Unleashed

Apple is hosting a virtual “Special Event” on Monday, October 18. This graphic is the only information released so far:

Apple Special Event, October 18: Unleashed

Things Apple may announce at the event:

  • A new line of clothing created from recycled packing materials from iPhone shipping containers.
  • A new charging connector that not only isn’t interchangeable with any other connector on the market, but it also will be on backorder until at least 2024.
  • A new high-end MacBook Pro, possibly in both 14″ and 16″ flavors, using a new Apple Silicon CPU chip.
  • A release date for the next version of the macOS operating system, macOS Big Sur.
  • Possibly something having to do with robot gerbils.

We will talk about whatever Apple announces on the very next day, at the Strait Macintosh User Group Meeting.

Privacy settings for websites

Privacy Reset: A guide to the important settings you should change now” is a Washington Post article you can read for free, and should.

With the almost complete lack of legislation on privacy or security in the United States (plenty of regulation of government sites, almost nothing for individuals or companies), the European Union has taken the lead on both issues. While some large corporations took an early lead in adopting EU regulations as a foundation for revamped privacy and security policies, more recently there has been a push to turn this into something of a game: make customization of privacy and security a maze, and hope the individual users never figure out how to escape.

This article is well worth your attention.

https://wapo.st/3o2SVkL

Homework for talking about email

Email has been around since 1971, when a researcher sent a message to another researcher on a different computer across a network. The two machines were right next to each other, which is oddly similar to things we see today, such as two family members sending email messages to each other from different rooms in the same house, or even different ends of the same couch.

While incredibly useful, email is also very dangerous, as it has been used to end relationships and marriages, start gang wars, manipulate people for political ends, and commit outright crimes. It also has another dark side, which is email’s role in some of the darker aspects of social media.

In preparation for the September 21, 2021 meeting, it would be advantageous if participants did some homework. A short interview with a CBS News editor who has research “dark patterns” will take only about six minutes of your time, and you can view it on either YouTube or the CBS News site:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/manipulative-advertising-technology-dark-patterns/

The second piece of homework requires more of a commitment, as it is a one hour, 33 minute documentary titled “The Social Dilemma.” It is available on Netflix, via your phone, computer, Apple TV, or smart TV app. If you aren’t a Netflix subscriber, it is also available, until the end of September 2021, on YouTube, for free:

You can also read about this award-winning documentary on their website,

While you might think that neither of these video pieces has anything to do with email, many of the problems presented are founded in how email (and the web) work, and watching these two videos will give you a better understanding of why you should prune, sort, delete, archive, and generally treat email as a useful but unruly plant rather than simply a tool.

Give both videos a close look. They are definitely not boring.

California Streaming, September 14

Apple will have a live, virtual event on September 14 at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. You can read about it on Apple’s site, which says nothing at all:

https://www.apple.com/apple-events/?cid=CDM-USA-DM-P0021399-484205

Slightly more was released on Apple’s Twitter account,

It isn’t a very useful or informative tweet, but it is pretty.

What people think Apple will talk about are new iPhones and possibly Apple Watch models, plus new versions of iOS, iPadOS, WatchOS, and probably tvOS (for the Apple TV). Some commentators are speculating the event may also announce more Macs, but traditionally that has followed at a separate event in late September or early October.

Whatever they announce, we will probably talk about it at the SMUG meeting on September 21.

Urgent Western Digital MyBook alert

Many users have a Western Digital MyBook external drive, either for storing data or for use as a Time Machine storage unit. These units were routinely sold at Costco, BestBuy, Amazon, and other retailers, and offer lots of storage space at a low price.

However, while we recommend that everyone immediately erase and reformat any storage device they buy, before putting it to use, and not install any software that comes with the device, most people don’t do any of these things. This is proving to be a problem, as hackers have found a way to reach across the Internet to the MyBook drives, and use the custom software to wipe out all data.

You can find a discussion of the problem here:

https://krebsonsecurity.com/2021/06/mybook-users-urged-to-unplug-devices-from-internet/

What to do if you have a MyBook

If you own a Western Digital external drive, it is probably a MyBook. While the current alert is only for the MyBook Live and MyBook Duo models, the underlying software for all MyBooks is pretty much the same. Unless you are absolutely, positively certain you did erase and reformat the drive before using it, and you did not activate Western Digital’s software, you should:

  • Buy another external drive compatible with your Mac. If your Mac has USB 3.0 ports, an external USB 3.0 drive should work, regardless of manufacturer. Do not get a USB 1.1 or 2.0 drive.
  • Use Disk Utility (in your Utilities directory) to erase the drive, and then reformat the drive. Depending on which version of macOS you are using, exactly how this is presented may differ, but after erasure, you want to make sure the drive is formatted as macOS Extended.
  • After preparing your new drive, copy everything off your Western Digital MyBook to the new drive.
  • Once everything is copied, use Disk Utility to erase and reformat the MyBook. At that point, you can use the MyBook for whatever you want, including using it as a Time Machine storage.

