May 21, 2015 Fire Phone Updates

Ars Technica provides insight on the latest Amazon Fire Phone software update.

Still, for those who have taken the plunge, Amazon continues providing software updates. Fire OS 4.6.1 includes a fair number of changes, but the largest is one Amazon doesn’t mention—it updates the underlying version of Android from 4.2 Jelly Bean to 4.4 KitKat. KitKat is still a year-and-a-half old at this point, but that’s a year newer than Jelly Bean, and it’s still the most-used version of Android according to Google’s developer dashboard.

After nearly six months, I am still rocking an Amazon Fire Phone as my mobile computer of choice. At $199 unlocked, the Fire Phone is a hard price to beat, and the recent software update with Android 4.4 KitKat just makes things even better.

If there is one thing missing from the Fire Phone experience it is apps. Amazon makes a lot of great games available, but I wish more third-party developers would submit their productivity apps to the Amazon App Store.

May 15, 2015 The End of X

Mac OS XJason Snell proposes it is time to remove the X from Mac OS X.

So my proposal to Apple is to put the X into retirement–no, nobody needs to hold a funeral for it like Steve Jobs did for OS 9–and swing the naming pendulum back to the Mac. Call the next version of the Mac’s operating system Mac OS Santa Cruz, or Mac OS Big Sur, or Mac OS Capistrano, or whatever California place name you prefer. (Just don’t name it Death Valley.)

Mac OS is a name with a proud history that bridged the gap from the latter days of the original Mac operating system through the first decade of OS X. It does what it says on the tin–it’s an operating system that runs the Mac. The phrase “Macs run Mac OS” makes sense. OS X is never going to run anything that’s not a Mac. Let’s embrace it. It’s the Mac OS.

The aqua blue X that shipped on the box of early versions of Mac OS X, was an attractive logo. It marked a strong departure from all of the system software that came before it, while still remaining intriguing to even the most informed Macintosh followers.

The X went through many transformations through later release of Mac OS X. From fur, to brushed metal, shiny black gloss, to being replaced by big cats and waves, the X remained a reminder of the continual evolution of the Macintosh system software without even mentioning the Mac by name.

When I worked at the Apple, in 2003, we were quick to correct customers that the name of Apple’s Macintosh operating system was pronounced ‘Mac OS TEN’ and not ‘Mac OS EX.’ But these days even Apple CEO Tim Cook sometimes pronounces OS X as ‘OS EX.’ As a Mac fan who has been following Mac OS X since its inception, it seems the X has very little to do with the number ten, or the Mac these days. A mark that once stood for appeal and intrigue, now stands for ambiguity.

Therefore I am with Jason when he says the X needs to go. I like the name Mac OS. It has been with us since the release of Mac OS 7..6 in the 1997. I just wander if not an X, what symbol will Apple use to represent the future of the Macintosh operating system.

May 14, 2015 PowerPCs in Space

CPUI am surprised Stephen Hackett didn’t link to this first.

The RAD750 is a radiation-hardened single board computer manufactured by BAE Systems Electronics, Intelligence & Support. The successor of the RAD6000, the RAD750 is for use in high radiation environments experienced on board satellites and spacecraft. The RAD750 was released in 2001, with the first units launched into space in 2005.

The RAD750 is a $200,000 radiation hardened PowerPC G3 developed for space travel. At up to 200 MHz it is not the fastest CPU in the solar system, but it can withstand up to 1,000,000 rads, and temperature ranges between –55 °C and 125 °C while requiring only 5 watts of power.

Some of its more noteworthy missions include the Deep Impact comet chaser, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Kepler space telescope, and Mars Curiosity rover. Its predecessor, the 33 MHz RAD6000, also piloted a number of spacecraft destined for Mars.

May 14, 2015 Firmware Passwords

Firmware PasswordApple on Macintosh Firmware passwords:

Setting a firmware password in OS X prevents your Mac from starting up from any device other than the built in hard drive. Locking your Mac from Find My Mac also sets a firmware password that you’ll then need to enter in order to use your Mac.

