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Japan’s Mac Tax

June 28th, 2014 3 comments

DriveThere’s a spiffy Mac accessory, a 128 GB SD card from Transcend that sticks into your SD slot and doesn’t stick out. I’d love to get it, as my 256 GB SSD is just too small for me.

The item costs $80 at Amazon in the U.S.

The same item in Amazon Japan costs $126. That’s priced down from $146 just a few weeks ago.

Both are sold and shipped by Amazon. They’re the exact same item.

I’ve encountered this repeatedly in Japan. Whenever I look for peripherals or accessories, anything labeled “for Mac” or which lists OS X compatibility is bound to be half again as expensive as similar PC-ready models, which most peripherals are marked as. I refuse to believe that creating OS X drivers for most basic peripherals (e.g., DVD drives, web cams, film scanners) is that hard—and in the case of the Transcend device, drivers are obviously not the issue.

Instead, it seems that Japanese sellers believe that people who buy Macs are willing to pay a premium. They may be right about a very small subset, and they may just be able to fool a larger subset into thinking they have no choice (and thus helping create the myth that Mac ownership is too expensive). But for the most part, it’s a stupid presumption, because that only applies to products which are, in fact, worthy of being labeled “premium,” which most of the overpriced stuff is not. The Transcend thing is a nice idea, but it’s just flash memory inside a frame; its main advantage is simply that it doesn’t stick out when it’s plugged in. That’s it.

The idea that I’d be willing to pay a $45 premium just because I use a Mac is asinine. I imagine that some people pay the higher price because they don’t know any better and think that’s the only option; a lot of Mac users, however, simply look around for the best price, and read customer reviews which tell if items not branded as Mac-compatible will actually work with a Mac. At worst, I’ll just wait until I go back to the U.S., by which time it might be even cheaper, or a 256 GB version might be priced competitively, which would be cool.

Until then, anyone wanting to sell me exorbitantly priced stuff can bite me.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, Mac News Tags:

The Disk Wasn’t Ejected Because We’re Stupid

April 26th, 2014 2 comments

I simply cannot believe that Apple still has this infuriating bug after all these years. Connect external volumes and try to eject… and OS X comes up with this message:

The disk “(diskname)” wasn’t ejected because one or more programs may be using it.
To eject the disk immediately, click the Force Eject button.

The “one or more programs” is so idiotically vague as to be worse than useless. The thing is, it’s almost always some process in OS X, some stupid Apple service like indexing the volume, something that of course should just shut down when you try to eject… and after all these years Apple still hasn’t corrected it. Freaking pisses me off to no end.

In order to eject the disk, you usually have to close every app you’re running and reboot the computer—something that is so SCSI and 1980′s that it’s pathetic. Follow the “Force Eject” suggestion, and some disk formats will not remount until OS X spends 20-30 minutes working on it somehow.

It should be a simple and obvious point, but Apple seems to be either incapable of fixing it or else doesn’t give a crap.

Scrolling

November 19th, 2012 1 comment

On a less serious topic: what the hell is with Apple and scroll bars?

Actually, I like the new, slenderized scroll bars Apple started using with the last OS. The problem is, their implementation of them sucks. Big time.

If you use a recent version of Mac OS X, you probably know what I’m talking about. The scroll bars stay visible too long when you don’t want them to, and disappear frustratingly when you need them.

Two cases in point. First, when you have a file & folder window which has files that equal or exceed the height and width of the window, the bottom scroll bar uselessly appears. Not a problem—unless you happen to want to select the file at the bottom of the window, which I frequently do. In which case, the bottom scroll bar, for moving horizontally, which I almost never use, annoyingly persists. I have to first realize that I have to move the cursor away, and then wait a moment before it disappears—and then when I try to click on the item, the bar reappears and persist even longer. I am constantly blocked from clicking on that last item. What the frack, Apple. If you don’t like the appearance of the bar, fine, but in such cases, make the last item in the list pop above the scroll bar, or else leave an empty gap at the bottom for the bar to inhabit. Whatever, just stop blocking icons.

Second, when you want to scroll up or down a very long list, as I frequently do in Apple’s Mail app, the vertical scroll bar disappears too readily—the exact opposite of the above problem. I use Mail to keep all my email, over many years (I find it a useful way to find records and even files), but that means long lists. I often find myself needing to scroll longer than is feasible by trackpad, so I need to go to the scroll bar and click-and-drag the tab—the entire reason it becomes visible in the first place. But Apple seems to want to play “keep-away” with the tab. Instead of it persisting—a stupid action when it is blocking an item—the right scroll bar far too easily disappears, despite the fact that it blocks nothing at all and there is no reason whatsoever for it to quickly disappear. Quite the contrary, there is every reason for it to stay put! I find myself having to scroll the list up to make the bar appear, and then scramble my fingers to a one-finger controlled hover over the bar once it appears, something not always easy to do.

It’s bad enough that Apple made the keyboard command for jumping to the top of the list impossible to guess. (Fn-Left Arrow, really? In an environment where Command-Up Arrow is the standard?)

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Configurable

August 3rd, 2012 2 comments

So I noticed that Apple now allows buyers to configure the low-end Retina Pros. When I saw that, I was nonplussed, upset that Apple had turned around and had essentially denied me the ability to get more storage in my computer… and then I saw that the storage upgrade would have cost $500, and realized that I would never have gotten it in the first place. Ah well.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Review: The Retina Macbook Pro

July 2nd, 2012 9 comments

It came a few days ago, and now that I’ve had a bit of time to play around with it, I have some initial reactions.

Unboxing Day

As one would expect, it comes beautifully boxed.

Box01

Box02

Box03

Box04

Sachi had a few chuckles over my photographing the unboxing; she is not that used to Nerd Pr0n.

The first thing I noticed is, the power cable is different. There’s the MagSafe 2, and (at least for units sold in Japan) a more streamlined power cable plug.

Powe01

Apple really sees to the details, down to a piece of tissue paper separating the screen from the keyboard, cut in the precise shape. Insignificant, but they take care of details at that level, and it makes an impression (like using Garamond in a resume).

Paper01

The keyboard is generally the same great-feeling chiclet keyboard, perhaps a bit more subdued than before.

Keyb01

Keyb02

Pixels Painted On

When I got the iPad 3, I was a bit less blown away by the Retina Display than I expected; the screen is great, but not mind-blowingly greater than the previous screens.

The Retina screen on the MBP, however, immediately impressed me. People have talked about things on the screen looking “painted on,” and you do get that impression. Here are a few images at 1380 x 1000 resolution if you click on them:

Screen01-1380

Screen02-1380

It’s not just he pixel density, though; the far-richer contrast hits you pretty quickly, too:

Screencontrast01

As I was setting it up, I took off my glasses and got within a few inches of the screen–and was immediately struck by the fact that you can see the pixels. Yes, I know that the retina display makes the pixels almost invisible at normal viewing distances. However, on my iPad 3, even close-up, it is nearly impossible to see the pixels. Again, I know the density is greater on the iPad (264 ppi for the iPad, 220 for the Retina Pro). Still, I didn’t expect to be able to discern anything visually.

But then I looked back at my late-2008 Pro, and was shocked to see that the pixels were huge. Now, of course, I have been looking at those pixels for four years, and have even noted the pixel grid before–but even after just a few minutes with the new Retina Pro, the older machine’s screen looked much worse than I had recalled.

After using the Retina Pro over the weekend, in fact, I switched back to the old Macbook Pro for a short time–and was even more shocked. Good lord, but those pixels look huge now! I am struck by how strong the screen-door effect is, and have to “get used to” the quality again before it stops bugging me so much.

It really is true–you’re going to have your standards raised so much that older screens will look far worse than you remember them. I heard that would happen, but was rather shocked at how quickly it took place.

Resolutions

Next comes the screen resolutions. If you have one of these puppies, you’ll want–just for fun, mind you–to download an app called Change Resolution.

Changeres01

You open up the app, and (in a low-res window!) you can type in the horizontal and vertical resolutions and then click “OK.” Do that at 2880 by 1800, and you get this screen (click for full resolution, file size 1.4MB):

2880X1800Fs

This is the actual size of the screen shot. One thing you will hear is that the Retina Pro creates screen images at double (well, quadruple) the resolution, then down-samples in order to get a more acceptable screen image quality; as a result, screen captures are usually at double the resolution, too. However, this is not the case when you are doing native resolution–the screen shot is at 2880 by 1800. This means that, ironically, at full resolution, the GPU is not working as hard as it is at “lower” resolutions.

As you can see from the image, of course, the elements on the screen become ridiculously small, and while readable, you certainly don’t want to work that way unless you have really unusual needs.

Other resolutions you can work at are, approximated, 1024 x 640, 1280 x 800, 1440 x 900 (the old MBP resolution, exactly half/quarter the new one), 1680 x 1050 (the resolution of the higher-quality screen on the old 15“ models), and 1920 x 1200 (”Full HD“).

