Category Archives: Apple

Apple

Weird iPad Bug: Audio from Certain Apps Only Played Via Headphones

This rather obscure iPad issue has been occasionally annoying me for ages, and I finally worked it out tonight.

The problem I had was that some, but not all, apps would only play audio through the headphones, not through the internal speaker. For example, BBC iPlayer would play through either the speaker or the headphones, as would Safari and the YouTube app; but some media player apps could only be heard via the headphone socket.

Perhaps the strangest was the 4oD app, which is the TV on demand app from the British station Channel 4 (C4). This usually plays a short C4 ident, then a sponsor message, then the programme. Bizarrely, with this app, the ident could only be heard via headphones, the sponsor message could be heard via either headphones or speaker, and the programme only via headphones.

This was rather annoying, as I often prefer to watch and listen to media without putting headphones on: my hearing is already sufficiently damaged from too many years of live pub bands that I only pipe sound directly onto my eardrums when I really want to.

It turns out the problem relates to the side switch on the iPad, which can be used as either an external speaker mute button or a rotation lock.

A couple of months ago I accidentally changed the settings to make this be the mute button; I normally use it for rotation lock. It turns out that, when I changed the settings back to make it act as rotation lock, I had the physical switch itself in the mute position. It seems that, when the setting was changed back, some part of the system remembered the mute setting and was using it – but only for certain apps or even, as in the case of 4oD, for parts of certain apps.

The solution? Go to Settings, General, and in the “Use side switch to:” section, change to “Mute”. Then ensure the switch itself isn’t in the mute position: you don’t have to put it there then switch it back or anything silly like that, just be sure it’s in the right place, with the protruding part towards the top of your iPad and with no orange dot visible. Then leave the settings app and switch to one of the misbehaving media players, and you should find it now plays through the internal speaker again. Finally, return to Settings, General and switch back to Rotation Lock, assuming that’s what you want.

It may be that you can just change to Mute then back to Rotation Lock without leaving the Settings app and get the same effect, but I haven’t checked. I’m just happy to have my internal speaker working again for all apps.

And now I’ve written that up, I’m going to watch a programme about a man whose home is even more messy than mine. I may even use the headphones for this one…

Steve Jobs’ Other Computer

After he was so rudely ejected from Apple in 1985, Steve Jobs created a new company called NeXT. They made a microcomputer that was way ahead of anything else. Unfortunately, so was its price tag: over $6000.

The NeXT cube was a machine for geeks to salivate over. It had a Digital Signal Processing chip onboard! Even if you weren’t quite sure what you might actually do with a DSP chip, having one surely had to be better than not having one. It had a magneto-optical drive, capable of storing 256MB of data on a $50 cartridge. It had Display PostScript, which gave you device-independent rendering, which sounded pretty good in a world where you tended to have to figure out how bits and bytes mapped to pixels if you wanted to get something on the screen with any degree of rapidity. And it had a load of other stuff that sounded really cool, even if you weren’t quite sure what to do with it (TCP/IP? Has a slash in its name, must be a Good Thing).

I first found out about the NeXT cube in the November 1988 issue of Byte magazine (of blessed memory). I have a vivid recollection of reading the review: I consumed all eleven text-heavy pages, plus photos and diagrams, between four and five o’clock of a Sunday morning in a bitterly cold waiting room at Birmingham New Street station, where my girlfriend and I had accidentally ended up after falling asleep on the last train from Nottingham to Leicester. (Yes, we’d been in the pub. Almost all day, actually.)

At that time I was making a modest living coding game conversions, and could only dream of being able to afford several thousands of pounds for a computer (some things never change). Yet now, I am typing this on a descendant of that machine, while occasionally checking Twitter on another descendant, and hoping that a third descendant doesn’t ring: for my MacBook, my iPad and my iPhone all run an operating system descended from that on the NeXT cube.

In fact, writing this post is a way of procrastinating when I should really be working on an iPhone app, using Apple’s developer tools – descended from, yes, the very development environment that I found so exciting when I read about it twenty-three years ago in that freezing railway station.

Only yesterday it occurred to me that I should dig out that old copy of Byte magazine and re-read their review of the NeXT cube; the constant use of classes whose names begin with “NS” tends to make me think back to that chilly autumn night. Then, in the early hours of this morning, I discovered (via my iPad) that Steve Jobs had died.

This sad news has inspired me to scan the review and put it up on this site (links are at the bottom of this post), so others can read it and maybe get some idea of the excitement a twenty-something software developer felt all those years ago. If you have difficulty imagining that feeling, well, you shouldn’t, as it was just like the excitement we’ve felt at so many new Apple products over the last decade. For the NeXT cube isn’t just a dusty relic of a long-since-vanished company: it was the precursor of the modern Mac, and of the iPhone and iPod Touch and iPad. A fundamental part of all these wonderful machines descends, not directly from the machine that was advertised by Apple Computer in 1984, but from the machine I couldn’t afford in 1988.

