contact anywhere, I don’t believe that I have ever sent an email message from it. But still, it gets hundreds of spam messages every day — and at most one legitimate piece of email, because once a day Twitter sends a message to the account with “hightlights” from the people that the twitter account follows, or to tell me someone replied to a tweet, or whatever, right?
So this account is just getting flooded with spam, and you would expect that most of said spam would be Nigerian-Prince-style scams, right? Nope. Don’t get me wrong–there are some messages about “Get in on this 10 Million Dollar deal!” or “Regarding your credit account” or “We tried to deliver your package” that try to get you to click on a link and enter your password for a service they can hijack or get you to confirm credit card information. And there are the ads for Viagra or quack remedies for various illnesses, yes. But that’s less than half. The other half are emails with subject lines: “Obama treason confirmed!” or “Birth Control Makes Women Violent” or “Planned Parenthood Still Selling Infant Organs” “You Won’t Believe What the Gay Agenda is Pushing Now” or “Hilary Crimes Finally Proven” or “You Won’t Believe this Obama Outrage!”
That’s right, a half year since Obama left office and the sexual-predator-in-chief was sworn in, there are bots out there cranking out anti-Obama and anti-Hilary propaganda, and mailing it to millions of people. And clearly, someone must be clicking on some of these mails.
I already knew about the literally millions of twitter-bot accounts that retweat Donald’s nonsense or hate speech and propaganda from alt-right news sites. I knew about the millions of twitter-bot accounts pretending to be Bernie Bros tweeting out slightly more dog-whistling hate speech and anti-Hilary disinformation. I’ve included in recent Friday Links posts some stories about the role of algorithms and those bots in skewing the way the people see and understand the news: The Threat From Artiﬁcial Intelligence May Already Be Here and Maybe the AI dystopia is already here.
I had thought I understood what was happening. But it took seeing thousands of these spam messages from several months worth of spam to one account to finally connect a couple of dots I hadn’t been thinking about it. The various alt-right faux news sites, plus Fox, the millions of twitter-bots, and so forth function like spam in more ways than one. One avenue of success similar to spam is that only a fraction of a percent of any message needs to be seen by the targertted person for it to hit. Most of them aren’t seen by any individual because some are caught in various filters such as junk folders. But as long as some get through, the person is still exposed to the misinformation.
But another aspect of spam’s effectiveness we don’t think about is this: the less tech-savvy someone is, the more likely they are to see the misinformation. And studies have shown that the more educated a person is, or the more knowledgeable they are in a variety of subjects, the more likely they are to be liberal. Conversely, the less knowledgeable, the more likely they are to be conservative. So there’s an asymmetrical distribution of the misinformation, with more of the people who see it being likely to view those ridiculous headlines and subject lines as confirmation of their current beliefs, rather than react with skepticism.
The other aspect is contagion. Certain types of malware and scams depend on people forwarding them on to other people. We all had that one relative who always, without fail, used to click on every single chain email and so forth forwarded to them by anyone they knew, and who in turn would forward it to all of their friends and family (no matter how many times we tried to explain to grandpa that he was forwarding viruses half the time, right?).
The person who sees the false headline and believes it may share the false news link to all their friends by posting it on Facebook or forwarding the message or whatever. And many of the people they know are sharing similar bits of misinformation, creating the impression that everyone they know agrees with their worldview and/or validates the misinformation.
It’s not just that they live in an information bubble, or that they inhabit an echo chamber, its that they are surrounded my scores of overlapping misinformation bubbles that invade and reinforce each other.
And the fourth area comes back to that bit I said about not being able to convince my one grandparent to stop forwarding the bad stuff. After awhile I just had to give up and quarantine all of his emails. Similarly, it’s not just that the misinformation drowns out the good information, but we’re socially conditioned not to argue with some of the vectors of misinformation. And because we get tired of having arguments with all those racist cousins, so we simply mute them or whatever. Then they assume that because we’ve stopped arguing, that we now agree with them.
I wish I had a solution to this. It would be so much easier if the enemy were an army of Cylons coming at us. Instead, twitter-bots and the like are turning our neighbors and relatives into the army that is trying to take away our rights, take away healthcare, and so much more.