Displaycp-1

Here are screen shots of the five ”normal“ resolutions, scaled to 690 pixels wide (see full-sized on click; I scaled them down from the double/quadruple size of the screenshots to their stated-resolution sizes):

First, 1024 x 640–which I think they included for fun, as who the hell would want this resolution?

1024X640Fs

Next, 1280 x 800–barely reasonable:

1280X800Fs

Their ”best“ setting of 1440 x 900, which is OK, but I want more real estate, myself:

1440X900Fs

Their high-resolution option fitting recent MBP specs, at 1680 x 1050:

1680X1050Fs

And the ”Full HD“ at 1920 x 1200:

1920X1200Fs

I like 1920 x 1200 in terms of how much real estate it gives me, but am still trying to figure out if I can live with how small things get. For example, the images I produced for this post seemed so tiny, I had to check to make sure I didn’t have the image dpi mistakenly set at double. I find myself using the pinch gesture to zoom in on web pages, and often use the zoom feature to see what I am typing better. On the other hand, the zoom feature allows me to zoom in at double size and still looks like almost-native quality, probably due to the double-sampling explained below. It’s so easy to zoom with the Control-Scroll, I am finding it preferable to working with larger-looking elements on less real estate.

When news came out that the 2880 x 1800 setting would be denied to users, there were a lot of shocked reactions. I was disappointed, wanting full control (and subsequently given it by the Change Resolution app). In comment sections on tech sites reviewing the Retina Pro, Mac haters were having a field day, cackling over how we Mac users were getting swindled. That was before it was clear what the deal was really all about.

As stated above, 2880 x 1800 is simply absurd for a 15” display resolution. Apps that can handle it, like games which don’t display text at normal sizes, can claim access to native resolution (i.e., we’re not getting swindled out of pixels), but for normal use, it would be stupid to offer that resolution for your average user.

Additionally, at “lower” resolutions, you are not actually getting “lower” resolutions. It’s always 2880 x 1800. What’s happening is that the approximated lower resolution is produced by the CPU at four times the size (double each dimension), and then downsampled to fit the 2880 x 1800 display. Which means that when you are using the supposed 1920 x 1200 resolution, the quality you see is actually 3840 x 2400 (often referred to as 4K resolution), brought down to 2880 x 1800.

In short, “1920 x 1200” on a Retina Pro is, I believe, a good deal better than 1920 x 1200 on a display with that as the native resolution. Whatever the case, I am still struck by how nice it looks.

In fact, on reflection, I am now certain of it. Take the lowest resolution setting, for example–1024 x 640. If I go down to that resolution on my old MBP (or on any other screen, for that matter), the picture looks fuzzy at best. Not on this display; 1024 x 640 looks as sharp as any other resolution. Meaning that I am not really looking at 1024 x 640 resolution, but simply a 2880 x 1800 resolution which is scaled to look like 1024 x 640. In this case, I guess, 2048 x 1280, which is still better than Full HD, painted onto 2880 x 1800 pixels. However it’s done, it works.

This is a far better improvement (however “apparent” it may be) than I got switching from the old iPad to the new one.

Not Ready for Retina Time?

Many have talked about how bad things look when you are using a non-retina-ready app, but frankly, I don’t see it. Many had posted side-by-side images which don’t show much difference. I thought it was just because you could not see the retina-resolution image at its best, but now I think that it just isn’t nearly the contrast it’s hyped up to be.

Take a look at a small section of a screenshot from a movie at 1080p. The top part of the image is from the movie played in QuickTime Player, which is adjusted to take advantage of the Retina display; the bottom part is the exact same image as shown on MPlayer OSX Extended, an app not so updated:

Clip01

You can see there is a bit more jaggedness to the lower image–but with the pixels being so small on the Retina Pro, the images above are much smaller, and the jaggedness is much harder to see. In full motion, at normal viewing distances, the difference is negligible if not invisible.

You can notice text when it is not displayed right, but so far, using apps like MS Word 2008, I hardly see any quality degradation, and can use such apps perfectly well, without any discomfort. Probably this is due to font smoothing or some other effect that OS X employs.

Zooming Right Along

Next is speed. Now, I may not be the best judge of this, because my old, late-2008 MBP is not only aging, but it’s been dropped several times more than is good for it. More to the point, my normal way to work is to have 10 or more apps running at the same time, some of them memory hogs (Safari, Parallels running Windows 7, Photoshop), and Lion itself is pretty memory-intensive.

As my old MBP has just 4GB of RAM, and runs on an old Core 2 Duo… well, quite frankly, it was driving me insane. Safari took 24 bounces plus a 5-second wait after that to start. I got the spinning beach ball all the time. All to often, just clicking on a menu would elicit a 5- to 10-second pause. It didn’t help that my trackpad button failed more than a year ago, and a few weeks back the file system index blew a gasket, making content-based searches impossible. It is not an exaggeration to say that I am pretty patient when it comes to this stuff, nor that my patience was stretched to the limit.

The new Retina Pro, even the “lower-end” model I have, is so completely different that it’s not even funny. With an Ivy Bridge quad-core i7 CPU, along with a solid-state drive, this thing just rocks. 16GB of RAM doesn’t hurt, either–I have yet to max out the memory, but have come close, and am very glad I went for the upgrade.

Safari, like almost every other app, snaps open in a single bounce of the dock icon. Windows 7 in Parallels opens from a suspended state in just a few seconds. Photoshop is ready to go almost as quickly as I can be ready for it.

In short, it’s fast. Very nice. Expected, yes–but still excellent.

Closet Space

My main concern was not having enough drive space. If you read my posts from before the release, my main fear was not getting more storage. I was tired of a 250GB drive, and was very unhappy at the prospect of the new Pros falling back to my low capacity, after having reached 500 and 750GB previously. Alas, without paying gobs more than it’s worth for the higher-end Retina Pro, you’re stuck with the 256GB SSD.

However, I did have an unexpected revelation: the thing has an SD slot. And it’s SDXC ready, meaning you can stick a 64GB card in there. And Akihabara just happens to have 64GB SDXC cards (albeit off-brand) on sale for ¥2800 ($35). Meaning that, for $140, you could get the equivalent of a 256GB upgrade.

The question was, would it work? People had reported problems with previous SD card use in the Pro line, and I would be using an off-brand type; would it be too slow or wiggy in use? I bought a card (and a cheap portable SDXC reader, for transfer purposes) a few weeks ago so I’d be ready, and have been trying it out.

Card01

Long story short: it works. I slip in the card and an icon immediately pops up on the desktop. Data transfer times are not fantastic–a shade better than 10MB per second, not as good as branded cards, or so I read–but it’s good enough for what I want to use it for.

It’s not as good as having a 512GB drive, but it’s well worth the $500 saved, and then some. When I buy three more SD cards, I’ll use, perhaps, one for photos, one for archived documents, one for video files, and probably one for miscellaneous (or another arrangement if I find one that works better).

I’ll have to find the best way to keep them and to cart them around; in the past, I’ve seen small plastic-sheet holders with tiny sleeves for each card, but now that I need one, I can’t find any–all commercially available holders are hard-cover cases or other inconvenient arrangements. I have a snap-button pocket in my wallet I don’t use, which will probably be my solution, but I’ll have to fish around to get the right card.

Whatever I work out, I am pretty sure it will be sufficient for my needs.

Screendark01

Battery

I have read that the battery lasts 7 hours, 5 hours with heavy use. Seeing how the charge dissipates, I am not entirely confident of that assessment, though I have not tested it objectively. After what sure seems like less than 2 hours’ use, I fall below the 50% mark.

On the other hand, the battery measurement algorithm seems a bit off–it appears to charge beyond 100%, and takes a bit to fall below that. Maybe the lower end of the scale will stretch out more, I don’t know. And one thing I have noticed: the battery charges a lot faster than my old MBP. Probably this is due to the new battery type, similar to iPhone or iPad batteries. My iPad 3 doesn’t charge too fast, but my iPhone does, and so does this laptop.

Addenda: After charging to what I think was full capacity, I unplugged the battery cable–and it took about 22 minutes (browsing, mostly) to fall to 99%. Apple definitely leaves a margin after “100%” beyond which extra charge can be maintained.

Do I Really Need the Two-Tenths of an Inch?

When I first saw the Retina Pro in a shop in Akihabara, I was, honestly, disappointed. It didn’t look much thinner, and when I lifted it up, it had much more heft to it than I had expected. Not a good sign in what is supposed to be a revolutionary design for slimness.

I can only guess that the impression I got was a combination of heightened expectations and the odd height at which I picked up the store unit, along with the inability to close the top and carry it around.

Using the actual machine, the smaller profile makes a great deal of difference. It feels much slimmer and lighter in everyday use, and I am constantly noting the difference. Sometimes, it almost feels half the thickness, to be honest. The screen is thinner as well.