In the words of the Mandalorian, “This is the way.” There is no simpler shortcut: you need to transfer everything off your MyBook to another drive, and completely erase and reformat your MyBook. You need to do this right now.

Note that the article mentions Western Digital considers these devices “obsolete” and they are no longer covered by Western Digital warranty or product support. It is entirely up to you to protect yourself.

Amazon Sidewalk and Opt-in

There have been a rash of news stories talking about Amazon Sidewalk. As for what it is, it is best to let Amazon explain:

Essentially, it allows certain devices made by Amazon (Ring doorbell, the various models of Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc.) to “share” radio bandwidth with anyone in range with a device that can use Amazon Alexa. Amazon says it is unobtrusive, and helps you stay connected with your devices when you are in your yard or garage.

The problem? It is not an “opt-in” feature. You probably didn’t request it. And you have no control over who uses it. Amazon says it is secure, but allowing anonymous users to tap into your home or office network, even in a “friendly” way to “assist” them, is alarming.

But there is good news. First of all, it doesn’t appear to be available locally. I’ve looked at several Amazon Alexa devices around the Olympic Peninsula, and none of them listed Amazon Sidewalk as an option; you couldn’t turn it on or off because it just wasn’t there. Of course, even plain concrete sidewalks are rare on the Peninsula.

Second, it is easy to turn off. After getting loads of criticism for not telling people about Sidewalk, Amazon posted simple instructions for turning Sidewalk on or off:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=GZ4VSNFMBDHLRJUK

This brings us back to the original problem: Amazon did not tell users about Amazon Sidewalk. It was not announced to all Alexa users, it was not explained in terms of risks and rewards, and users were not given clear guidance on how to opt out. For more on why this is generally not cool, go take a look at our May 22 posting on the Terms and Conditions Game.

Apple World Wide Developer Conference 2021

If that title is too long for you, Apple’s developer conference is more often known as:

WWDC

Apple WWDC21 event promo on the Apple website.

Once the domain of geeky programmers, systems analysts, security gurus, and hardware engineers, the WWDC has grown into a world-wide event, with programmers and developers and news reporters and average Janes and Joes attending at massively attended events in the San Francisco Bay area.

This year, like 2020, WWDC will be a virtual event, broadcast from a variety of locations, mostly in and around the Apple campus in Cupertino, CA. You can attend the event by either logging into the apple developer site (if you are a developer), or the Apple website at:

https://www.apple.com/apple-events/

Or, if you have an Apple TV, use that to display the keynotes and sessions on your flat-screen TV. (If you still have a tube TV, it probably won’t work).

What to expect:

  • A look at forthcoming iOS and iPadOS advances;
  • A look at forthcoming Apple Watch advances;
  • A look at forthcoming Apple TV advances (maybe?);
  • A look at the next version of the macOS operating system;
  • Possibly a hardware surprise, such as a more powerful MacBook, a bigger iMac, an iPad that doubles as a drone, computerized coffee cups that are inexplicably called “CoffeePods,” a flying Apple Car that doubles as a riding mower — who knows?

The keynote begins at 10 am Pacific Time on Monday, June 7. While there is almost no chance the keynote will put you to sleep, you have the option of playing Keynote Bingo to keep you alert:

https://keynotebingo.github.io/

There is a non-trivial chance we will talk about the WWDC at the next Strait-Mac meeting on June 15.

Apple May 25 security updates

On May 25, Apple released a mass of “Product Security Updates.” These cover most of their most commonly used devices and some specific pieces of software.

  • APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-1 iOS 14.6 and iPadOS 14.6. An update to all currently supported iPhones and iPads. There are currently about 1.8 billion iOS and iPadOS devices.
  • APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-2 macOS Big Sur 11.4. This is a comprehensive update to Apple’s current operating system for the Macintosh.
  • APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-3 Security Update 2021-004 Mojave. This is a partial update to macOS Mojave 10.14. Though it doesn’t result in a version number change, the update covers a long list of potential vulnerabilities and stability issues.
  • APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-4 Security Update 2021-003 Catalina. This is a partial update to macOS Catalina 10.15. Like the Mojave update, it doesn’t result in a version number change, but just the index to the update covers several pages.
  • APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-5 Safari 14.1.1. This update specifically brings Safari (and the underlying WebKit infrastructure used by many other pieces of Mac software) up to Safari 14.1.1 on macOS Catalina and macOS Mojave. This update is also bundled into the macOS Big Sur 11.4, iOS 14.6 and iPadOS 14.6 updates mentioned above.
  • APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-6 watchOS 7.5. This is an update to all currently supported Apple Watches.
  • APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-7 tvOS 14.6. This is an update to all currently supported Apple TV 4K and HD devices. Among other things, it offers support for the new Apple TV Remote.
  • APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-8 Boot Camp 6.1.14. Boot Camp is not used by many Macintosh users, but it allows you to partition your boot drive and install Windows on it.

