Intego Mac Podcast, Episode #128: Medical ID, Apple Updates, Intel Vulnerabilities, and More

Josh and Kirk discuss how to set up a medical ID on an iPhone and Apple Watch, we cover this week’s Apple updates, we look at a new Intel CPU bug, and more.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode #127: How to Adapt to Working From Home

Many people are required to work from home for the foreseeable future, so Josh and Kirk have decided to give some tips about working from home, something they both do.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

A Better Way to View macOS’s System Preferences

The System Preferences app in macOS organizes hundreds of discrete settings behind a couple dozen preferences panes. Navigating the app is a bit confusing, because of the way the icons are organized. By default, the icons are sorted by “category,” but I really don’t understand what the categories are.

Pref category

The top section is clear: it’s about me and my Apple ID. And the bottom section, where third-party preferences go, that’s clear too. But what about the other two? I don’t see anything in common across the different preferences. What could make sense would be if there were, say, user preferences in one section and administrator preferences in the other, but some preference panes – such as Sceurity & Privacy – have options available to users, and others that are locked and require administrator access.

(Update: A reader commented with an explanation for the different sections. The second section is “personal” settings, and the third is “hardware” settings. See this article.)

But there’s a better way to view them: choose View > Organize Alphabetically.

Prefs alphabetically

Not only are the preferences easier to find, because you can scan according to the name of the preferences you’re looking for, but the entire window is more compact.

Free Take Control Book about Working From Home Temporarily

Tc working homeI’m in my 25th year of working from home as a freelancer, and over the years I’ve learned how to work productively, and how to avoid wasting (too much) time. A lot of people are suddenly discovering what it’s like to have to work from home temporarily.

Glenn Fleishman, a fellow author of Take Control books, has just released a free book with tips and advice on how to set up a home office, and how to get work done. Like me, Glenn has been working at home for years.

As the book blurb for the free Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily says:

We’re in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. In the middle of a global viral outbreak, you were told or asked to work from home—and you’ve never or rarely had to be productive where you live before. What to do? We’re here to take at some stress out of your life with a new, free book that details how to set up a home office and balance work and home life for those not accustomed to it.

Did I say that the book is free?

In this book, you’ll learn more about how to:

  • Stake out a physical space, even if it involves setting up a curtain or moving a bookshelf
  • Pick or adjust a chair if you plan to sit
  • Figure out the right mic and headphones or speakers for your needs
  • Add a monitor for efficiency, or use software to turn an iPad or other devices into a second display
  • Stand while you work without necessarily investing in a new desk
  • Set working hours to avoid never being off the clock
  • Put up a sign or otherwise signify when you’re working to those around you
  • Invest a tiny amount or a lot into noise-canceling headphones or earbuds
  • Use videoconferencing to replace meetings and casual conversation you miss from an office
  • Adjust your expectations and that of your employer to how much work you can produce, initially and in the long haul
  • Take regular breaks to avoid burnout, but if you get in the zone, you can stay there, too
  • Juggle the simultaneous burdens of full-time home parenting with home working
  • Remember to eat lunch

If you’re new to working at home, get Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily. It’s free. As in beer.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode #63: Sharing Photos

Photos are meant to be shared, but with digital photos the options multiply. In this episode, Kirk McElhearn and Jeff Carlson look at several ways to share photos with friends and family.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode #126: The History of Apple Malware, with Guest John McAfee

Malware has affected Apple computers since even before the release of the Macintosh. In fact, the very first computer virus that spread in the wild affected the Apple II. We discus the history of Apple malware, and we talk with John McAfee, creator of the first commercial antivirus, about how he created the software.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Sonos Really Sucks at Communication

Sonos has again gone back on a controversial decision they made, but this time it’s too late for a lot of people.

Late last year, Sonos announced a “Trade Up program,” whereby people with certain older devices could trade them in for a 30% discount. They wouldn’t physically send them to Sonos, who didn’t want to be bothered recycling them; they would be responsible for recycling them themselves. And they couldn’t keep them, because they would be bricked after 21 days.

The company was roundly criticized for creating e-waste. The goal, which we didn’t know at the time, was to get customers to upgrade from devices that would later be classified as “obsolete,” and that wouldn’t receive software updates.

Well, the company has changed their tune on both of these controversial moves. First, they walked back the original claim about obsolete devices, saying now that they will find a way for them to still be used, and that they are changing the policy of bricking older devices, according to The Verge.

In this case, you’ll get the 30% discount, and your older device will still work. So you can recycle it if you wish, or, I’m sure many people will keep the older devices, or give them away. Some may also sell them, and if you think that you can buy an older Sonos device cheaply, then use it to get the 30% discount on a newer device, be careful. I’m sure the company is keeping track of the serial numbers of devices used for the discount. It’s worth noting that Sonos’ support document about recycle mode does not yet specify this change.