Despite all that, the machine in no way whatsoever feels flimsy. If anything, it seems to feel more solid–though much of that may stem from the fact that I dropped my old MBP a dozen times and the case is warped as a result.

The hinges on the display are a bit stiffer than I would prefer; sometimes I have to hold the bottom down to get the screen up. Hopefully, that will loosen up a bit in time.

Other Stuff

The new MagSafe port is spiffy, but seems even more prone to disconnect at a slight brush than the old model, which was too ‘brush-off-able’ for my tastes. On the other hand, Apple did an admirable job with their $10 adapter, which snaps right onto the old power cables and works beautifully–meaning I don’t have to throw away two perfectly good power cables, and now have up to three I can use.

In other miscellaneous categories, I have yet to use the HDMI port, but am sure it works fine. The USB 3 works as advertised; I have a USB 3 external HDD I have not been able to use at full speed until now, and it works great with the new MBP. The Thunderbolt ports also work fine, allowing me to use the Ethernet adapter I bought (my computer course classroom has no WiFi, requiring the Ethernet use) as well as the external display–I use a DisplayPort to VGA adapter for that. In fact, I need both at the same time for my classes, making me quite happy that Apple included two TB ports on this puppy.

That’s about all for now. To sum up, it is a sweet machine, worth the wait and the price, for my uses at least.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Weight and Resolutions

June 18th, 2012 8 comments

I went to Akihabara today as it was only a few stops east of my medical appointment today, and stopped by a shop which had a Retina Pro. I have to say, it was not all that I expected.

First of all, the damn thing feels heavy. Partly it’s because you expect it to be lighter, but mostly I think it’s because it has been reduced in size more than it has been in weight, therefore it feels heavier than you expect. I had the same experience with the iPhone when it first came out, and the iPod before it: it feels solid, like a piece of machinery, not some cheap hunk of plastic. I’m certain that I’ll become accustomed to it.

The form factor is as advertised: slim, streamlined, sexy. The ports are all there. The screen bevel is not as smooth as I had thought it would be, but I think I just misread a review and expected something else.

Second, there’s speed. As one reviewer pointed out, apps open fast. By the time the icon in the dock has the ability to bounce once, the app is open. Currently, my aging Pro is giving me more and more spinning beach balls. I tried to open Preview, and the icon just bounced there for a minute before I force quit it and restarted. I literally cannot wait for the new machine.

Finally, the display. As with the iPad 3, you can see the quality and the depth of the retina display–but it doesn’t exactly jump out and bite you on the face. I’m sure I will feel like at least one reviewer, who didn’t notice it as much until they tried going back to an old display, and then felt like things were out of focus or something. It’s kind of like trying to sit and watch an old pre-HD NTSC TV show, and you wonder, “How did I ever watch TV at that crappy resolution, and why didn’t I realize it at the time? It used to look sharp, now it’s just blurry.”

The Retina Pro was sitting right beside the new Macbook Pro, and you could instantly see a difference when they are side by side. The Retina display has deeper, richer colors and notably better contrast. It is, no doubt at all, a better display.

However, there is a catch: Apple is being a bit screwy handling the resolution. With all past machines, you could choose to be in native resolution, or you could, using a list of applicable resolutions, decide exactly what resolution your screen will show.

Screen Shot 2012-06-18 At 9.15.21 Pm

Well, not any more. Now you get options like this:

Rmbpr

As you can see, you don’t choose from a list–in fact, the computer doesn’t even tell you what the screen’s actual displayed resolution is. You can choose to have things look bigger (lower resolutions) or tinier (higher resolution), as you would if you scaled your resolution between 1024 x 768 and 1440 x 900–except, when you choose each one, Apple only tells you, in text below the image of the laptop, what the resolution “looks like.” As opposed to telling you what “it is.”

Further complicating things is the fact that, when you make one of these changes, the screen dims and pops back–much the way it would when you make an actual resolution change.

At this point, I honestly don’t know if you get to actually see 2880 x 1800 pixels in action, or if everything is scaled down to 1920 x 1200 at best, and the real native resolution is only displayed when you do something like play games. And if we’re not getting the full resolution in normal use, will Apple give it to us after all the apps have been updated to play nice with the Retina?

Yes, I know that rendering the screen in true 2880 x 1800 would make everything unacceptably tiny, but that’s what I thought Resolution Independence, introduced in 10.4, was all about. The display would be 2880 x 1800, but everything would be drawn bigger. Instead, it seems that we get approximations of different non-native resolutions.

Can anyone explain how this works? Is the display actually always in 2880 x 1800, but just downscales individual graphic elements, or is the screen actually never better than 1920 x 1200 and all the pixels everywhere just approximated–meaning we’re actually fuzzier than if we had a 1920 x 1200 display? Will we get back full control in a future OS, with this just being a transitory compromise?

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Possible Workaround for Smaller SSD in Retina Pro

June 18th, 2012 1 comment

This, of course, is not nearly as good as having a 512 GB or larger SSD, but since the Pro has the SDXC card slot, I figured that I would drop by Akihabara and see how cheaply I can pick up a 64 GB card rated at 10 MB/s or better. I see them advertised for as little as ¥2700 for a generic; If it works halfway decently, I may get 4, along with the most effective carrying solution I can find, as a way of effectively doubling my on-hand memory without having to spend an extra half thousand dollars to do so.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Is the Retina Macbook Pro a Waste of Money?

June 13th, 2012 11 comments

We pay a premium for certain features in computers and computer peripherals that are not entirely functional. One of those is a slim profile. When LCD flatscreens came out, people paid a premium for these, despite the fact that they were worse than CRTs in almost every respect except for their size. They were dimmer, lower-resolution, had a fixed number of pixels (native resolution), had a worse viewing angle–and they were expensive, hellishly so at first. But they were thin, so we bought them. Eventually, their popularity helped bring prices down, and now you’d be hard-pressed to find CRTs for sale at all. They went the way of the floppy.

Laptops are similar: everything about them is inferior to desktops except for their size and mobility: they have weaker CPUs, less memory, smaller hard drives, fewer features, smaller screens, can only be expanded externally, and are more expensive. And yet, I know people who buy laptops but never move them from their desks. That makes no sense; laptops are all about mobility; everything else is a drawback.

We pay for a smaller profile; the smaller it is, the more we pay, in both greater cost and lesser features.

When the Macbook Air came out, I saw the same problem, magnified. Compared to the 15“ Macbook Pro at the time, it had a slower CPU, a smaller screen, fewer ports, and lacked an optical drive–and yet it cost almost the same. People asked me if they should get one, and I always gave the same answer: only if you place a huge priority on ”sexy.“

Today, a co-worker had a similar reaction to the Retina Macbook Pro: it was priced for sexy. They said they did not need the retina display, and outside of that, you were just paying for the sexy.

I don’t think that claim stands up to scrutiny, however.

For example, I no longer ward people away from the Macbook Air. It matured, especially with the speedy SSD, and became a good machine in its own right–not to mention, the price has dropped considerably (from $1800 to $1200 for the base 13” model). It’s not a high-powered computer, but it functions extremely well, and is still sexy–but this time for a reasonable price.

Within the context of the Mac line, the Retina Pro is also worth the cost. Consider the difference between the base 15“ for both the regular Pro and the Retina Pro: you pay $1800 for the regular, $2200 for the Retina. However, it’s not just the retina display that you get. The CPU is the same, but the RAM is doubled in the Retina, you get an 256 GB SSD instead of a 500 GB HDD (an overall plus due to performance increases), and double the GDDR5 memory.

If you don’t need the display, don’t need the RAM, don’t need the video, and prefer capacity to HDD access times, then of course, get the non-Retina model. But that’s not because it’s a better value; it would purely be a matter of preference.

Take the regular Pro model, double the RAM and swap in a 256 GB SSD to make it closer to the Retina specs save for the resolution, and the price goes up to $2400–$200 more than for the Retina–and you still lack the Retina display and the extra graphics memory. In this sense the Retina model is priced competitively with the older Pro (and/or the upgrades are way overpriced, which is also likely).

Here’s how the basically stack up:

Unit 13” Macbook Air (high-end) 13“ Macbook Air (high-end, upgrades) 15” Macbook Pro (low-end) 15“ Macbook Pro (upgrades) 15” Retina Macbook Pro (base)
CPU 1.8GHz dual-core Core i5 (TB: 2.8 GHz) 2.0GHz dual-core Core i7 (TB: 3.2GHz) 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 (TB: 3.3GHz) 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 (TB: 3.3GHz) 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 (TB: 3.3GHz)
RAM 4GB 8GB 4GB 8GB 8GB
Storage 256 GB SSD 256 GB SSD 500GB 5400-rpm HDD 256GB SSD 256GB SSD
GPU HD Graphics 4000 HD Graphics 4000 NVIDIA GT 650M / 512MB GDDR5 NVIDIA GT 650M / 512MB GDDR5 NVIDIA GT 650M / 1GB GDDR5
Monitor 1366 x 768 1366 x 768 1440 x 900 1440 x 900 2880 x 1800
Optical Drive Superdrive 8x Superdrive 8x
Price $1,499 $1,699 $1,799 $2,399 $2,199

Apple seemed to do a fair job of balancing the pricing (within the parameters of their profit-taking, of course). The closest real challenge is the upgraded Macbook Air vs. the base Retina Pro, especially if you’re not at all interested in graphics.