Wide Impact: Highly Effective Gmail Phishing Technique Being Exploited The tl;dr version: this particular hack involves the hackers sending emails from a hacked account, to people in that account’s contact list. So it starts with you getting an email from someone you already know. But it’s much more clever than that! They take text from previous messages that person has sent, and it isn’t random. They find messages where the person has sent attachments, and they construct the new message from it. So if it’s someone you know, the phrasing of the subject and the text sound like something that person would write. The attachment in the new message is merely a screen capture, and it hides a link to their fake Google login in page. So you click on the attachment from a friend, and you’re told to view the attachment you need to log in to Google, and they get your username and password. And within seconds, they’re going through your account and sending more hacked messages to your friends.
They’ve even constructed the login page so that if you take the precaution of looking at the address bar in your browser before you start to sign in, you see “https:accounts.google.com” so you think you’re at the real Google. You’re not.
Once they’ve got your password, they can read all your email and do other things to your account.
The linked article has screenshots and advice for how to recognize this kind of attack, as well as steps for what you can do to see if you’ve already been hacked. Check it out!
And this one is less about hackers: Security backdoor found in end-to-end encryption system used in WhatsApp. The Guardian reports that security experts have found that since buying WhatsApp, Facebook has added a back door. In updates, Facebook denies that his is a backdoor to government agencies and claim they will fight any attempts from governments to access accounts.
Which is meaningless.
The existence of the backdoor means that when Facebook loses that fight (because of court orders, for instance) that the backdoor will be used to read the supposedly secure communications. The original design of WhatsApp and similar end-to-end services didn’t have a backdoor because if one exists, it will be exploited eventually. Also, Facebook’s description of the service currently lies and says that they can never read the messages. With the backdoor there, yes they can.
While we’re on the subject of cyber security: Cellebrite, a Major Dealer of Hacking Tools, Has Itself Been Hacked. This is one of the companies that makes tools that allow people to hack your phone. After indulging in a moment of schadenfreude that these hackers have been hacked, we then have to worry about what is in that 900GB of data that was stolen from them. Since the dump “contains what appears to be evidence files from seized mobile phones” among other things, who knows whose personal information has been stolen. Supposedly Cellebrite only sells their tools to law enforcement agencies and the like, but it has been previously shown that those agencies include some very shady regimes. And in the case of their mobile hacking devices, those things could be resold or stolen from those agencies and be in anyone’s hands.
And let’s do one more: E-Sports Entertainment Association hacked; profiles of 1.5 million customers exposed. The leaked data includes real names, phone numbers, and birthdates. Very useful for identity theft. Not much you can do about it once the information has been stolen.
ETA: Several people are questioning the Guardian story about Whatsapp: The backdoor that never was, and how to improve your security with WhatsApp. The argument seems to be that while there is a security problem, it isn’t technically a backdoor. The article I linked has information on things you can do to avoid your Whatsapp messages being compromised. I’m going to leave it to the security experts to argue this out.
Okay, now I may begin to feel sorry for Samsung. I mean, it was sort of cool that a company which has been making money be copying Apple’s look (and producing demonstrably inferior equipment) was losing tons of money and taking a hit to their reputation because of exploding phones, but now it’s even worse: Samsung Recalling Almost 2.8M Washers Due to Impact Injuries. During the spin cycle the drums become detached, crashing into other parts of the machine, causing parts of the outer body to break off and fly away hard enough to have caused broken bones in some cases. Exploding washing machines!
In case you missed the earlier news: one of Samsung’s new phones started exploding, catching fire, and similar things, prompting the TSA and agencies in other countries to ban them from air travel. Samsung did a recall and replacement of some of the models, and the replacement phones also caught fire, resulting in a complete recall of all models: It is the consensus in the tech world that Samsung execs rushed the Galaxy Note 7 into production with a seriously shortened test cycle because of rumors that the iPhone 7 would be a dud–which made them think they could grab a bunch of the market. The reasoning being that rumors were the size and shape of the iPhone 7 wouldn’t change much from the 6s… because people only buy new phones because they come in new shapes, not because of improved cameras or other interior features.