Michael Tsai explains:

If you don’t set a firmware password, someone can boot the Mac into Recovery Mode and reset the password on your main partition. This would allow access to all unencrypted (i.e. non-Keychain) data. However, the firmware password isn’t that secure because Apple can bypass it. Plus, the drive could be physically removed from your Mac and attached to a different Mac. So, if you want to prevent access to your data, it’s better to use FileVault. The firmware password only prevents your Mac from being booted without access to your data, which probably doesn’t matter much.

Now that we have FileVault 2, I wish Apple would remove the Firmware Password Utility from Mac OS X. For users it offers no real security, any Apple Store can disable the firmware password upon request. For system administrators it is a serious nuance, users often set a unknown firmware password before returning their Macs.

If I was a Macintosh System Administrator I would remove the Firmware Password Utility from my Mac’s recovery partitions. Sure it could always be reinstalled, but users would have to go looking for it.

May 13, 2015 Backing Up Your Watch

Dan Frakes shows you how to backup your Apple Watch.

Apple Watch content backs up automatically to your companion iPhone, so you can restore your Apple Watch from a backup. When you back up your iPhone to iCloud or iTunes, your iPhone backup will also include your Apple Watch data.

Here’s what your Apple Watch backup will include:

  • General system settings, such as your watch face, known Wi-Fi networks, brightness, sound, and haptic settings
  • Language
  • Time Zone
  • Settings for Mail, Calendar, Stocks, and Weather
  • App-specific data and settings, such as Maps, distance, and units
  • Health and Fitness data, such as history, achievements, and user-entered data (To back up Health and Fitness data, you need to use iCloud or an encrypted iTunes backup.)

It is hard to think how you would backup your Apple Watch any other way.

It is important to note your Apple Watch backup won’t include “Workout and Activity calibration data from your Apple Watch,” as well as private information like pass codes and the credit cards used for Apple Pay.

Even more interesting:

When you unpair your Apple Watch from your iPhone, your iPhone automatically creates a backup of your Apple Watch. Unpairing will erase all data from your Apple Watch. If your Apple Watch is unpaired while out of range of your iPhone, the backup won’t be created. When you’re ready, you can pair your Apple Watch again and set it up from a backup.

To quickly remove all of your data from Apple Watch, all you need to do is unpair it. Apple Watch, like the iPod before it, is a companion device with an implied backup. This makes in warranty replacement at the Apple Store easy, and ensures the customer will always have a backup should their Apple Watch become lost or stolen.

May 13, 2015 Dropping Out of Admin

I am no longer an Administrator on my Mac. Given the recent round of threats targeted at OS X users logged into their Macs as admin, I relinquished my administrative rights. Doing so is easy:

  1. Create a second administrative account if you don’t already have one.
  2. Enter the following command, sudo dseditgroup -o edit -d tbrand -t user admin
  3. Log out of your computer

When you log back in you will be an administrator no more. You can supplement your new reduced rights by editing you sudoers file, but as always you want to be careful where you enter your computer’s password.

May 5, 2015 The Apple Watch Mezzanine Port

Over the weekend Lane Musgrave and John Arrow announced plans to release Reserve Strap, a third-party strap for Apple Watch that extends your battery life while you wear it.

We’ve developed and tested a completely rethought design that takes advantage of the 6 pin port underneath the band slide of the Apple Watch. This port hadn’t been deciphered by anyone until now but we’ve been able to make significant enough observations so far to warrant shifting our development focus to this new method. We’re looking forward to sharing more design details and technical specification of this new Reserve Strap as soon as we can.

The controversial use of the Apple Watch’s diagnostic port reminds me of another proprietary connector that was off-limits to all but the most pioneering third-party developers.

The Mezzanine connector was a proprietary port used during the development and manufacture of the first iMac. Located behind a closed access panel, the Mezzanine connector provided direct access to the iMac’s PCI bus.. Although its use was prohibited by Apple, brave third-party developers such as Micro Conversions and Formac made expansion boards that plugged into this forbidden slot– despite warnings from Apple that that use of Mezzanine connector may void the iMac’s warranty.

The first version of the iMac had a strange connector on the underside ot the motherboard. A manufacturer for the connector (and subsequent mates to it) is Molex and the part number is 52760-1609. The original purpose of this port was to connect a logic analyzer and quickly diagnose board problems. It was intended to make servicing the boards easier. It was never intended at any time for an upgrade card, and thus, the PCI loads were calculated for that board with the intention of no real PCI load being present.