Even then, the $500 price difference can be accounted for. The processors may seem similar (both i7s with similar GHz ratings), but compare a dual-core at 2 GHz with 4MB of L3 cache to a quad-core at 2.3 GHz with 6MB of L3 cache (not to mention double the L1 and L2 cache), and I betcha you see enough of a difference. Geekbench reports 50% higher performance from the Retina’s CPU.

Aside from that, you have one machine with a 13“ 1-megapixel display vs. a 15” 5-megapixel display, not to mention the difference between integrated chipset graphics and that plus a serious GPU… you’d have to really not care about graphics.

Of course, that’s where it really comes down to preferences. I really want the resolution and the graphics abilities, if not for today then for the future; I want the upgradability to 16GB of memory… and especially, I want the 15“ screen. The processor difference may not seem like too much now, but in 3 years, I think the difference will be rather marked.

I know many people may object to the whole context, saying that you can get similar specs in Windows laptops for a much cheaper price. True. Even counting the retina display (though that will be adopted by PC makers soon, I am sure), it would seem that Macs are overpriced. But such comparisons fail to recognize some important qualities which differ between product lines. How many Windows laptops are built as well as any of the Macbooks? So many are flimsy, cheap-feeling, poorly designed, and often seem ridiculously thick and bulky compared to Macs. The Windows laptops which are not are often priced closer to Macs. Macs are not that much more expensive, they just don’t make the cheapo discount versions. Then there are advantages to the Mac in general: the same company makes the machine, OS, and much of the software, not to mention favored mobile devices, allowing for a seamless integration you can’t get elsewhere. Relative security without the cost in cash and performance for anti-virus software. And, interestingly, a lot of the software is cheaper (when do new versions of Windows cost $20?), often more versatile (e.g., multi-language), and usually much easier to install and use. Okay, off my flame-war soapbox, sorry.

Back to the point: I am very much OK with how the Retina Pro stacks up against the other Macbooks, and expect to be very pleased with what I get. Not to mention that I am moving up from a 2008 Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM, meaning a 350% increase in CPU speed, a 400% increase in RAM, and generally a lot more of everything everywhere. I doubt I’ll be disappointed.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Probably Gonna Get Me a Next-Gen Pro

June 12th, 2012 9 comments

As background, I am using a 4-year-old Macbook Pro on it’s very last legs. Damaged case (dropped it too many times), optical drive gave out more than a year ago, trackpad button doesn’t work, hasn’t for a while. But it’s also getting buggy and with updated software, gets slow as hell. I am way overdue for a workhorse computer like this.

There were last-minute rumors about the new Retina-display Macbook Pros, that they would be separate from the two existing lines–and the cost would go up to over $4000. And the maxed-out version may well be… but the starter version is within my price range, thank god. I was sitting here thinking I would have to buy a speed bump or fork over way too much cash.

The minimum-spec version:

  • 0.71“ profile, 4.46 lbs.
  • 15.4” 2880 x 1800 Retina Display @220 PPI
  • 2.3Ghz Quad-core i7 CPU (upgradable to 2.7 GHz); no info on Turbo Boost, maybe N/A in slim-profile mobile?
  • 8GB RAM (upgradable to 16GB)
  • GT 650M 1GB GPU
  • 256GB SSD (upgradable to 768 GB)
  • 7-hour battery life (YMMV)
  • 2 USB3 ports (combo with USB2)
  • Dual Thunderbolt ports
  • HDMI port, SD slot, New-design MagSafe (damn, can’t use old ones)
  • Adapters for FW800 & Gb Ethernet
  • Starts at $2199

Presumably, the CPU, RAM, and SSD are upgradable, maybe the graphics chip also. Only one model was showcased, so it may be the one basic design with everything else a la carte. I would be OK with the CPU, but will look at prices (expect: ouch) on 512 GB SSD and 16GB RAM upgrades. Probably, not. So I will have better space management and think about upgrading RAM after 2 years when prices are much cheaper.

I can live with that.

Question is, how long before it can be at my door?

Other news: Mountain Lion will be released in July, for $20. Makes it trivial that it won’t come pre-loaded on the new Macbook Pro. Lots of new features–the iCloud documents looks to be good for me, Power Nap updating during sleep looks nifty as well. I have to look into whether AirPlay mirroring will allow me to throw laptop video onto my iPad easily.

With iOS 6, Siri is being improved with graphic responses, more data on restaurants, entertainment, and sports–and also seems to be able to launch apps. “Eyes Free” will work with cars built with a Siri button; I will be more impressed when a sleeping iPad can wake up when only talked to. Local search going international, meaning I can presumably use it for searching for restaurants and movies here.

Also, it’s coming to the iPad. Strange it didn’t before. If it’s not coming to the iPhone 4, that’s a disappointment. Ah well.

Otherwise, nice enhancements to iOS 6, looks like a lot more integration with Macs (FaceTime apparently available on laptop when someone calls your iPhone?), Photo Stream looks to make it easier to send photos to yourself and others, VIP Mail addresses to highlight email from specified people. Passbook is the new “Mystery” app, it seems–boarding passes, movie tickets, store cards… is this a prelude to an e-wallet for the iPhone 5?

And, of course, Maps. The long-awaited, very cool 3-D capable new mapping app to replace Google Maps, which Google mysteriously updates a lot less than the Android version. Apple has done their own cartography–will new features still not visible on Google Maps now be visible on Apple’s app? It has traffic info and turn-by-turn navigation–in Japan too? Monitors traffic along a route and changes if it senses shifts in traffic speeds. “Flyover” has the much-ballyhooed 3D views, rendered in real time.

iOS 6 ships “in the Fall,” meaning between September and December, I suppose.

I suppose the Apple Store, offline right now, will not open up until way too late–it’s already 4 a.m. here, so time to grab 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

Gotta order something in the morning.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Five Days Out, Macbook Pro “Specs” Leak

June 7th, 2012 7 comments

First it was the 13“, now a claim for the 15”. The 13“ specs seem too weak, the 15” way too strong. For the 13“ model:

  • 2.5Ghz dual-core Intel Core i5 with 3MB L3 cache (Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz)
  • 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 500 GB 5400-rpm hard drive
  • 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display; 1280 by 800 pixels
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 8x slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/DVD+RW/CD-RW)
  • Thunderbolt port support high-speed I/O and Mini DisplayPort devices
  • SDXC card slot, FireWire 800 port, two USB 3.0 ports
  • Size and weight: 12.78 by 8.94 by 0.95 inches (32.5 by 22.7 by 2.41 cm); 4.5 pounds (2.06 kg)

Even as Ivy Bridge, the CPU would not be much more than a speed bump from the current 2.4 GHz Core i5. Same amount of RAM, slight speed bump. Same HDD. Speed bump for graphics chip. USB 3 included, otherwise ports are the same. Most strikingly: the optical drive is still there, and the display is identical–not a retina display. And the form factor is identical–no redesigned case.

This could be true, but not likely. There were rumors that the 13” model might not get Ivy Bridge in time, and so an upgrade might be delayed, but this is the opposite–it has Ivy Bridge and the USB 3 that comes with it, but virtually nothing else. After a previous release being a similarly unimpressive speed bump, it is doubtful Apple would be so conservative, go so long without better improvement, especially in a key laptop area.

It is doubtful also that they would not do any one of three heavily reported upgrades: the new form factor, the retina display, or the lost optical drive–not to mention the SSD, or at least SSD caching.

I could only buy it if they are essentially abandoning the 13“ Macbook Pro to to Macbook Air line, or if this were a maintenance bump and a stronger 13” were coming earlier than the usual 9-month wait. It also would be terrible if this somehow reflected the 15“ model as well.

However, specs have ”leaked“ for that one too–and they (mostly) go much too far in the other direction:

  • 2.6 Ghz quad-core Intel Core i7 with 8MB L3 cache (Turbo Boost up to 3.6 Ghz)
  • 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 750 GB 7200-rpm hard drive
  • 15.4-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display; 2560 by 1600 pixels
  • AMD Radeon HD 7770M graphics processor with 2GB of GDDR5 memory and Intel HD Graphics 4000 with automatic switching
  • Built-in FaceTime HD camera
  • Thunderbolt port supports high-speed I/O and Mini DisplayPort devices
  • SDXC card slot, FireWire 800 port, four USB 3.0 ports

This has a far more impressive CPU–but also seems not to be one that fits published CPU specs (it should be 6MB L3 cache). And 16GB of RAM? Riiiight. I would love that, but it screams ”fake.“ I would be ecstatic to be proven wrong, but I will be shocked if Apple makes more than 8GB standard. The GPU sounds similarly suspiciously padded.