Other people were predicting bad iPhone sales because Apple removed the headphone jack. What has actually happened is that millions of the new iPhones sold the first weekend, and since then Apple has been selling the phones literally faster than they can manufacture them. Apple did report the first year-over-year revenue drop (but still 9 billion dollars of profit) for the most recent quarter, but the new iPhone went on sale at the very end of that 90-day period, so the new phone sales had little to do with the numbers.
Samsung appears to have done worse than shot itself in the foot with this attempt to take advantage of an opportunity that was never there.
There’s a certain type of tech person, the sort who gets a full-time job writing about technology for general interest news sites, for instance, that looks at technology from an extremely skewed point of view. They aren’t the only people who do this, but let’s stick to them for the moment. They seem to be incapable of looking at a product as anything other than a bulleted list of features. And they are especially bad at imagining that anyone in the world would ever use a particular product differently than they do.
I know this because there have been plenty of times that I fall into that mental trap (and the related one of not remembering that people aren’t going to like and dislike the same sorts of things in stories/movies/et al as I do).
Even though way back in the day I had been addicted to my old Apple ][e, I was less impressed with the original Macintosh. Then I got a job testing software and hardware and writing customer documentation for a company that sold software that ran on DOS-based PCs (Windows didn’t exist, yet), and I became obsessed with being about to control every little thing on my PC. I would tweak configuration files to modify which utilities and portions of the operating system would be loaded into which parts of the memory, for instance. I looked at Mac users as people who didn’t really understand the equipment they were using.
Then Windows came along, and over the years the PC world became more and more like the Mac. I don’t just mean the GUI interface and pointing-and-clicking, but more and more of the nitpicky details of how the system was configured were hidden away from the user—not just hidden, but the systems worked in ways that it was not longer necessary to know that stuff to use the product.
The really big change for me, though, was meeting my husband. In all of my relationships before Michael, I was the person who knew the most about computers in particular, and technology in general. Michael knew at least as much as me, and had an even better knack at troubleshooting and coaxing seemingly broken equipment into working again. And… he started managing my computer. And I found, suddenly, that I had a helluva lot more time to actually work on my writing when I wasn’t acting as the in-house IT department.
Then, because he was tired of spending so much time troubleshooting my Mom’s computer (a series of used PCs coupled with her habit of clicking on absolutely any link she received in an email thus infecting the computer literally with thousands of pieces of malware), we bought her an iMac. And I picked up an old used Macbook that ran the same version of the OS as her machine, so when she couldn’t remember how to do something, I could fire up my machine and walk her through it over the phone. And then I started using the Mac laptop as my convention machine because it was, frankly, easier to use than my Windows laptop.
And during that long journey, I discovered on a new level something that I had constantly found myself (as a technical writer) arguing with engineers at work: the customer cared about what the machine allowed them to do, not how the machine did it.
Right now, people are griping about the headphone jack being removed from the iPhone (interestingly, Motorola dropped it from some smart phones earlier this year, several other phone makers have announced phones without headphone jacks coming soon, but no one is complaining about them). And they’re complaining that Apple is changing its laptop lines to use only USB-C ports supporting USB and Thunderbolt (again, something that a bunch of Chromebooks did earlier, and at least one PC laptop maker has announced they’re doing next). And I understand those gripes, I do.
But so for not one single person—not one—has presented any argument that isn’t the logical equivalent of arguments that were used to protest the removal of floppy disk drives from computers. They are the same arguments that were raised in protest when Apple replaced serial and parallel ports on the iMac with USB years ago. They are the same arguments people made about why compact discs shouldn’t be replaced with downloaded music files. They are the same arguments people made when cassette tapes and vinyl records were replaced with compact discs. The same arguments that were made when VHS tapes were replaced with DVDs. And the same arguments that were made when cable replaced antennae on the roofs of houses and apartment buildings.
And I suspect they are logically equivalent to the arguments that were made when electricity replaced oil lamps.
