The headphones included with iPods and iPhones aren't too resilient. Not nearly as bad as some "ultra-cheapo" earphones I have used before, but not especially tough either. When my iPhone's right earbud stopped playing sound, I figured it would be easy to get a replacement. After all, I had had a similar problem with my iPod nano a while ago and when I went into the Stonestown Apple Store very near me here in San Franciso, the Apple person simply pulled out a new one from his pocket and gave it to me. He didn't check my warranty status, saying that he trusted me when I said I had a week or two left. So I expected pretty much the same treatment when I found myself nearby the same store and decided to stop in for a replacement. The concierge at the entrance immediately said "Oh yes, the warranty is still good" and that she would get me one. She took my phone and headset and returned a few minutes later with a slightly unhappy look on her face. "I'm sorry, but you need to speak to a Genius." When I asked if there was a problem, she said no, that it was just their policy that people needed to speak to a Genius, that they couldn't simply give one to me. Even though it was obviously still in warranty and it would take all of two seconds to verify that it was indeed malfunctioning. I could hardly argue and didn't have time to arrange for an appointment at that time, so I simply returned a couple of weeks later, after making an appointment. This time, the Genius took my phone into the back room for a few minutes, and then emerged with a new set of earbuds for me. I wonder if he checked if I had hacked it. I mean, what test could he possibly perform in the back room that he could not perform out in front of me, in the lobby of the store itself? Do they attach the phone to some kind of device and scan its ROM? He wasn't gone more than a few minutes, so I doubt that happened. Perhaps be peered down into the hole where you plug the headset in, and didn't want me to see him to that. If you get a chance to look into an iPhone there, you'll see a light colored dot down in the bottom of the hole. That's a moisture detector, what Apple calls a "liquid submersion indicator" (see http://
While at the store, I again marvelled at the small size of the MacBook Air, but wasn't nearly as impressed with the thin Apple keyboard. I had never typed on one before, but made it a point to check one out this time. Frankly, I had some real trouble with it. Sure, it is thin, but I like to have some movement with my keys, some sense that I really am pushing down buttons. The idea of a keyboard that is very thin and almost doesn't feel like a keyboard at all is certainly appealing, like the virtual keyboard that is just a little device that shines light on a table that looks a bit like a keyboard, and you tap the surface of the table where the light shines the appropriate key, but in practical terms, is such a minimal keyboard truly useful? Could you write a novel on it? Or even a short story? Honestly, I would not want to compose even an e-mail message on one. Nothing today compares to the keyboard on the original IBM "Selectric" electric typewriter (I probably used a Selectric II model) but I keep hoping that someday there will be such a keyboard. I can't recall if it was the original IBM PC/
We were hoping for big news about the SDK, and Apple appears to have delivered pretty much all we were hoping for. Apple will give access to Cocoa Touch (multi-touch events and controls, the camera and Accelerometer, etc.) Media (Core Audio and Animation, audio recording and mixing, even Embedded OpenGL), Core Services (the Address Book, apparently even file access) and Core OS including the kernel, TCP/
There are some drawbacks to the iPhone system design, unfortunately. Apple says "Only one iPhone application can run at a time, and third-party applications never run in the background. This means that when users switch to another application, answer the phone, or check their email, the application they were using quits. It’s important to make sure that users do not experience any negative effects because of this reality." Some Apple apps run in the background, to some extent, and I can easily imagine some developers finding a way around this limitation, or needing to depending on their app. For example, instant messenger clients depend on running in the background, only alerting you to activity once a message actually arrives. Apple's model is fine if all you do is IM and you never need to switch to another application, but when you switch to Mail or Safari or whatever, not having a background process to alert you to the arrival of an IM is completely crippling. Apple needs to make some public event notification system. Without one, we lose a critical strength of an SDK. But despite shortcomings, I am quite sure that we are looking at a truly brand new platform.
Apple's recent shareholders meeting appears to have been a lively affair, but there was little criticism of the drop in share prices over the last few months. The US economy in general seems to be at fault rather than anything Apple has done. Rather the opposite it true. Apple products all seem to be dong very well, and the Mac is returning as a platform that deserves acknowledgment if not acceptance in the business world. And the iPhone might just be the wedge that Apple finds extremely effective to force more Macs into the business market. Just like the iPod helps drive along Mac sales, so too can the iPhone.
Keyboard loggers, mail passwords, and other privacy issues
All the keyloggers and security issues cropping up really are quite worrisome. Here's an example that, while seemingly trivial, still causes harm to innocent people: account theft in massively multiplayer online role-playing games, to wit, World of Warcraft. Yes, it may seem like an inconsequential problem, but keep in mind that some people have invested thousands of hours into building up their online characters, creating powerful and unique personas that just happen to also possess items that other people would like to have. A mini-industry has been created by "gold farmers," literally commercial companies that hire dozens or more people to play World of Warcraft all day and collect gold and items which the company then sells for hard currency, for real money. These gold farmers imbalance the in-game economy, let people with more real-world money than game skill gain economic power, interfere with the day-to-day enjoyment of regular and players, and players who use them are -- frankly -- cheating. If gold farmers simply generated in-game wealth themselves it would be an irritating but possibly manageable problem. However, hackers are turning their attention to the 10 million WoW players and there are keyloggers out there today that are specifically created to capture MMO login names and passwords. Once they get one, the criminals log into the account and either strip as much from the characters as possible, selling or destroying most items in the character's posession, or they immediately pay for a transfer to another server where they then strip the character bare. If you play World of Warcraft, you will probably recognize the name "Shadow Labyrinth," one of the many dungeons that World of Warcraft players can explore. It turns out that the gold thieves have discovered an exploit in there where they can quickly gather treasure, which explains why many bewildered, hacked players log into the game and find themselves in Shadow Labyrinth. Blizzard, the developer of World of Warcraft, does get very involved when people's accounts are hacked, and players will often have their stolen goods returned to them. But it doesn't make up for the violation, of the intrusion into what should be their predictable and stable environment. World of Warcraft is so often the target of such attacks because it is essentially the Microsoft Windows of the MMO gaming industry. Other, smaller games don't have nearly the same quantity of dollars swirling around them, and are consequently less interesting targets.
Of course, keyloggers can capture your banking information, your online shopping accounts, all kinds of compromising information. How do you protect yourself from them? Unfortunately, the vector of installation of some of these keyloggers and other malware can be difficult to determine, and even rather surprising. For example, some digital picture frames (LCD panels that display a series of photographs you copy to it) imported into the US from China recently had the Mocmex or W32.
Besides keeping up to date with antivirus software, I also recommend you use some kind of anti-spyware program (I use AdAware) and also switch to FireFox. Once you do, install NoScript, a terrific plugin that prevents cross-site scripting, or XSS, another vector the bad guys use to get malware onto your computer.
E. Gary Gygax
I was very sad to learn of the passing of a legend in the gaming industry, E. Gary Gygax, the co-inventor of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons and thereby of the entire role-playing game industry. I have in my hands my copy of the "white box" D&D that he and Dave Arneson co-produced in the 1970s (my copy is copyright 1974) with all the various supplements like Greyhawk and Blackmoor. World of Warcraft is a direct descendant from D&D, but I think, in some ways, D&D is still superior. The imagination will always be superior to a computer graphic.