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.

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.

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.

Flash: make it go away

Action: what you should do

If you have Flash on your computer — any computer, Mac or Windows, laptop or desktop — remove it. Now.

Background

Adobe announced in July 2017 that Flash was going away. Not fading to the background, but going away, forever. They even gave a date: December 31, 2020.

Once upon a time, Flash was a Big Deal. Introduced by Macromedia in November 1996, Flash was an audio and video technology that allowed developers to websites, games, and other multimedia content, complete with embedded scripts. Click on a button, for example, to fire a laser at an alien spaceship, or play the latest Tori Amos song.

By the time Adobe bought Macromedia in 2005, Flash was everywhere. And so were problems: the programming language behind Flash was complex, and many developers published poorly written animations or applications that didn’t work, or crashed the visitors web browser, or in many cases crashed the visitor’s computer. If that wasn’t bad enough, hackers used vulnerabilities in Flash to inject code that changed how Flash websites and applications acted, or even allowed a website to inject malware into the computer of a website visitor.

Monthly security updates could barely keep up with Flash vulnerabilities, but the real enemy turned out to come from a different direction entirely: Apple’s iPhone and iPad could not run Flash. Millions of websites and billions of dollars in development were off limits to iPhone and iPad users. Adobe tried to brush this off as a minor issue; there were over a billion installations of Flash on computers around the world. Who cares if it didn’t work on iPhones and iPads?

But people did care, and companies and governments were greatly concerned with the constant stream of Flash-based computer hacks. Companies and governments soon banned the installation of Flash on their computers. Google Chrome and Safari blocked the use of Flash, further restricting the scope of Flash-based projects.

The introduction of new web standards, including HTML 5, WebGL, and WebAssembly, reached the point that almost anything done in Flash could be duplicated using common, open standards rather than Adobe’s proprietary system.

What if I have a lot invested in Flash?

Write it off. There are ways to convert some Flash content to something more modern, but it is late in the game for such an effort, and it is difficult and time consuming.

How to remove Flash

This page,

https://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/end-of-life.html

gives Adobe’s view of the problem, and (in section 4 and 5) tells you how to uninstall Flash.

Can I just leave Flash on my machine and not use it?

In a word: no. Just having Flash on your machine can make your machine vulnerable to external attacks when you visit websites, or open up attachments in email, or open documents given to you.

To be safe, remove Flash from any and all of your devices. Now.

iPhone and COVID-19

Apple and Google collaborated in the spring of 2020 (long, long ago) to create a “passive” COVID-19 exposure system, which was released on May 20. It is “passive” in that, once it is turned on, you really don’t have to do anything for it to work. But – you do have to turn it on.

It also requires— because this is the United States and instead of one government, we have over 50 — that a given state set up the necessary infrastructure to handle the tracking. The tracking is entirely anonymous, and the only person who gets notified of your exposure is — you.

You can read more about Apple and Google’s work on this innovative system in Wikipedia’s article on Exposure Notification.

Requirements:

  • You need an iPhone
  • It needs to have a current version of iOS
  • You need to turn on Exposure Notifications (go to your iPhone Settings > Exposure Notifications)

Exposure Notification

There are just a few settings, essentially telling your phone to accept notifications, and to verify that you are in Washington State (or wherever you happen to be).

Settings under Exposure Notification

Virginia was the first state to support Exposure Notifications. Since then, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, the District of Columbia — and Washington State — have added support.

How it works: your phone will use near-field communications (NFC), a very low-power radio signal, to take note of other phones that you come near. If at some future date the owner of one of those other phones reports a COVID-19 exposure, the Exposure Notification system will alert you. All of this is done anonymously, and voluntarily. Obviously, in order for the technology to work, literally millions of people need to turn on the notifications, and then also share that they’ve had a COVID-19 diagnosis, if they do get a positive test.

You can read about Washington’s program, called WA Notify, on the Washington State Department of Health website.



Addendum: WA Notify was announced on Monday, November 30. Within 24 hours, more Washington State residents had opted in to the notification system than any other state. By Friday, December 4, more than a million residents were using the system.

Ideally, notifications should be activated on at least 70% of all mobile phones in the state — Android and iPhone — for peak effectiveness. Ask your friends, neighbors, relatives, coworkers, and others to participate. When it comes to the pandemic, the entire planet is in this together.

Drive-in WiFi hotspot finder

Washington State has been working on improving access to the Internet, in part as an incentive to growing the local economy and, more recently, as a means of helping residents work, shop, and attend school remotely during the pandemic. One key initiative is adding more public WiFi hotspots.

The state now has an interactive map for finding WiFi hotspots:

Clallam public WiFi hotspots, from the Washington State interactive hotspot location finder.

On the one hand, Clallam County, in particular, is not heavily covered by WiFi hotspots. On the other, it has more than one might expect, given that the county is decidedly not urban.

Sorry, no WiFi hotspots at Lake Crescent or Hurricane Ridge or Dungeness Spit. The eagles and elk and seagulls need to do more lobbying.