My five-and-a-half year old Macbook Pro has an ethernet port that I have never, ever used or needed. The Macbook I owned for a bit over three years before that also had an ethernet port that I believe I used exactly once. My current Macbook Pro has an SD card slot that I never used until late last year when I bought an adapter that allowed me to fit a micro SD card in flush with the side of the computer (rather than sticking out as the SD cards do) so I could have a supplemental drive to move some files onto because I’m having trouble getting by on the size of hard disc I currently use. The laptop also has a combo mini video port/thunderbolt 2 port which I use about once every couple of weeks to connect my second backup drive to. I have never, ever used the video port of the port. Nor have I ever used the optical audio port built into the headphone jack.
But I paid for the circuitry and more to support all of those ports as part of the price of the laptop. And I had to pay for those because a small fraction of the other owners of these laptops want them.
I am anxiously waiting for my new Macbook Pro to ship. It will have four USB-C ports. I’m going to have to buy three adaptors in order to use my current accessories with the new machine. Wait, actually, only two. I keep forgetting my external drive uses both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. But those are the only adaptors I will need. And I’m only going to need them for a while, because some of these accessories are even older than my current laptop, and they probably should be replaced pretty soon, before they die on their own at an inconvenient time.
Just as the original USB was a huge improvement over the serial, parallel, and SCSI ports they replaced, USB-C is a big improvement over the others. If you want technology to get better, you have to let go of the older parts. It doesn’t matter how noble horse drawn carriages look nor how jaunty a coachman appears when snapping a buggy whip, no one born in the last 60 years is willing to give up their cars, light rail, heaters and defrosters inside the cars, or streets free of random piles of horse shit because someone misses buggy whips.
So it was ridiculous that people where carrying around iPods! Or any other digital music player, for that matter! What if the digital format in question was abandoned or obsoleted? How would you play your music on another player when this one wore out? Did owning music even mean anything when it was just a file on your computer?
Now, to be fair, I had converted a small number of my music discs to digital to play on my computer1, so I didn’t have to walk across the room while I was in the middle of writing something to change music. That was all right, but it was an alternative. It would never replace my real music library.
Then my husband bought me a pretty pink iPod Nano for my birthday.
And I became quickly addicted as I realized I could convert dozens of big heavy discs to files on the tiny iPod… Read More…
I learned to type on my mom’s Easter pink Smith-Corona Silent-Super typewriter. I was ten years old, when Mom decided that I since I couldn’t keep my hands off it, she should teach me the proper way to use it. So she set me up with her old How to Type book it wasn’t long before I was whizzing along, hitting about 60 words per minute on the little mechanical wonder.
When I was twelve, my paternal grandmother gave me her 1952 Remington Letter-Riter. It was a much heavier typewriter than the Silent-Super in every way. Pushing the keys took more effort, and the typewriter was built like a tank. It also had a slightly different keyboard arrangement, more traditional than the Silent-Super. Older mechanical typewriters didn’t have a 1 (one) key. If you needed to type a 1, you’d use a lowercase l (el) instead. There also wasn’t an exclamation point. To type !, you would type a period, then backspace and type an apostrophe. There was no + (plus) sign or = (equals) sign, though it did have a key for ½ (half) and ¼ (quarter).If you click on the image, you might also notice that the symbols on the top of the number keys are different than a modern computer keyboard, as well. You got quotation marks by pressing shift-2 instead of being on its own key, while the apostrophe was shift-8, and underscore was shift-6. The @ symbol and ¢ (cents) sign were on their own key, over where modern computer keyboards usually put the quotation and apostrophe key. The Silent-Super had a 1-key and exclamation point. The arrangement was otherwise the same, though the size and shapes of the keys—particularly the tab, backspace, and shift—were different. My grandmother had a newer typewriter that had a lot of special keys, such as a £ (pound currency) symbol, a ÷ (division) symbol, + and =, (greater-than) and even a \ (backslash). She was an accountant and that typewriter was aimed at financial offices. Anyway, I also occasionally typed on her machine, with its own slightly different layout, and I could got just as fast on any of them.
In high school I finally took an actual typing class, which was the first time I typed on an IBM Selectric keyboard. It wasn’t a manual typewrite. It was still mechanical in that a physical object had to strike an inked ribbon and sheet of paper to make the letters, but the force was delivered by an electric motor instead of my fingers. It was much more like a computer keyboard in that way. The amount of force to press the key was practically nothing compared to the manual typewriter. It is still the funniest thing to see when I run a Writers Round Robin event at a convention: people too young to have used a typewriter really freak out at how hard you have to press the keys to make the letters appear.