While the specs would indicate all the rumors are true (retina display, no optical drive, Ivy Bridge, new form factor), they stick with an HDD (no SSD or SSD caching), and it declares four USB 3 ports. Again, this just screams ”fake.“

And while the listed dimensions show a thinner form factor, it also reports losing about a half inch in width and depth, which, while possible, also sounds a bit off.

These are both very likely fakes, and the participants of the Macrumors forums are cheerfully challenging each other to design, print, and ”leak“ similar fake specs, most looking just as authentic as the reported ones. So it is unlikely that we have seen what they will be.

My own guess as to the new specs for the 15” model:

  • 2.6 Ghz quad-core Intel Core i7 with 6MB L3 cache (Turbo Boost up to 3.6 Ghz)
  • 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 500 GB 5400-rpm hard drive with SSD cache
  • 15.4-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display; 2560 by 1600 pixels
  • SDXC card slot, FireWire 800 port, two USB 3.0 ports

I am guessing blindly on the HDD; I do not know if 500 GB will stay (considering prices, I guess more likely it will), or that 5400-rpm is reasonable with SSD caching (I am guessing that a lower RPM is more viable with SSD to pick up the speed). I am also not sure about the FireWire. That is rumored to also have been dropped, but with no viable adapter cables from Thunderbolt or USB 3 to FireWire, I find it hard to believe that Apple would so easily cut off all support for so many professional users who have so much equipment which use that connector.

The other factor is the price. Yet another “leaked” list of unnamed Apple items in a store inventory system suggest that only two new MBP models would be in the list, and they would cost $2475 and $3170–both way more than the current $1800 and $2200 prices for the 15“–in fact, the lower price is almost exactly what the 17” model currently runs for. Frankly, I think they’ve tagged it wrong–the prices listed for the iMac seem more in line with the Macbook Pro line, although those seem a little low on the 15“ models ($1700 and $2000)–a healthy price drop, especially with added costs for the retina display. It would make sense only if Apple were really trying to cut into the competition (or–gasp–if the weak specs are true and the new Pros are minor speed bumps), but Apple shows little tendency toward that end.

Well, we’ll know in five days.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Just Spitballing on the New Pro

April 27th, 2012 3 comments

A new Macbook Pro refresh is on the horizon, hopefully sooner rather than later. The shortest historical refresh time is not until June, but I am hoping it’ll come sooner, especially since the last release was only the barest of speed bumps (0.2GHz CPU bump, a slightly better graphics card, 256 MB more graphics memory–nothing else changed in the 15“ model), meaning that is was hardly a ”refresh“ at all. It’s also why I did not replace my seriously aging MBP, long without an optical drive anyway (it broke a year and a half ago) and struggling to keep up with current software demands.

So here I am, straining at the bit to buy a new machine, but I have to wait. I have a lot to look forward to: the new Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs have come out, and the new MBPs are bound to have them.

What worries me is talk about a new, slimmer form factor. It sounds nice, but I’m worried that they might make the Macbook Pro into little more than a 15” Macbook Air. Granted, the Air is nice, but I really need the capacity and ports that a Pro gives.

It’s expected that the new Pro will come without an optical drive; Apple was the first to abandon the floppy, so this makes sense. Sure, a Blu-ray drive would be fantastic, but that’s an extreme long shot. Apple will more likely continue with their direction towards wireless and the cloud. If there’s no optical drive, Apple could save a lot of space.

Ports are another probable cut–but they are also what have made the Pro a “Pro”; cutting FireWire would be a big disappointment for many people, like myself, who still have FireWire peripherals. Apple has a tendency to not give a crap about that, unfortunately.

A bigger potential problem would be if they went with SSD, and chintzed and went with a 256 GB storage solution. I have long been looking forward to increasing my drive space, which is currently 250 GB. A pro model should have more than that (current models have 500 and 750 GB), and I fear that Apple would make 256 GB standard and charge hundreds of dollars to upgrade to 512 GB. Look at the Air–you get 128 GB for the base 13“ model, and pay $300 to get 256 GB. I can easily imagine Apple giving us 256 GB on the 15” and then asking $500 for an upgrade to 512 GB. Even worse, they might make 128 GB standard on the low-end 15“ model, and ask $250 to upgrade to 256 GB, which would really tick me off.

Now, if a 512 GB SSD came standard, that would be sweet. But somehow I doubt it; Apple has been known to disappoint on stuff like this (look at the iPad and how they have refused to bump the SSD memory on those for the 2nd and 3rd generations). As with the no-Blu-ray and early FDD and now probably DVD retirements, they can be dictatorial about what you need and what you will get, as it suits their esthetic sense. SSD will be a big, fat target to chintz on.

What alternatives are there? If Apple keeps 2.5” HDDs, they could keep the rear end of the Pro a similar thickness and start tapering to the front only, which seems unlikely if they really want a slimmer enclosure. Or, if they wanted to improve performance without switching to SSDs, they could try a 2- or even 3-disk RAID array with 1.8“ drives (maybe 2 250 GB drives in a striped array and a third as a built-in ”Time Machine“ backup to address higher failure risks in the striped array).

This seems unlikely, however; HDD and RAID are moving backwards, and Apple likes shiny, futuristic stuff. SSDs look far more likely, meaning my primary hope is that Apple’s huge consumption of flash memory (not to mention their recent acquisition of an SSD manufacturer) allows them to give the best capacity solution for a reasonable price.

But if Apple goes down the ”oh, the Cloud is here, you really don’t need all that storage“ road, I will be ever so pissed.

Late Edit: One other possibility I forgot to consider: if Apple stays with the 2.5” HDD storage solution, they could go for an SSD cache. Given that they don’t go for an ultra-slim model, this actually might be the most likely compromise, allowing for both capacity (perhaps continuing the 500 and 750 GB drives) and speed (with perhaps a 64 GB SSD), with the missing optical drive and a redesigned battery shape allowing them to slim down enough to make a difference in aesthetics.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Enough with the “Invulnerable” BS, Okay?

April 20th, 2012 3 comments

Ars Technica headline:

Mac OS X invulnerability to malware is a myth, says security firm

Following it is an article which lays out how Macs are not “immune” to malware.

To quote two commenters: first, “Duh.” And second, “It’s a myth that there is a myth of invulnerability.”

Another commenter posts that “every single Mac owner” he has ever known claimed their Macs were “immune.” Something tells me that whatever number of people told him this said that their Macs were immune to PC malware, probably specific types that were the subject of conversation.

This is likely the source of the “Macs are invulnerable” myth. I have never heard a Mac user claim this, but people who dislike Macs and/or Mac users claim it all the time. It’s probably from just such cases–“Oh, you were hit by Conficker? Heh, my Mac is immune to that. I don’t even run antivirus software.” The Mac user does not mean “my Mac is perpetually invulnerable to any kind of attack,” but the annoyed PC user hears it that way, and starts spreading the claim.

However, articles like the one on Ars will be around as long as antivirus vendors are. And PC users will continue to perpetuate the “invulnerable” myth despite it’s lack of basis in fact, because it was never about facts, but about wanting to have something with which to attack their sources of annoyance.

As a side note, here’s a quote from a post I put up seven years ago, noting something I have steadily pointed out many times over the years (2006, 2007, 2008, and then in 2011):

So essentially, there’s no evidence that a wave of Mac viruses is headed for your computer. Not that it’s impossible, mind you–Mac OS X is very strong, but not completely impenetrable. It is assumed that at some point, a virus will break through. But it is also acknowledged that cracking OS X with any kind of substantial virus or worm is extraordinarily difficult.

Which remains true–there have been no viruses or worms that have had any success in infecting the Mac community–they are primarily trojans, which are more about tricking the user than they are about defeating the system’s security. That the Flashback trojan was able to infect without getting a password is troubling, however, and hopefully there will be re-thinking on Apple’s part toward eliminating that possibility.

Once again, the Mac is not invulnerable. It’s just safer.

WTF, Apple?

April 16th, 2012 Comments off

Apple is reportedly trying to be “more secure” about its Apple Store setup. The thing is, they’re going about it in the most idiotic way I can imagine–one which may beef up their security, but at the same time, sets up millions of users to fall for trojans and phishing schemes.

As we are exposed to these schemes more and more, we learn to avoid falling for them by adhering to a few basic principles. There are two which have become engrained the strongest. The first is, when a pop-up appears and asks you to enter your password, be very leery of it, especially if it does not look fully official and could be a scam. That is exactly the method used by the FlashBack malware creators; break that principle, and you open the door for trojans.

