• Newsletter Issue #853

    April 4th, 2016


    One thing I enjoy about hosting  The Tech Night Owl LIVE is the unexpected, when a guest says something that I might not have predicted. This was particularly true with ethical hacker Dr. Timothy Summers, who has been on the show several times due to his extensive knowledge of security.

    This past week, with the Apple/FBI dispute essentially deflated, I asked Dr. Summers to define the differences between encryption in iOS and Android. Color me somewhat surprised when he announced that he believed the latter is more secure because it is less predictable. What that means is that there are several encryption schemes, and it’s not certain whether any individual user has installed one or more than one, as he has. With Apple, it’s one system that is deployed to everyone.

    I grant that being more predictable might make it easier for hackers to find backdoors, but without knowing what method the FBI employees used to unlock an iPhone 5c, it’s hard to say. It may have been the result of a tech trick, loading the flash memory into RAM on a PC, testing 10 passcodes, and reloading the RAM to try 10 more. Eventually the correct passcode is discovered. Fortunately, the terrorist used a four-digit passcode, which meant 10,000 possible combinations. With six-digit passwords, the method Apple is urging on its customers, there’d be one million possible combinations, which would have greatly lengthened the time it took to unlock the handset.

    If that’s the technique they used, but that’s not been confirmed. And would hardware encryption be more robust than software encryption, which is essentially divorced from the hardware and thus limits the opportunities to protect the device?

    Just wondering.

    In any case, on this week’s episode, we presented columnist John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer. At the top of John’s agenda this week was Apple’s dispute with the FBI over an iPhone 5c used by a terrorist. Now that the authorities have recovered data from it, is the dispute over — or is it beginning? The very thought took us to a compelling issue, that, to John, iPhone technology is “indistinguishable from magic.” John also explained why he feels Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro will “breathe new life into the product line.” He also talked about OS X, which debuted as a Public Beta in 2000. Is it time for Apple to think about making OS X and iOS more proactive, more intelligent?

    Youl also heard from ethical hacker Dr. Timothy Summers, President of Summers & Company, a cyber strategy and organizational design consulting firm. Dr. Summers participated in a thorough discussion of the ins and outs of the FBI’s solution to unlocking that iPhone. He also speculated about what techniques the authorities may have employed to recover the data, and whether that method can possibly present security problems for users. The discussion concluded with credit card safety and whether Bitcoin has seen its day. Is there anything about the Bitcoin financial model that banks might still find useful?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: We welcome cutting-edge commentator Greg Bishop, of “Radio Misterioso,” to talk about his fascinating new book, “It Defies Language.” The book, with amazing illustrations from Red Pill Junkie, is “A collection of essays about the UFO subject and related phenomena. The first chapter discusses the U.S. Government’s involvement along with the author’s personal experiences with agents and military personnel. The text also includes historical perspectives on the subject, and theories and opinions on the current search for answers about UFOs from a viewpoint that is neither belief-based nor that of a doctrinaire skeptic. There are also entries about square craters on the Moon, black-eyed kids, and baseball games at Area 51.” Nick Redfern wrote the foreword.


    Some people are making a huge deal of Apple’s 40th anniversary. I suppose if you’ve followed every little thing the company has done since the original Apple I arrived, you might feel pleased the company has not only survived but prospered over the years despite the obstacles. That’s no mean achievement for any business.

    But in 1976, I really wasn’t thinking about some fledgling personal computer company in the Silicon Valley. Not that I didn’t work on computers. I was actually using a typesetting computer at work in the heart of New York City, plying my trade as I attempted to reinvent myself after disengaging from a bad business deal. That year, I also met and married Barbara, and we’re still together.

    My first exposure to anything with the Apple logo on it came a few years later, when I was working at a prepress studio in mid-Manhattan, just off Fifth Avenue. One of the members of the sales staff set up an Apple II in his tiny office, and used it to store contact information about clients and pending commissions. Ever curious about gadgets, I’d drop in there occasionally, as he happily demonstrated what his little gadget could do.

    I vowed to buy one of those things some day.

    Well, I didn’t actually receive regular exposure to anything from Apple until the mid-1980s. My employer had purchased a Mac strictly as an experiment, to explore the fledgling desktop publishing revolution and prepare for the company’s future. They also leased a CompuGraphic output device for the high resolution paper and film output and an Apple LaserWriter II to handle document proofing.

    As one of the tech freaks at the office, I had the honor of experimenting with this setup.