I didn’t need the typing class to learn to type, I was already proficient at touch typing, but back in the 70s you actually had to have passed a typing class to get into some journalism programs and the like when you moved on to university, so I took the class for the credit. The teacher was a little shocked with I did more than 100 words per minute on the first speed test. Since it was early in the course, I wasn’t typing real words, I was just typing groups of four letters from the home row from a slide she was showing us, something like: “jfjfj kkkk dddd jkjkj fdfd jkl; fdsa”
I told her I already knew how to type, so she grabbed a sample letter to copy and made me take the test again, this time reading the letter and transcribing it. I still was over 100 words per minute.
Over the years I’ve gotten used to various computer keyboards. The old clack-clack IBM Model M that many people still love, being just one of many. And many of them have some keys in unusual places. Some have keys that others don’t. And I take to all of them pretty quickly. I would be slightly surprised when some people complained about a couple of moved keys. It usually took me only a few minutes to acclimate to a new layout.
I was a little surprised, when my husband finally got me to use an iPod Touch, at how quickly I adapted to thumb-typing on a small keyboard where I couldn’t feel the keys at all. My favorite app for a long time was WriteRoom for iOS (it had its own automatic cloud sync back before services like Dropbox were around), and I would write scenes on the bus on my way to work each morning. One time while I was doing that, a bunch of the bus passengers all started turning around and staring at me. So much that I noticed and looked up.
It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what had happened. Somehow the settings had changed, and the iPod was making key noises through its speaker. I had my headphones on playing musc (also from the iPod), and couldn’t hear the keyclicks. I found the setting and turned it off. I said, “Sorry about that” sheepishly. One of the other passengers chuckled and said, “I just never heard anyone text that fast and that long before!” So I explained that I was actually writing a book. “On your phone?” And then I had to explain that it wasn’t even a phone.
It shouldn’t have surprised me, some years later, at how quickly I took to the iPad’s virtual keyboard. When Michael and I bought our first iPad (the iPad 2, we waited for the second model), we weren’t certain we would actually use it and not treat it as a temporary toy. So we only bought one to share. I would take it to work one day, he would take it the next, and so on. It wasn’t long before it was clear that both of us needed our own.
At the time, my employer-provided Dell laptop had become a faux laptop. The battery wouldn’t hold a charge for more than about 10 minutes (we never did get new batteries as promised, of course). So it was useless for taking to meetings. And I frequently need to take notes at meetings or look things up to answer questions, so that was a bummer. Except I started taking the iPad, instead, and I could look up some work things without even logging in a VM. But the part that surprised me was how easy I switched to typing long, detailed notes during the meeting on the virtual keyboard. I do find it slightly annoying switching between numbers, other symbols, and back to letters. Mostly because the key to move from numbers to symbols is not in the same location as the key to move from letters to numbers. But otherwise, I’m okay typing on the virtual keyboard.
I do have a bluetooth keyboard that I use if I know I’m going to do a really long typing session. My hubby gave me a nice solar-powered one a few years ago. It is really nice, but it requires me carrying around a bag, since it is bigger than the iPad.
So I’ve been looking at keyboard cases off and on. My husband has had a couple of them. I think his favorite is a fairly high end Logitech. I’ve tried his, and they’re pretty good.But I wasn’t convinced that I should spend the money on one for myself. But I keep wishing when I’m at conventions and similar events, that I had a more portable version of my Bluetooth keyboard. Then last week, I noticed that one of the models I’ve had in my private wishlist had come down in price a bit, and NorWesCon is coming up, so I bought it. It isn’t bad. Several reviews of it complained about the backspace being so tiny and the placement of a few other keys, but it only took me three tweets before I was hitting it correctly.