Next, when you get an email and it links directly to a “trusted” site and asks you, before anything else, to enter your user ID and password, don’t. Banks will even tell you outright that they never send emails that link you to login pages, and that you should enter the bank’s URL directly. With Safari being vulnerable to counterfeit URLs, the danger is even greater. Break that principle, and you can be suckered into phishing schemes.

And yet, with Apple’s “more secure” tightening of iTunes accounts, they are leading users to violate those exact two principles, setting them up to be victimized by scammers and hackers.

First, in the iOS, when you try to download a new app from the App Store, it will, as usual, take you out of the App Store so you can see the app downloading–a “feature” which is stupid for different reasons.

Here’s the stupid part, security-wise: outside of the App Store app, you get a dialog box which pops up and says, “Security Info Required”; before you can download anything, even a free app, you have to accept it and–despite having just entered your user ID and password to download the app only seconds before, you are prompted to do it again.

When that happened to me, red flags went up–it had all the hallmarks of a trojan (a pop-up followed by an unusual and redundant ID & password request, neither of which I had ever seen before). Nor am I the only one to get this sense–many were baffled by this procedure for exactly the same reasons. It was only after researching on the web that I felt halfway confident that it was indeed genuine; for obvious reasons, I am extremely reluctant to enter my iTunes Store password, and Apple did a piss-poor job of making it seem authentic. All they had to do was make the pop-up appear a second earlier, within the App Store app, and I would have been more confident it was genuine. Even better, they could have gone to the trouble of being consistent, and, like with the iTunes Store EULA, simply prompted you to go back to the App Store app and go through the process. Instead, they made it happen outside any known and trusted app, which makes it more suspicious.

Sure, the chance of an unheard-of trojan popping up just then on my iPad was unlikely–but Apple’s method here violated the principle.

That’s the first ball dropped by Apple. The second: after they require you to enter a backup email address, they send you an email with a link to authorize the email address. OK, I thought–this is the standard thing where you click on the link, they get the message, and tell you “OK, you’re authentic.” That’s how it always works–again, consistency is key.

Instead, the email link takes me to a page telling me to re-enter my iTunes Store ID and password. What the fuck, Apple? Are you people not just stupid, but insanely stupid? I never input IDs and passwords in response to any email link. Especially at a time when Safari is know to be susceptible to URL spoofing.

Essentially, Apple is demanding that users follow a process which you should never, ever follow because it is exactly the process used by scammers to harvest your private information–exactly like they did just a few months ago. Simply on a matter of principle, I refuse to follow that process. Yes, the chances of a scammer sending me a phishing email to the right email address just after I secured my account to that address are exceedingly slim–but anyone who takes security seriously–and I take my iTunes Store account security very seriously–you simply do not enter a password like that in response to an email someone sent you. Even if the link appears legit and the URL seems legit, you never know when scammers are going to find a way to make it look that way.

What Apple should have done is simply accepted the coded email response, like everyone else. Or, if they have such a hard-on to get your iTunes Store ID and password confirmed, do it within an app or again, a site the user navigates to.

But to force users, not once but twice, to follow a route that makes them wide open to malware and phishing attacks in the future?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

The Flashback Botnet Trojan on Macs

April 8th, 2012 6 comments

Well, it is finally here–what appears to be the first fairly large infestation of malware on Macs. We expected this, and there will doubtlessly be more. It looks like it is a fairly strong infestation, though it still represents only a small, even tiny fraction on the threat Windows users face every day. It’s also still just a trojan, not a virus or a worm (none for the Mac have ever been found), but appears to be more successful than any previous attack–maybe. If you use a Mac, it is naturally best to check (details below)–but it is also reasonable to have certain doubts about the stories being circulated. Let me give you my own experience on this.

My Own Experience with the Attack

About a week to two weeks ago, I started noticing that every day or two, I would, upon visiting some of my regular web sites, get inexplicably redirected to one of two weird sites. One was a “femalebodyinspector” site, another seemed to be a bogus UStream site (“ustreambesttv”). Both sites had a similar attribute: they had TLDs (top level domains, like “.com” or “.co.jp”) of “rr.nu”–which I had never seen before.

Upon looking into it, I found it was a WordPress hack–one or two blogs I visited regularly were, at least temporarily, hacked with this code that caused them to redirect to the “rr.nu” sites. Having suffered from the “Pharma” WordPress hack myself, I figured it was no more than an attempt to direct web traffic and get various ad revenues. Satisfied that it was not something wrong with my machine, I moved on. About a week ago, I stopped getting the redirects, and figured that the sites I visit had cleared out the hack.

FlashBack, and What It Is

However, now we’re hearing about something much wider, something called the Flashback trojan. Apparently, once you are, by whatever agent, redirected to one of these sites (the “rr.nu” TLD seems the best indicator), your browser may be prompted to automatically download a program which will then try to trick you into giving it your admin password–but even if you don’t give it, the trojan could still run in a limited manner.

It is reported that, once installed, it could attempt to harvest passwords or other confidential information, and may also use you computer as part of a “botnet”–a collection of many compromised computers (often referred to as “zombie computers”) to send spam, participate in swarming attacks on targeted web sites (DDoS), or other unpleasant endeavors. If your computer has been so compromised, you may never even be aware of it–the aim of the hacker is not to disrupt your computer, but to add its power to their network, and collect data on you in the meantime. Disrupting your computer’s operation would alert you and make the malware useless to them.

Apple has released patches to prevent this attack (go to “Software Update” in your Apple menu), but these patches only prevent new attacks after installation, and do not clean up an infected computer.

Are You infected? What Should You Do?

To find out if your computer is affected, you may wish to download and run the “Flashback Checker” app, or, if you prefer a more hands-on approach, follow these instructions (the desirable outcome is to get “does not exist” for both checks).

If your computer is infected, then you can disable the malware (instructions here, but they are not simple to follow), but cannot (at this time–an automated app is inevitable sometime) fully delete it short of a clean re-install of your OS and software. That means backing everything up; making sure you have all your installers, settings, and passwords in order; erasing the hard drive; re-installing the OS and software; replacing all your documents from the backup; and re-inputting all settings and passwords. Which, by the way, is something you should do every year or two anyway. If you have the time and haven’t done this in the past few years, you may want to do it anyway, even if your Mac is clean.

Whether or not your Mac is clean, you should install the updates from Apple. It might also be a good idea to disable Java on your browser in any case (for Safari, open Safari Preferences, click on the Security tab, and deselect the “Enable Java”), or even for your whole computer (see that, as well as Chrome & Firefox procedures as well, on this page). You may also want to start using antivirus software (Sophos and ClamXav are free), but no antivirus is perfect. Though this particular trojan would have been stopped were ClamXav installed, just by its own procedure.

The Story Being Told: Is It Believable?

The trojan is in fact real; there is no doubt about that. The question is, how widespread is it, what are the chances of any one person’s infection, and what threat does it represent?

According to the press release provided by an anti-virus software vendor, about 600,000 Macs have been infected by this trojan. However, it should be noted that these people make money selling people antivirus software. Which means that they have a vested interest in scaring the crap out of people with exaggerated reports–something these companies have been doing for years in the Mac community. The evidence for the claim of 600,000 Macs infected has not been presented, and is being treated with suspicious caution at the present time.

Was I Infected?

So, is my Mac infected since I was redirected to one of those sites? As it turns out, no–I ran the Flashback Checker app and got a clean bill of health, after running the terminal code as well. But if I was redirected to that infectious web site, then why is it that I’m clean?

Apparently, being a nerd helps. Remember, the people running this thing don’t want to be detected, and we nerds tend to be more cautious and apt to catch stuff like that. As a result, this particular malware performs a check before it attempts to install, and if it finds certain software, it self-destructs, it aborts and deletes itself. The software it looks for includes Xcode (Apple’s developer software which allows you to write apps), Little Snitch (an app that monitors activity in and out of your computer and alerts you to anything untoward), any antivirus software, or any other monitor of web traffic. Anyone with any of this software would be more apt to discover the breach and thus defeat the infestation, on their own computers and (as is hoped by this post and others) elsewhere. I have Xcode installed, and thus averted infection.

However, as I did get redirected to those sites, I can attest to the fact that this is in fact real–though I cannot attest to the claims that (a) anywhere near 600,000 Macs have actually been infected, or (b) that the infections actually mean that anything malicious is being done as a result.

What to Do: Bullet List

Of course, the best idea is to be as safe as possible. Here’s what to do:

  • Get the “Flashback Checker” app and run it.
  • If you are infected, and if you can follow instructions on how to use Terminal and manage files, then follow the trojan de-activation procedure.
  • Whether or not you are infected, run your Mac’s software update from the Apple menu and install the most recent updates, if you have not already.
  • Turn off Java on your Mac unless you have a special need for it.
  • DO NOT update ANY software which you did not initiate the update check for–if an app seems to alert you for an upgrade, then close the alert and either open the app itself and do an update from within the app, or navigate manually to the official web site and download the upgrade yourself.
  • Do not enter your admin password unless you are sure that it is actually required, and that you understand why.
  • If you wish, you can install antivirus on your Mac; free versions are here and here .