If you have a device that uses any of these operating systems, it is strongly recommended that you update the device immediately.

And — if you have an older device that cannot support these updates, remember that your device is vulnerable to attack.

April 20, 2021: A virtual meeting vanishes

Based on notes by Kathleen Charters

The April 20 meeting was supposed to be about macOS security, but we never got that far. The Q&A (Question & Answer) session started at 6:30 p.m., as usual. We had a steady stream of questions about Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event and, just as the session was winding down, the Zoom session crashed.

Or so it seems: it turns out that Wave Broadband had cut the host’s TV, telephone and Internet connectivity, for some odd reason. Meanwhile, meeting participants apparently continued chatting away in a disembodied Zoom session, wondering where the host had gone, before giving up.

But before that happened, there were…

Questions & Answers

Q: The “Spring Loaded” event had some small iMacs, but nothing with a bigger screen, to replace the Intel-based 27″ iMacs?

A: This is not too surprising. Right now the entire world is experiencing an IC (Integrated Circuit) shortage, and it has stalled computer, phone, auto, boat, aircraft, etc., production. Apple has an unusually robust supply chain, yet it is still probably easier for them to confidently ship lower-end machines than more complex high-end machines.

As the Apple Silicon Macs are a new technology, it makes good sense to get a bunch of machines out to as many people as possible as soon as possible, and that is easier to do with a lower-end machine. Mac users keep Macs for a long time; most SMUG members have machines that have been out of production for quite a while. Convincing Mac users to move away from their trusted Intel-based machines to an Apple Silicon-based machine is easier if it is a lower-priced Mac mini, MacBook, or iMac.

Also: while the new M1-based iMacs have “only” 24-inch screens, those screens are amazing. The Intel-based 27-inch iMacs have displays sporting 5120 x 2880 pixels; the new M1-based iMacs have displays sporting 4480 x 2520 pixels. That’s a lot of pixels in a smaller form factor, and at a lower price. Plus: you can use the connectors on the back of the new iMacs to hook up another screen using Thunderbolt, if you really want more screen acrage.

The power supply for the new iMacs are not embedded in the machine itself, but in an external, fairly small power brick. And the power brick also has an Ethernet plug, which means one less cord coming out of the back of the iMac. Quite clever.

Q: You have one of the new Apple Silicon Mac minis. Do you find it a good replacement for your previous Mac?

A: For me, no. I purchased the M1 Mac mini specifically as a “science experiment,” to explore the new Apple Silicon technology and see if it was compatible with what I’ve been using for the past 15 years. I also wanted to use it to offload some processes (rendering video, crunching large files) that otherwise would tie up my Intel-based iMac.

And there are some things I do that absolutely require an Intel processor. I run Windows 10 on a virtual machine (using Parallels) on my iMac. Running Windows absolutely requires an Intel processor, since it is not an “emulation” of Windows but a virtualization of Windows. I have run a whole bunch of Mac applications on the M1 Mac mini, just to see if they work, and haven’t really found anything that failed. I’ve tried a bunch of Mac Intel-specific programs, and the M1 Mac mini transparently loads Rosetta 2 (https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211861) and then runs them. And quickly, too.

So no, I haven’t replaced my Intel iMac with my M1 Mac mini, as they have different purposes.

Q: Was there anything else you heard that you liked?

A: The new iPad Pros are impressive, both the 11-inch and the 12.9 inch versions. The 11-inch version appeals to me simply because it is easier to tote around, but the screen on the 12.9-inch version made Kathleen and I both go “Whoaaaaa…” It uses a new LCD backlighting technology that is utterly astounding, and we can’t wait to see it in person rather than just on a webcast. You should be able to see the screen outside in daylight, which is almost impossible with previous iPads, and the color fidelity should be without parallel.

Aside from the screens, the new iPads have essentially the same M1 processor as the new Macs, and are appropriately fast. They use USB-C/Thunderbolt connectors, and can support external storage devices, and also external screens.

The iPad Pros also have LIDAR capability, which I had thought of as just a curiosity, but they showed several architecture, engineering, drawing, and game applications that took advantage of LIDAR to do real-time texture mapping and object mapping, placing people and objects into other environments in real time. This would have cost millions of dollars just a few years ago.