I feel bad for Sonos. They had a great reputation in audio and tech circles, and they’ve blown it by not thinking carefully about what they should have known were two controversial decisions. They should hire some PR people to help them not make similar mistakes again.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 125: RSA Conference 2020 Highlights

Josh attended this year’s RSA Conference, one of the big meet-ups about computer security, and discusses what he learned there. We also cover news about smart speakers listening to your conversations (again), a copy/paste issue that Apple says isn’t a big deal, and a new limitation by Safari for HTTPS certificates, that will affect some websites.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

What if Apple Delays the iPhone 12?

Major events continue to be cancelled around the world, due to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. The first major event was the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, scheduled to be held in late February. Since then, Google and Facebook announced the cancellation of their developer conferences, and other smaller events have been cancelled as well. Yesterday, the London Book Fair was cancelled. And today, the news says that both Apple and Netflix have pulled out of SXSW, the annual everything festival in Austin, Texas, due to start in about a week.

Sporting events have been cancelled, some will be played in empty stadiums, or “behind closed doors,” and it seems unlikely that the Summer Olympics, scheduled to be held on Tokyo, will not either be cancelled or played without spectators.

Apple’s cancellation of their presence at SXSW, where the company was planning to highlight some new Apple TV+ programming, suggests that the company is already planning to cancel their Worldwide Developer Conference in June, though it’s possible, even likely, that the conference goes on, but as a virtual event. Many developers I know have said that they would regret this, because one of the benefits of the San Francisco meet-up is networking with other developers, and the ability to speak with Apple engineers face to face.

The next question is whether Apple will delay the iPhone 12, and whether other companies will push back release of new devices planned for later this year.

Here in the UK, preparation for the pandemic is moving ahead slowly and methodically, without any panic or seeming confusion at the head of government (in stark contrast to a certain country, where it seems that the disease is thought of, at the highest levels, as a “hoax”). This morning, the head of Public Health England was speaking to a parliamentary committee, suggested that the epidemic in this country would last about six months: two to three months as it ramps up, and another two to three months as it winds down. This is assuming that there are not multiple waves of the illness, of course.

With this in mind, and with China most likely not out of the woods, Apple, and other tech companies, will face two problems. The first is their supply chain. Being so heavily dependent on China for manufacturing – in retrospect, people will point out how foolish this eggs-in-one-basket strategy was – it may be impossible for Apple to have enough devices built to meet potential demand. If any one component cannot be sourced in sufficient quantities, phones, computers, or tablets cannot be finished. And the logistics of shipping devices may be complicated if a lot of workers in different countries are off sick.

And as far as consumers are concerned, if people do stay off from work for several weeks, the economy will take a big hit, and it’s likely that many people won’t be able to afford new iPhones at the end of the year, whether they upgrade annually or every two or three years.

As for the Apple upgrade program, which I have used for the past two iPhone models, here in the UK – unlike in the US – you have to go to an Apple store to hand in your old phone and sign up for a new one. If there is an epidemic, there’s no way I’m going to a crowded Apple store in a closed mall to exchange my phone. I’ll continue to pay for the same model until I’ve paid it off in full. Perhaps they’d change that this year – after all, Apple has just closed some stores in Italy, and they certainly don’t want to put their retail employees at risk.

So what if Apple does delay the iPhone 12? I’ve long felt that the annual upgrade cycle for mobile phones is artificial and unnecessary. In the early days, there were big changes from model to model, but now we see tiny incremental changes, mostly affecting the devices’ cameras. What if Apple decided to move to a two-year cycle, starting with the next model? It would certainly change their revenue model, but would it be that negative? They’d have more time to get things right in their operating systems; while macOS and iOS don’t need to be tied to this annual cycle, they are, causing a lot of frustration when new features don’t work well and when new releases are full of bugs.

Apple’s stock would probably take a hit, but it’s shot up so much recently that I think the market would be fine with a more restrained rate of return. Over the past year, before the coronavirus effect, it had nearly doubled. But this could also be a more responsible way to sell these devices: it would cause less exploitation of mineral deposits, result in less waste, and make the company think differently about responsibly selling electronic devices in an era when we need to pull back due to climate change. If there’s one company who could lead in this area, it’s Apple; in part because they want to be a socially responsible company, and in part because they can afford it.

Delaying the iPhone 12 – and perhaps some other device upgrades – could be a reasonable way to face the pandemic that is upon us, and a responsible way to plan for the future.