I would be very much interested to hear if you found an infection–please let me know in the comments.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Apple’s Outrageous Worker Abuse? Yep–It’s Mostly Fake.

March 17th, 2012 5 comments

I’ll get to the new iPad review soon, but before that, I just wanted to say a few things about Apple and Foxconn.

It turns out, according to new reports today, that most of the outrageous abuses people have believed about Apple have been largely fabricated.

Now, over the past several months, there has been a great deal of attention focused on Foxconn, a contractor for many electronics firms, including Apple. It started with what was reported to be a cluster of suicides a few years ago. People were outraged; surely this was a result of oppressive conditions at the plant, an impression fueled by the general image of Asian factories being inhumane sweatshops with workplace conditions right out of the industrial-revolution era.

Added to that was a case of “Apple Outrage,” generally resentment from detractors of Apple, who, annoyed by the computer giant’s good press, enjoy jumping on any of its faults. The story was further driven by a media which loved the ironic contrast of the popular consumer-friendly company, run by a supposedly spiritually-tuned Steve Jobs, hiding potentially dark, cruel secrets.

In short, it got attention. At the time, the suicide “cluster” was more easily explained; on the story, I wrote:

Since then, there has been a lot of focus on Foxconn and suicides. Many are reporting a “cluster” of suicides, insinuating that Apple’s secretive nature is somehow linked to an oppressive work environment at the contractor. Note this Huffington Post article titled “Apple Supplier Foxconn Reports Eighth Suicide THIS YEAR,” with “THIS YEAR” in all caps, as if it is a shocking number. That sets the tone for the article, which, typical for articles like this, otherwise insinuates a shadowy, oppressive, iron-fisted horror chamber with Apple somehow tied in.

Terrible, right? Apple’s policies are killing these poor, oppressed workers, we’re led to believe. Except that, as stated above, Apple is just one of their clients; why put “Apple Supplier” at the start of the headline? And in fact, instead of the suicides being a sign of terrible stress, the opposite may actually be true. A few more responsible writers actually looked at the larger context and applied the Chinese national suicide rate–13.0 per 100,000 for men, 14.9 for women–and found that for the 300,000 workers at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant, there should be between 39 and 43 suicides per year. So by now, by mid-year, we should have seen about 20 suicides at the plant so far. Instead there have been 8. In that context, one can hardly make an argument about workers being horribly oppressed.

So the attention is not new–but it did flare recently. One thing that made it flare up were visuals–Foxconn installed nets to deter people from jumping off the tops of buildings, adding to the false impression that it was practically raining employees. More irony, with art this time–the media loved it.

But another thing that made people irate were the reports of horrible abuses. There’s a guy named Mike Daisey who does a stage show called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, who re-ignited the controversy by reporting on his trip to China, where he claims to have met with workers and saw first-hand the crippling effects of employer abuse–this is from Ed Schultz’s show:

SCHULTZ: We are joined tonight Mike Daisey. Great to have you with us. His monologue called “The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” And it’s performed at the public theater in New York City. For 18 months you have been doing this, 19 cities across the world. First of all, I’m intrigued, congratulations. I have not seen your performance, but you come to us tonight with absolute rave reviews. I’ve talked to people who have seen you. And you just sit down at the desk and you tell it like it is about what you saw in China. And I’m intrigued what motivated you to do that?

DAISEY: I have always loved technology. I have loved Apple, actually. I loved the devices. And I knew a lot about them, because I’m kind of a tech geek that way. I realized on day that I didn’t actually know — I knew how to take my computer apart, but I didn’t know how it had actually been made. And I started researching it. And a lot of these stories that are coming out now, human rights groups have been reporting on them for the better part of a decade. So none of this is actually controversial. This is actually how things are done across the electronics industry. So I felt compelled to go to China and actually dig in the story.

SCHULTZ: And you went there in 2010, correct?

DAISEY: Yes.

SCHULTZ: OK. What did you see?

DAISEY: I saw all the things that everyone has been reporting on. I saw under-age workers. I talked to workers who were 13, 14, 15 years old. I met people whose hands have been destroyed from doing the same motion again and again on the line, carpal tunnel on a scale we can hardly imagine.

SCHULTZ: Making Apple products?

DAISEY: Yes. And making products across the electronics industry. All our electronics are made in this fashion.

SCHULTZ: What do these people get paid in China to do this? What does Apple pay them? I mean, this is all about cheap labor, isn’t it?

DAISEY: It is. Cheap labor is the engine that fuels this entire enterprise. It should be said that there is a different standard of living. And it’s one of the reasons that all this industry goes to the area. That said, it’s still true that the amount people are being paid is low enough that they feel like they need to work that incredibly excessive amount of overtime. And then they’re practically required to do it until they drive themselves into the ground.

Daisey went all over the media, spreading this story. Telling people about how workers were being crippled regularly because of the unsafe conditions, driven into the ground by forced shifts lasting more than a day. He told of one worker who, while Daisey was in China, worked a 34 hour shift until he died. He painted a picture where people were being driven to kill themselves over the horrific conditions.

This created a furor, sparking protests against Apple. However, it didn’t exactly ring true to me, mostly for the same reason the suicide story did not. I not only remembered that, but I also remember two times in my own experience where there were union actions against different places where I worked, and the claims made by disgruntled workers were, for the most part, a concoction of wild accusations, specious rumors, and speculation based upon the worst imagined conditions, but then expressed as the gospel truth. The kernel of truth tends to get buried beneath all of the hyperbole. So I know that things can get distorted even more than Steve Jobs himself was capable of.

In addition, Apple has not been–contrary to rumor–either complicit in nor apathetic about such matters. For years, Apple has performed their own checks on contractors to make sure they are not committing worker abuses, and they have made these reports public, even though they are often used to unfairly vilify Apple.

This also irritated me about Daisey’s claims–he said that he was glad that Apple is “actually starting to react,” when it had been working to stem any such abuses for years, a fact Daisey either didn’t know about or didn’t care to look up.

When a co-worker brought up these issues with me and asked my opinion (knowing my affinity for Apple products), I said what I felt: that probably Apple was taking advantage of cheap labor and that the workload and conditions would be ones we ourselves would not enjoy… but that most of the accusations being made were likely not true. I figured that this guy Daisey was predisposed to believe the worst, took at face value everything that he was told–and then exaggerated further for effect, being so passionate about it.

What I did not know is what was just revealed by a journalist, who, with the producer of This American Life, confronted Daisey on his reports. The show that broadcast Daisey’s account has now retracted their episode because Daisey was making most of this crap up:

Cathy Lee, Daisey’s translator in Shenzhen, was with Daisey at this meeting in Shenzhen. I met her in the exact place she took Daisey—the gates of Foxconn. So I asked her: “Did you meet people who fit this description?”

“No,” she said.

“So there was nobody who said they were poisoned by hexane?” I continued.

Lee’s answer was the same: “No. Nobody mentioned the Hexane.”

I pressed Cathy to confirm other key details that Daisey reported. Did the guards have guns when you came here with Mike Daisey? With each question I got the same answer from Lee. “No,” or “This is not true.”

Daisey claims he met underage workers at Foxconn. He says he talked to a man whose hand was twisted into a claw from making iPads. He describes visiting factory dorm rooms with beds stacked to the ceiling. But Cathy says none of this happened.

When confronted with all of this, Daisey pulled a Limbaugh, claiming to be an entertainer and not a journalist:

“Look. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work,” Daisey said. “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism. And it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”

Yes, I am sure that he regrets it now that he is completely disgraced. I am sure that he did not make the rather cold calculation that if he presented it as “theater,” then he would not have received a millionth of the attention that he did.

And I am sure we can take him at his word now, when he tells us that he “stands behind his work.” A galling claim, considering how much he lied, and in the midst of that lying, he accused Apple of dishonestly influencing a labor group who were investigating the Foxconn plant.

Worse, calling it “theater” when he made the direct claim, on news shows, not at all “in character,” after having been introduced as “telling it like it is,” as a factual report of what he personally saw… that’s not theater, that is out-and-out fraud.

How did he defend that? Like this:

Rob Schmitz: Cathy says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.

Mike Daisey: That’s correct.

RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?

MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.

RS: How would you express it?

MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.

Ira Glass: Did you meet workers like that? Or did you just read about the issue?

MD: I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers.

IG: So you didn’t meet an actual worker who’d been poisoned by hexane.

MD: That’s correct.