Probably the least impressive introduction was a new color iPhone 12: it is purple. That’s it. No new functions, just a purple body. Since I like purple, I thought this was excellent.

More technically impressive are Apple Air Tags. (See https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2021/04/apple-introduces-airtag/) Recent changes to Find My on the iPhone, iPad and Mac have included a new category, Items, in addition to the existing People and Devices. Attach an AirTag to an item (such as a purse, wallet, briefcase, suitcase, set of keys, coat, or anything else you might be inclined to misplace), and you can then track it down with your iPhone or iPad or Mac by telling Find My to go find the item. If it is nearby, the Find My app will draw arrows to guide you to the object, or you can trigger the AirTag to make a sound. If the AirTag is out of range, Find My will indicate the last spot where it was in range, which often will be where you left the item. You can have the AirTags engraved, for free, with an emoji or name or something. Unlike many similar tags by other companies, AirTags have user-replaceable batteries; batteries should last for a year.

The Apple TV 4K announcement was a collection of incremental improvements. The new Apple TV has a more powerful chip, and a new Siri remote with more buttons (you can, for example, now control sound and power on the TV, and have better navigation). The Apple TV 4K now supports XBox and Playstation wireless controllers for playing games, and, as the name suggests, supports 4K TV, including 4K video shot with newer iPhones. But the neatest trick was the ability to calibrate your TV by holding your iPhone up to the screen and having the Apple TV shower it with photons to get the right color balance. If you’ve ever tried to calibrate a TV, you will find this heavenly.

Apple also made some changes to the Apple Credit Card. Spouses, for example, can now both get credit scores based on their purchases, rather than just one person getting a rating. And a new family plan allows children over 13 (or elderly who want financial independence but with some limits) to make purchases on an Apple Credit card, but subject to parental controls.

Q: Apple mentioned subscription podcasts. What are these?

A: Most podcasts are free, but some of the more elaborate ones are supported by advertising embedded in the podcasts. There are also subscription podcasts that require you to pay up front, just like a newspaper subscription, but these are not currently supported by Apple’s podcast application. Apple’s infrastructure is set up to support free podcasts, and it does an excellent job: it is the largest podcast hub in the word.

By adding support for a subscription model, Apple can now also support commercially produced podcasts by news and media companies, celebrities, etc.

And then, in mid syllable, Internet connectivity vanished and the Zoom session crashed.

You can watch Apple’s webcast (it is only an hour) by streaming it from their website, https://www.apple.com/apple-events/april-2021/

Apple event: Spring Loaded

Apple has sent out an invitation to attend, virtually, an event on April 20, at 10 a.m. PT. The only thing they’ve released is this logo,

Apple event: Spring loaded
Apple event: April 20, 2021

which is obviously designed to look like a spring coiled into something similar to the Apple logo.

There is also a link to a page on Apple’s website,

https://www.apple.com/apple-events/

which says nothing at all, other than inviting you to stop by on April 20 at 10 a.m.

Speculation

  • A new iPad Pro. The current iPad Pro has face recognition, several cameras, a nifty pen (that they call a Pencil and you have to pay extra to get it, but it is nifty), speech synthesis, lots of storage and RAM, etc. There isn’t much left to add except possibly: it hovers in the air! it floats in the water! you can play 3D games on it, just like in the first Star Wars movie! (Wookie not included.)
  • A new iPad mini. The iPad mini falls in a useful space between the size of an iPhone and the size of an iPad. The mini is just about the size and weight of a paperback book, and I used one of the earlier iPad minis as my reading library of choice for years.
  • Air Tags. The Find My app included on the Mac, iPhone and iPad was recently modified with a new option to find “Items.” This is sort of spelled out on an Apple documentation page, https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211331 — except that Apple (so far) has no tags or widgets that use this capability. Presumably, third-party suppliers will make such tags or widgets, but Apple might, too.
  • A new Apple TV. While the Apple TV is quite spiffy, the Year of COVID has revealed that it could be more. Maybe.
  • New Macs. So far, three computers with Apple Silicon CPUs have been released, the new Mac mini, one MacBook Pro, and a new MacBook Air. But it would make sense to add some larger MacBook Pros and iMacs and whatnot.
  • Apple Aircar. For years, industry pundits have been talking about a forthcoming Apple Car. But this is Apple; I’ve been predicting an Apple Aircar. It will fly through the air with the greatest of ease, and park in a standard driveway, no airport required. It will run on batteries, and can be recharged using a USB-C charging cable. True, it takes about a day to recharge unless you get the optional charging station. For some reason, it also offers the Apple Pencil as an option.

The Strait Macintosh User Group will meet that evening, and we will probably gossip about what was presented.