How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 24: Ethernet

So here we are again, with yet another magical hardware device to make music sound better. This one is an Ethernet switch; it’s what you use to, for example, connect to a router then connect a bunch of Ethernet cables, with then connect to other devices. They could be computers, wi-fi access points, other switches, or even audio equipment. Some receivers and amplifiers have Ethernet jacks to received digital audio.

First, a brief primer about Ethernet. It’s a technology used to send data over cables, and most networking uses TCP/IP, very robust protocol that has been around for decades, and has been standardized. It is what runs the internet and most networking. A Wikipedia article explains the main element of Ethernet that makes it so robust:

Systems communicating over Ethernet divide a stream of data into shorter pieces called frames. Each frame contains source and destination addresses, and error-checking data so that damaged frames can be detected and discarded; most often, higher-layer protocols trigger retransmission of lost frames.

The bit about error-checking data and retransmission of frames is what’s important. You see, unlike analog data – think of an old TV where you get your signal over the air, and there can be static – each frame, or unit of data, which can be from 64 bytes to 1518 bytes, is checksummed before it is sent, then after it is received. If the checksums don’t match, the frames are resent.

This is very important. Let’s say you’re reading this article on a computer connected via Ethernet to your router. Upstream from there, the router gets data from a series of network devices, from your local exchange, from other switches, finally from the original server sending you data. If data correction is not used, it’s possible that some data gets corrupted during transmission, and you might lose some of it, or some might be garbled. In which case, you would be reading some random sequence of characters instead of what I’ve written; or some of the words and sentences would be missing.

So think about how that works with music. When you send music from a server – be it Apple Music, Spotify, or your own computer – it is sent the same way. Your hardware devices don’t know that it’s music; they only know that it’s frames of data that has to perfectly match what was sent. If not, it is resent. This happens very quickly, and data is buffered to allow for resent frames to catch up and be correctly reassembled. I’m simplifying a bit, but you can be certain that, with working hardware, the data sent is exactly the same as the data received.

Anyway, back to our hardware hawker. According to the venerable What-HiFi:

The Chord Company has relaunched a Great British brand to front its audio electronics business, English Electric, and has demoed its first product – a hi-fi grade network switch.

Beyond the question of whether this product serves any purpose, this company is capitalizing on a recent trend in the UK, among a certain demographic, of wanting “great British brands,” and “blue passports.” (Search the term “gammon” on Google.)

So, what is this device?

English Electric announced the device at the Bristol Hi-Fi Show with claims that the English Electric 8switch can act as a filter for streamed audio to remove unwanted noise which regular computer industry-made switches and routers never consider.

Let’s highlight the magical thinking above:

unwanted noise which regular computer industry-made switches and routers never consider

They are saying that there is “unwanted noise” on network hardware, and that “regular computer industry-made switches and routers never consider.” Let’s think about this. When Netflix streams 4K video, do you think they “never consider” “unwanted noise?” Or that banks, for example, don’t care about noise that could cause data loss or corruption?

Actually, they don’t, because it doesn’t exist. Ethernet, and the protocols it uses, don’t have “noise.” They have 1s and 0s, and error checking, and retransmission, to ensure that the data sent matches the data received. It’s true that you can have cables that malfunction; when that happens, they simply don’t work, because there are too many errors to correct. (You can see this if you ever have a bad HDMI cable; it’s a mess, with lots of artifacts and pixelation.)

But, says the magazine:

The 8switch will come with its own unique power supply and feature better separation with the idea of “making nastier sounding tracks better”.

Now this is something different. Not the bit about “making nastier sounding tracks better,” which is just marketing copy written by someone who didn’t attend much school, but having it’s own “unique power supply” could make a difference to noise; at least the noise that you hear if you put your ear really close to the device. Because while a bad power supply could create a hum, or ground loop, in an amplifier, it will not do anything to an Ethernet switch. If the power works, the data is sent and received. It doesn’t matter if there’s a hum, or if the power is “dirty” as people in the audio fantasyland like to say. If the cables aren’t broken, the data is sent correctly. If the cables are broken, then there’s too many frames that aren’t received correctly, and data won’t flow. It’s not like data comes through looking like this:

Gur 8fjvgpu jvyy pbzr jvgu vgf bja havdhr cbjre fhccyl naq srngher orggre frcnengvba jvgu gur vqrn bs “znxvat anfgvre fbhaqvat genpxf orggre”.

Oh, and it costs £400. You can get an 8-port Ethernet switch for about £21 on Amazon.

But back to the brand. This is, apparently, a truly great British brand:

English Electric was originally founded in 1918 in the armistice of the First World War by amalgamating five companies which had been used in the war effort to manufacture munitions, armaments and aeroplanes. It became defunct in 1968 after some notable successes including the English Electric trains and the supersonic English Electric Lightning jet.

And as the article ends:

Expect to hear from English Electric later in the year.

I shall hold my breath.