The keyboard itself feels fairly solid, but the case as a whole is a little flimsy. I suspect that if I carried it back and forth to the office in my backpack with this case that the keyboard would get enough wear and tear to account for the small number of reviews complaining about the keyboard dying after only a few months. I don’t currently plan to carry the iPad in the case most of the time. I can do the type of typing/note taking I do on the iPad at work just as easily with the virtual keyboard. It is definitely easier to type on than the virtual keyboard, and the keys feel nice enough. Not as good as my solar Logitech, but perfectly usuable.
It’s not as if I don’t already have multiple keyboards for just about every device. Because I am a keyboard addict.
Clickbait is everywhere. It could be argued, of course, that anything posted by any of us who blog or tweet or comment is clickbait. We post it because we want it to be read, right? But when I say “clickbait” I mean headlines that are intentionally provocative and sensational, usually misleading, or at least failing to deliver what is promised. Neil Gaiman tweeted a particularly amusing clickbait headline that uses both him and George R.R. Martin to lure you to the web site: Is Neil Gaiman in town to help GRRM with edits on THE WINDS OF WINTER? And the opening paragraph of the story (which absolutely does not tell you anything about either Neil, George, nor the next Game of Thrones book) even admits that the story is nothing but clickbait. As Neil’s tweet observed, “At least it’s a clickbait headline that has the decency to squirm and grin and admit it…”
Other clickbait is less honest. Such as just about any headline about Apple. A lot of people have been griping about how underhanded Apple is being, or how they’re punishing users for going to cheaper alternatives with the “Error 53” stories. Some of the headlines cram entire editorials and a half dozen inaccuracies in the one headline, such as “Apple remotely bricks phones to punish customers for getting independent repairs.” Only one word in that headline is not an outright lie. Yes, only one.
But why are phones from Apple giving some users an Error 53 and refusing to work? What could possibly be the cause? Oh, if only there was some explanation… oh wait, there is:
“We protect fingerprint data using a Secure Enclave, which is uniquely paired to the Touch ID sensor,” said an Apple spokesperson in response to complaints from users. “When [an] iPhone is serviced by an authorized Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the Touch ID sensor, the pairing is re-validated. This check ensures the device and the iOS features related to Touch ID remain secure. Without this unique pairing, a malicious Touch ID sensor could be substituted, thereby gaining access to the secure enclave. When iOS detects that the pairing fails, Touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.”
I tracked down this information, but I didn’t have to, because I already knew the answer as soon as I saw the first headline. I knew because I actually read about the new features of my phone when they added Touch ID two years ago. They described the security feature, and how the Touch ID sensor was paired with the security chip. And this information wasn’t buried in fine print somewhere. They actually talked about it in the keynote speech where they introduce the iPhone 5s, for goodness sake! Plus it is on the iPhone section of the Apple web site. They have videos about the Touch ID feature up that include all of that information.
It was obvious immediately when I read the first Error 53 story what was going on: if you change the home button, it isn’t the same one that was paired with the security chip, so it will stop working.
This is not Apple punishing third party vendors or being underhanded. Even iFixIt, a site infamous (and very disliked by Apple Corporate) for putting up detailed instructions on how to fix things yourself without going to Apple says it makes sense that the phone’s operating system should try to detect tampering and react in some way to protect the users’ data. They don’t think completely disabling the phone is the best outcome, but admit that something along this line should happen.
I do agree with the suggestions some have made that what the phone should do is simply disable Apple Pay and the TouchID features when this mismatch is detected, rather than disable the whole phone.
To get back to that sample headline, here are the inaccuracies: Apple isn’t remotely bricking any phones. One of the events that will trigger the phone to do a self-diagnostic is upgrading the iOS software, which is why some of the phones aren’t getting the error right away. It’s all happening internally, not a remote command being issued by Apple. The error isn’t just happening when unauthorized dealers do the work. iFixIt reports a couple of cases of this happening after authorized dealers made the repair, and in some of those cases it was subsequently fixed by the authorized repair place re-doing the repair. There is a very clear and understandable security reason why the system should check for any tampering related to Touch ID in general (since most users use that to protect all their personal data on their phone), and Apple Pay in particular (since the user’s money and banking information are involved).
What would deserve outrage was if the iPhone didn’t do anything in these circumstances. Not the other way around.
But writing accurate headlines about Apple doesn’t generate the clicks.