So he meets some disgruntled workers who tell second-hand tales about people they heard about who were poisoned by chemicals, and believes that it is OK to represent this by telling that he himself saw these people firsthand.

Frankly, Apple should sue the crap out of this liar and give every penny he dishonestly earned spreading those lies to Foxconn employees.

Because, in the end, this is not about Apple using Foxconn workers for they enrichment–it was Daisey who was doing exactly that. He used them to sell his one-man show, to gain fame and fortune.

Once again, this does not mean that there are none or never have been any abuses. There may be–but we don’t know. Apple may be bullshitting us as badly as Daisey was–but we have no evidence to support that. Workers at Foxconn may be abused and oppressed–but we have nothing but rumors, mostly now discredited thanks to Daisey, to back up that suspicion.

Foxconn could just as well be what they present themselves as being–an above-average workplace for China, treating its workers as well as can be expected, in conditions that the workers find appealing enough to apply for jobs in massive numbers. Again, we just don’t know for sure. There’s no convincing evidence either way.

So take it for what you will.

Categories: Corporate World, Mac News, Social Issues Tags:

iPad 3 and LTE

February 14th, 2012 1 comment

Rumors are now solidifying, identifying a March 7 date for an Apple event announcing the iPad 3. The release is expected within a week after the event, in mid-March. The new iPad will almost certainly have a high-density 2048 x 1536 screen, a stronger battery, and likely a quad-core A6 CPU.

What about the long-rumored LTE, however? The most recent stories claim thew other features are expected, but that LTE is only “possible.”

That made me wonder, if there is LTE in the new iPad, how will Softbank be able to react to it? They don’t have LTE yet, do they? So I looked it up.

Softbank actually “soft-launched” (whatever that means) an LTE network last November, covering only parts of major cities. It plans to cover more than 90% of Japan by the end of 2012, with eventual 97% coverage of the country. They have been installing a very large number of microcells, as many as 150 base stations per square kilometer, in the hopes of handling high capacity traffic. The service will reportedly provide speeds of up to 110 Mbps download and 15 Mbps upload.

However, it’s not publicly available yet. So, when will it be commercially launched?

At the end of February. A week before the iPad 3 is announced, just a few weeks before it is launched.

Hmmmmm…

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012, iPad, Mac News Tags:

Looking Before You Leap

January 3rd, 2012 3 comments

My iPad (first generation) has been more or less disabled by Apple. How? Because I upgraded to iOS 5, thinking that because I had not heard any horror stories about the upgrade on various sites, it must be OK.

Huge mistake. If you have a first-generation iPad, DO NOT upgrade to iOS 5.

Apple should be ashamed of itself for allowing iOS 5 to be approved for the iPad 1, considering how they will easily disallow upgrades on devices whenever they feel the user experience is not supportable with new software. How they felt that the iPad 1 could work under iOS 5 is completely beyond me.

It’s mostly a matter of RAM memory. Using iOS 4, I could count on about half of the iPad’s 256 MB of RAM to be free upon a restart. This would often dwindle, especially when I used memory-intensive apps like Civilization Revolution. I noted that if free memory got down to below 10 MB, any app I used would be likely to crash.

After “upgrading” to iOS 5, primarily because I wanted to use iCloud with all my other devices (Apple’s syncing with all prior software sucked big-time), I started installing stuff–and began to notice that apps would start crashing all the time. I checked the free memory and found it to be below 10 MB. I tried restarting, and it jumped to about 30 MB–only to fall to 15 MB in a few seconds, and fluctuated below 10 MB regularly.

I tried a new restore–same problem. I restored again, this time as a new iPad–same problem. I checked out various web sites and Apple discussions, and people claimed it was just the restore that would fix it. But then I stumbled across the correct answer, finding the culprit which was causing most of the grief.

iCloud. Yep, the app which was pretty much the only reason I upgraded was the one which essentially wiped out the iPad’s memory and made the device completely unusable. This was not something wrong with my iPad or mys settings. This was Apple’s recommended basic setup.

15 MB of free RAM after a basic startup is ludicrous. What the fuck was Apple thinking?

So I restored once again and this time didn’t activate iCloud, and sure enough, memory cleared up–somewhat. Now I’ll have as much as 60 MB of memory free upon startup–only half of what there was before–but now the damned thing at least will not crash all the time. I suspect that I won’t be able to use many of the apps I took for granted before, and as such will have a half-lobotomized iPad.

I intend to complain, loudly, to Apple and insist they do more than tell me that I’m screwed. Not that it will get me anywhere, but customers have to give companies grief if they pull crap like this.

Categories: iPad, Mac News Tags:

Jobs Resigns… Sort Of

August 25th, 2011 7 comments
Well, it happened:

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

—Steve

Surprisingly, Apple stock only fell about 20 points–but then again, Jobs has been on so many medical leaves, is staying on as director and “employee,” and Tim Cook has a good track record, so I guess this is being taken as a very gentle roll instead of the bottom dropping out. Also, what with the iPad and iPhone going so strong, it’s kind of hard to be bearish about Apple anyway. I think it’s fairly safe to say that Jobs has done a pretty good job over the past 13 or so years imprinting his style on Apple’s corporate culture.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

The App Store and Retailers

June 12th, 2011 1 comment

Computerworld, as usual not seeing the whole picture:

Apple’s decision to sell the Mac OS X Lion upgrade through its own Mac App Store won’t hurt the company’s bottom line but will certainly impact traditional retailers, a market analyst said Friday.

“The Best Buys, the Staples, the PC Connections, they all still have a decent Mac software business,” said Stephen Baker of retail research firm NPD Group. “This will have an impact on all those guys. [The release of an OS upgrade] is always a good opportunity for them to connect to customers, get them into the store and thinking about upgrading their devices.”

That may be, but the real impact of Lion’s upgrade mechanism will be that it forces Apple users to use the App Store at all–something which many are doubtlessly avoiding as they hang on to traditional outlets. Once they are forced to use the App Store to download Lion, they may start looking around, could start finding some good deals, and might recognize that the App Store is a handy one-stop method of buying apps, as well as the later realization that it keeps them up-to-date on upgrades. If they also start seeing lower prices in general, they may start doing what shoppers did when firms like Amazon and Netflix swept them away–rarely if ever going to a brick-and-mortar store to buy media again. Apple started encroaching on the retail market with their own brick-and-mortar stores, now they are simply taking the next logical step–for Apple.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for consumers? Depends on who you ask. The App Store does tend to be a convenience, and can help you find lower prices (perhaps because of its DRM nature). But what about competition? Well, frankly, there’s less of that in the Mac world. Especially with Apple’s stuff–they tend to control prices pretty firmly. There is probably a lot less comparison-shopping out there for Apple stuff than there is for PC stuff. One rather unfortunate side of the Apple world is that sellers assume that Apple users will pay higher prices for everything. I see this in Japan; stores like Labi, for instance, charge way more for Apple gear, despite it being essentially that same stuff as PCs use.

I think the argument could be made that Apple, despite its reputation for premium price tags, is actually saving consumers more–especially when it comes to stuff Apple doesn’t make. They made it a lot cheaper to buy music, no doubt about that–you usually don’t have to buy an album to get the one or two songs you want anymore, and albums themselves are now a lot cheaper digitally. And they made software cheaper with the App Store, especially on mobile platforms. And while some Apple stuff can be pricey, Apple does have its bargains. The iPad was certainly priced to move. And Apple’s office suite traditionally cost only $99, which may have led Microsoft to price their own suite down to a similar level–except now, in the App Store, the suite can be had for $60. And the OS upgrade for Apple, which previously was $130 and cheaper than Microsoft even then, is now $30, as we discover that Snow Leopard was not just an aberration. Let’s see Microsoft match that. I have a feeling that if they priced Windows Ultimate at $50 and MS Office at $75, they might not have as good a profit margin. Apple gets away with it because their profits are driven by hardware; Microsoft doesn’t have that cushion.

The only thing we can be sure of is that Apple will continue to try to slowly rake more and more business its way. Whether it will gain enough market share to let it charge more, or start charging more when it is able, is anyone’s guess. While certainly an outfit bent on making large profits, Apple is clearly not a consumer advocacy organization–but they do seem better at paying attention to customer needs than Microsoft.

WWDC

June 7th, 2011 1 comment

Well, no touch-screen Macs. Could come in the future, though–they tend to limit the keynotes to fill 2 hours, no more, and this one was full.

Lion, a full OS upgrade, for $30, for up to 5 machines. I’d love to see Microsoft match that.

MobileMe now defunct. Um, do I get a prorated refund?

Looks like there are so many smaller features to both OS X and iOS geared towards the general user experience, it’ll take a while to digest it all. Autosave, Versions, and Resume should make using apps a smoother experience. The Cloud for photos could be a nice way to collect and sift/sort through photos–depends on how they set it up and how flexible it is.

Too much for this late….

Categories: Mac News Tags: