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  • Newsletter Issue #409

    September 30th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    You can run lots and lots of operating systems on your Mac as virtual machines, but what about Mac OS X. Well, it’s certainly possible, but Apple won’t go for it, and so the companies who build the most popular virtualization applications, Parallels and VMWare, aren’t going to incorporate such support. In order to review the situation in more detail, we invited John Rizzo, of MacWindows.com, to talk about the subject on The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    Now that Microsoft has announced a firm shipping date and pricing for Office 2008 for the Mac, we presented all the important details from Microsoft’s Amanda Lefebvre. Sure, there are a few questions she wasn’t prepared to answer, such as concerns about the loss of support for Visual Basic, but on the whole she delivered all the basics you’ll want to know at this point.

    You’ll also learned about the newest Mac security products from Intego’s Victor Bishop.

    Ever hear of the NotMac Challenge? Well, it’s an an open source project to find an alternative to .Mac. There has already been some progress, including beta software to accomplish the task, and so we called on the movement’s leader, J. Kent Pepper, to give us an update. And, in this week’s Web Tips segment, Denis Motova talked about online etiquette and dealing with tech support people.

    On our “other” show, The Paracast, you’ll discover the secrets of the rarely-discussed 1948 Aztec, New Mexico UFO crash with researcher Scott Ramsey. Though sometimes confused with Roswell, the Aztec case is a totally separate incident, with its own wealth of compelling evidence.

    Coming October 7: Discover new information about the 1952 Flatwoods Monster case and the UFO flap from Frank Feschino, Jr., author of “Shoot Them Down! — The Flying Saucer Air Wars of 1952,” and veteran UFO researcher Stanton T. Friedman.

    REALITY CHECK: IS APPLE AT WAR WITH IPHONE HACKERS?

    One of the big stories this weekend, other than the usual political shenanigans and lurid celebrity gossip, was the claim that some iPhones were turned into bricks by the latest firmware update from Apple. Of course, Apple warned iPhone users about the potential consequences of unlocking their phones, which is intended to allow them to work on other phone systems.

    In the wake of that update, some of those unlocked iPhones were predictably rendered all or mostly inoperable. Yet, it also appears a few phones that were never hacked also suffered in a similar fashion from the firmware revision. Without knowing what may have happened, on rare occasions, firmware updates do fail, but one would hope Apple will remedy such matters forthwith.

    The core question, however, is whether Apple has the right to treat folks who choose to make unsanctioned upgrades to their iPhones in this fashion. Are they playing dirty tricks, or simply acting appropriately?

    Consider another example in a different industry.

    You buy a spanking new $75,000 BMW and, when you get home, you perform various modifications to the engine to improve breathing and give more power and fuel economy. Unfortunately, your hardware alterations eventually result in serious engine damage.

    Does BMW have the obligation to repair that engine under warranty?

    The answer is pretty obvious. They don’t. The new car warranty gives them the right to void the warranty if you damage your vehicle when making unsupported changes of this sort.

    To take this comparison close to home, what if you opened your new Mac Pro and boosted the clock speed of the Xeon processors? While it is possible to do this to a limited degree without degrading chip reliability, if you go to far, the processor may overheat, and damage other parts on your logic board.

    Once again, you are fully responsible for what you did. Apple won’t cover the damage, nor would any other PC maker if you performed similar surgery on one of their products.

    Now I honestly don’t know if Apple did anything to deliberately sabotage unlocked or otherwise altered iPhones with their new firmware. Personally, I don’t think they have to, because the mere act of making serious changes could certainly shut down a third party hack. And if the hack seriously alters the firmware, the phone may be rendered unusable.

    Of course, I realize that the people who do favor third party alterations to their iPhone will be hopping mad at Apple for turning their hot little gadget into an iBrick. But whose fault is it really?

    Indeed, is Apple playing fast and loose with people who want to use the iPhone with services that haven’t made deals with Apple or move beyond the standard software lineup?

    I really don’t think so. You see, Apple has the perfect right to make sure its products are used as designed, and they have no obligation whatever to provide warranty service if you alter your iPhone in a way that damages the product. In order words, you perform a third party software installation at your own risk. While simple software additions may not do any harm, the same can’t be said for unlocking the phone, which appears to be a far more invasive process.

    It’s not that any of this ought to come as a surprise. A few days before the 1.1.1 iPhone software update was released, Apple issued a statement warning about the dire consequences of applying that update to phones that were unlocked. The onscreen instructions you see when you run the updater provide the same warning in strong legalese, so unsavory consequences should not come as a surprise.

    On a practical level, of course, that won’t stop hackers from wanting to take the iPhone into areas where it wasn’t designed to work. At the same time, when they perform their little feats of magic, they ought to also take the responsibility to provide software that will restore the iPhone to its factory condition prior to applying a factory firmware update.

    Then you can decide whether hacking your iPhone is worth it or not. At the very least, the people who are apt to sue Apple for making their iPhones inoperable ought to switch their focus to the true offenders, the people who designed those hacks in the first place. They should be the ones to make sure that their products don’t damage your iPhone.

    In the meantime, till the dust settles, if your iPhone has been altered, find a way to restore it completely before applying any updates from Apple. Better to be safe than sorry.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: TWO UNEXPECTED TECH SUPPORT NIGHTMARES

    Over the years, I’ve said nice things about Amazon and Verizon Wireless. Unfortunately, things change, and sometimes for worse rather than better, so I have to revise some of my opinions.

    Take Amazon. After years of getting first-rate service on everything I ordered, I ran into a particularly irritating problem recently on an order for a software upgrade, costing less than $100.

    It ordering process seemed normal at first, when I got an email acknowledgment of my order, followed, a short time later, by a receipt for payment via a credit card.

    Now normally there would be a follow-up after the purchase was charged, confirming shipment, but it never arrived. The next day I logged onto my account at Amazon and found that they wanted, for some reason, to recharge the card, but couldn’t do so. The reason, of course, was that the card’s meager credit limit had been nearly reached, and there wasn’t room for another purchase of that amount.

    I talked to one of Amazon’s outsourced support people via phone, and despite explaining the situation several times, his grasp of English wasn’t sufficient to deal with a matter of that complexity. So I asked for a supervisor, but the person who answered, after a brief musical interval, sounded like the same person I talked to originally. Indeed it was, and he admitted that he wasn’t a supervisor and finally agreed to call upon one.

    After 20 minutes without a response, I gave up and sent an email support request.

    A day later, and no further response, I requested yet another callback, but this time, there was an announcement that the order tracking system was offline for upgrades. Subsequent attempts to get support failed, so I sent another email, and later finally reached three more people who were equally clueless to the nature of the problem.

    No doubt this order glitch will be resolved before long, but I’m troubled that they can so easily foul up a single order, and make the fix so difficult to achieve.

    The other troubes I’ve encountered lately were caused by Verizon Wireless. Now one of the reasons I’ve stayed with the company is because their customer support, though imperfect, was supposedly the best in the industry. Or at least that’s what most of the reviews state.

    Alas, it seems as if some of Verizon’s support people have acquired a peculiarly nasty attitude. In a recent example, I was due a credit because to a billing error. While the issues were pretty clear-cut and easily explained — and did not involve a large amount of money — Verizon’s reps did their best to stonewall.

    When I asked for a manager to call me back, the first person to contact me exuded rudeness from the get-go. Every time I tried to finish a sentence, he would interrupt. Sometimes he’d just get off the line and let the music play. If they were just trying to wear me down, I held my ground, and was promised a call from another manager the very next day, which never came.

    Again, I expect the problems to be resolved, but why do they have to make it so difficult?

    While I’m not about to give up on Amazon just yet, I am growing increasingly disenchanted with Verizon Wireless. If they are the indeed best in the industry, the wireless providers have some extremely serious problems to overcome.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #409”

    1. Loyal reader says:

      Be careful what you say about Verizon, they may follow AT&T’s new policy. I saw this on “boing-boing”. Unbelievable!!!!!!!!!

      New AT&T terms of service: We’ll cut off your Internet connection for criticizing us
      Posted by Cory Doctorow, September 29, 2007 10:23 AM | # | Discuss (67)
      AT&T has brought down new Terms of Service for its network customers. From now on, AT&T can terminate your connection for conduct that “tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.” So AT&T customers aren’t allowed to write/podcast/vlog critical things about AT&T, its billing-practices, or its cooperation with illegal NSA wiretapping, on pain of having their connections disconnected. Link on slashdot.org

    2. Be careful what you say about Verizon, they may follow AT&T’s new policy. I saw this on “boing-boing”. Unbelievable!!!!!!!!!

      New AT&T terms of service: We’ll cut off your Internet connection for criticizing us
      Posted by Cory Doctorow, September 29, 2007 10:23 AM | # | Discuss (67)
      AT&T has brought down new Terms of Service for its network customers. From now on, AT&T can terminate your connection for conduct that “tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.” So AT&T customers aren’t allowed to write/podcast/vlog critical things about AT&T, its billing-practices, or its cooperation with illegal NSA wiretapping, on pain of having their connections disconnected. Link on slashdot.org

      I am reconciled to the fact that all wireless phone services suck. 🙁

      Beyond that, I still have some time left on my Verizon contract, so unless I can break it or sell it off, or whatever, I’m not going anywhere for a while.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Tristan says:

      Quickly, thanks Gene for a great website! I completely agree with you about the iPhone update saga… While I would hope that Apple would not purposely go out of their way to destroy a hacked phone, I think the people who DID hack their phone then update really should not be pointing fingers at Apple! I am typing this email on my iPhone which is hacked and on the Vodafone network, I know that I cannot run the updates and still have a working phone, so I live with it! While I would love to have Tunes WiFi it’s not a feature that I had when I bought the phone, so I’m not gonna miss it! At least not until iPhone Dev Team figures out how to make 1.1.1 install on my phone!

    4. J. Sheppard says:

      Cory Doctorow, huh? I’d rather believe Abbe Hoffman, or Tom Hayden, or, heck, any politician for the truth. Obviously, naieveté yet runs rampant. sheesh!

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