    At first, only a handful of jobs found their way to that machine. Over time, more and more clients bought their own Macs, installed QuarkXPress or PageMaker, and generated completed documents for us to print for them. So instead of preparing documents from scratch, the job became less about producing original work and more about managing the finished products of others. I had to feel lucky that I had a job at all, as traditional typesetting was a dying profession.

    I knew I’d have to transfer all my skills to the new paradigm. So I went ahead and leased a Mac system for my home. It had to be able to produce professional calibre work, and thus I leased a Mac II cx, a color display and a LaserWriter II NT, a small selection of fonts and the requisite apps to put it all together. In those days, it was QuarkXPress and Adobe Illustrator, as the minimum. A few years later, with the arrival of Adobe Photoshop, I added that app to my growing library too.

    My initial investment totaled more than $14,000, and that was far from the most expensive Mac system available. For a little perspective, you could buy a 1989 Honda Accord LX auto for an MSRP of $14,790.

    When it came to fonts, I lucked out. From time to time, I would do work at home for my employer, and thus I was included as a part of their font license. Thus I was technically able to store a library of hundreds of fonts legally. It was only later that I discovered that this font library had mostly been pirated by my employer, largely by retaining copies of the fonts they received from clients to output their work. Those fonts were supposed to be trashed after the documents were printed, at least according to the license terms of the time.

    I do very little in the way of desktop publishing these days, and I only rely on the fonts I actually own, or license. That Adobe library is probably here somewhere, on a set of floppy disks or CDs, but I don’t use them anymore. Besides, the statute of limitations has probably long since expired, in case Adobe wants to send someone over to see what I still have in my possession.

    Oh, and when I finally left that company, I never received my last paycheck. But that’s a long story.

    In the early 1990s, I had begun to help people manage their Macs as a forum person on AOL. It was a paying gig, though hardly a living wage. But my public presence caught the attention of Macworld magazine and a tech book publisher. I was able to leverage that forum position to become a published author and a freelance writer. I earned a pretty good income from writing for a number of years.

    Through it all, the Mac was my primary work tool. But I did have to write about Windows from time to time, or review a Windows-based product. I either struggled through a Windows emulator on my Mac, a really painful process since it was so slow, or received occasional use of a genuine PC. Running Windows on a Mac didn’t become practical until Apple switched to Intel processors in 2006, thus paving the way for a new generation of Windows virtual machines.

    For me, the Mac was less about the life and times of Steve Jobs and company, and more about having the right personal computer to get the job done. There was never a doubt that I had made the correct choice.

    Take this example: Over the years, I worked in settings where Windows users were also present. While working at one of those prepress outfits, I became friendly with one of those PC fans, who served as a proofreader. We shared an interest in science fiction and UFOs.

    Well, I had purchased an early terminal app to make it possible to  join an online bulletin board system (BBS) to exchange messages with fellow travelers It was an early version of instant messaging before AIM and other schemes took over.

    For me, getting connected was simply a matter of launching an app known as Microphone, opening a session and dialing up someone else’s computer modem. My friend wanted to “talk” with me online, and struggled to create a shell on his PC to make it possible. It continued to fail, and weeks went by without success. I didn’t want to embarrass him, but I would occasionally ask him if he ever achieved any progress in setting up his PC to join my online session.

    The best he could do was stammer an excuse about having other things to do, but at the end of the day, his efforts never succeeded. A few months later, I stopped asking.

    Over the years, I have strived to be practical about the gear I bought. It was always about getting the most efficient tool for the job. While the competition has come closer over the years, I cannot imagine working near as efficiently without my Macs, my iPhone and, sometimes, an iPad. While Apple has never come close to perfection — and some suggest software quality isn’t near as good as it used to be — I have managed to stay productive for over 30 years with products that bear the Apple logo.

    I have bought cars from many different manufacturers, from companies in the U.S., Germany, Japan and South Korea. Regardless of the brand, I have been able to settle on a safe and enjoyable motoring experience, and not have to retrain myself since most controls are universal and perform the same functions. When it comes to computing appliances, I’ve tried other brands and platforms from time to time. I once spent seven months using Samsung handsets exclusively.

    But I’ve always returned to Apple. Through its many ups and downs, for me this company delivers the best tool for the job, bar none. That it’s made it through 40 years may, to some, seem a miracle. To me it’s more about solving problems and delivering a mostly enjoyable experience doing so.


    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
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
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