Some of the more popular expansion boards included 3D graphics accelerators, SCSI cards, TV tuners with S-Video input, legacy serial connectors, and even a 600 MHz G3 CPU/FireWire upgrade card!

Installing a mezzanine expansion board required opening up the iMac, removing five screws, and flipping logic board over. (The mezzanine slot was located on the reverse side of the logic board.) Many of the expansion board developers assumed customers would opt for professional installation, limiting the already reduced appeal of iMac expansion boards..

By the time of the iMac’s first update in January 1999, the Mezzanine connector had been removed. Apple never spoken of any product plans in conjunction with Mezzanine connector and discouraged any developer from taking advantage of it.

Just like the Mezzanine connector on the first iMac, the existence of diagnostic port on first Apple Watch has never been acknowledged by Apple. Whether or not this covered connector remains on future Apple watches has yet to be determined.

The Reserve Strap may be an appealing product for first-gen Apple Watch customers who want to extend their battery life. But I tend to agree with David Sparks when he says:

If you need extra power, this may be the strap you are looking for but I’d advise to make sure you actually need that extra power first. I don’t.

Use of the diagnostic port may void your Apple Watch warranty.

May 3, 2015 The Man Who Deleted All His Tweets

Brent Simmons deleted all of his tweets.

I’ve deleted all my tweets (and re-tweets and favorites) — or, rather, I’ve deleted all the easy-to-find tweets. Apparently 3,764 remain that I can’t find. (I’ve requested an archive, which should do the trick.)

I have a number of good reasons not to like Twitter: how poorly it’s treated third-party developers (some of whom are my friends); how it’s become the bright and shining home of bullies, outrage, and the mob mentality; how it’s fallen in love with TV and celebrities; how it’s turning into yet another way to show me ads.

But those aren’t my reasons for deleting my tweets. Instead, it’s because Twitter is a blogging (or micro-blogging, really) service that doesn’t meet my requirements

Brent is treating Twitter like ephemeral chat, deleting his Tweets a week or so after he publishes them. His approach doesn’t sound that different from what I am doing with this blog, even though I own the domain.

For anyone looking for a Twitter alternative with the freedom to use third-party clients and a lack of celebrity influence, you had your chance; it was called

April 29, 2015 Screenshots Without Drop Shadows

Josh Centers, writing for TidBITS, about the super secret keyboard shortcut that eliminates drop shadows from your Mac OS X screenshots.

You probably know about the keyboard shortcut to take a screenshot of a portion of the screen: Command-Shift-4. (There’s also Command-Shift-3, which takes a screenshot of your entire screen, a trick that’s seldom useful.) Pressing Command-Shift-4 turns your cursor into a crosshair, and dragging out a rectangle takes a screenshot of the selected area. Less well known is the fact that if, instead of dragging out a rectangle, you press the Space bar, your cursor becomes a camera, and placing it over a window, dialog, or dropped-down menu highlights that object. Click the highlighted object and you get a screenshot of just that object, complete with drop shadow, on your Desktop.

But what if you don’t want the drop shadow? Easy. Instead of clicking the highlighted object, Option-click. That produces the same screenshot with no drop shadow.

I have known about hitting the spacebar to capture a window, dialog, or dropped-down since the early days of Mac OS X. But how long has an accompanying option-click removed drop shadows from the screenshot?

April 29, 2015 Unmaintained Apps in the App Store

Gavin Hope explains why he doesn’t want unmaintained apps in the App Store.

  • It goes again my values. I value good software and I try to make good software. Leaving apps around that I have no intention of improving feels wrong.
  • It’s not good for the customer. Allowing someone to invest time and/or money into software that’s been written off seems unfair; I like the software that I use to be kept up to date, bugs fixed and improvements made.
  • It looks bad. Out of date apps don’t reflect well on the other things I’m developing. They can suggest poor decisions, habits and practices. They make the overall portfolio look disjointed and messy.

I can add one more. Unmaintained apps look bad for the platform. They fail to take advantage of the latest OS technologies, and provide an excuse for other developers who are dragging their feet supporting the latest Apple devices.