P.S. Although I never got to play with a NeXT, other people did. They included Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who used one to implement a bright idea of his called the World Wide Web. So it’s not just the computer on which I write this that came from Steve Jobs’ NeXT, but also the medium in which I publish it. It really was a pretty cool machine :-)

Thumbnail links to individual scans

All scans, compressed (~60MB)

In which I play with fire, aka Mac Protector

There is much brouhaha and kerfuffle at the moment about the fact that malware for the Mac has finally arrived in strength. I’m not sure why anybody is surprised; we knew this day would come and, more importantly, we knew it probably wouldn’t be as bad as things were for Windows users in the days before XP SP2.

(tl;dr: here’s what you can do to avoid or cure the problem.)

Out of a sense of duty to the Mac user community – well, more accurately, because I was looking for a way to avoid working on anything useful – I took it upon myself to locate one of these pieces of malware and have a look at what was going on. It didn’t take long to find a link to a site hosting Mac malware posted in the Apple support forums (which, in turn, I found via the ClamXav forums), and I was able to get procrastinating.

The page I went to (which I will not link to, obviously) presented me with a screen that made a rather pathetic attempt to look like a Finder window, and displayed an animation that looked like it was performing a virus scan; this is what it looked like once the not-actually-a-scan was finished (n.b. these screenshots are links to the full-size version):

Web page resembling a Finder window showing a fake virus scan

There was one thing very obviously wrong about this: it used the font Arial, rather than Lucida Grande which is the default Mac system font. Given Arial’s total lack of resemblance to Lucida Grande, this meant it looked like pants.

In addition, the left column did not reflect reality: the name of the hard drive was the default “Macintosh HD”, and the list of folders below that was not the list I have. (I see however that Dropbox is now so popular that it found its way in there… or maybe this reflects the machine of the person who created this thing.)

And, of course, there’s the lousy grammar in the pretend dialog box.

In fact, this page was nothing but HTML, CSS and JavaScript. However, in addition to showing off this fancy animation, it also downloaded a file called “anti-malware.zip”. In fact, it downloaded this as soon as the page loaded; the animated “scan” merely served as a distraction from this activity, although in my case the payload had completed downloading before the “scan” was even 32% complete. A bit sloppy IMHO – it should have made a song and dance about performing the download after the scan was complete.

However, one important point is that I have disabled automatic running of downloads in Safari. In a default configuration, this file would have been unzipped and its contents executed automatically. (See below for details of how to disable this.)

One further point to note was that the payload was apparently delivered from the future:

Finder file listing showing a creation date of 'Tomorrow 00:33:58'

Subsequent visits to the site have resulted in files dating between around one hour and five hours in the future; this could reflect the file being hosted in a number of different places around the world and having the date it was uploaded to the server from which it happens to be downloaded, but could also imply that the file is being modified in an attempt to avoid detection by Mac anti-malware applications such as ClamXav.

Upon unzipping this file, a Mac installer package was revealed:

Finder file listing showing MacProtector.mpkg

Odd points to note: the creation/modification/last opened dates of 11 May 2011 are eight days before I downloaded this, which might mean that was in fact the last time the file was modified. This would suggest that the varying creation dates of my multiple copies of the payload reflect redistribution to different servers rather than modification of the software.

Anyway, an installer is no fun unless you run it, so here goes:

Screenshot: standard Mac installer titled 'Welcome to the Mac Protector Installer Program installer'

It turns out that the variant I’ve snared here is Mac Protector, which is interesting, as the forum link I originally followed said it was to Mac Defender, the other piece of malware that has been going around. The fact that a site that was serving one of them has switched to serving the other might be construed as implying that they are both under the control of the same entity, although it does not actually prove that.

What we have is a standard Mac installer; so standard that they haven’t even bothered to create their own artwork to go in the background. The heading “Welcome to the Mac Protector Installer Program installer” is also sloppily constructed – it should just read “Welcome to the Mac Protector installer”.

I’ll click “Continue” so you don’t have to:

Screenshot: standard Mac installer claiming to need 2.9 MB of space

The installer has skipped the installation disk selection screen (although this is available via the “Change Install Location…” button), and gone straight to wanting to install on the main hard disk in my MacBook; it will require 2.9 MB of space.

Let’s click “Install” – but only after bringing up Activity Monitor and carefully positioning it next to that window, with the installer app selected so that I can hit “Force Quit” quickly if my gamble doesn’t pay off:

Screenshot: standard Mac installer overlaid by standard password prompt

Phew, it was the red wire :)

I was quite relieved, and reassured, to see the password prompt: clearly this thing cannot do any harm unless explicitly allowed to. The real problem is that Mac users have not yet been educated to beware of this kind of thing.

I stopped here, for obvious reasons 😉

tl;dr. So what do I do about it?

The first thing Mac users can do to protect themselves is to disable automatic execution of downloads by Safari. (People have been telling Apple this for years, but do they listen?) Go to the Safari menu (up there, by the Apple icon) and select “Preferences…” then select the “General” tab. Now, look at the bottom:

Screenshot: Safari preferences, 'Open safe files after downloading' checkbox highlighted

That checkbox labelled “Open safe files after downloading” should be unchecked, off, not enabled. Do that now.

The second thing? Learn to be cautious. If something starts screaming at you to panic, don’t; calm down and check. If in doubt, don’t install anything. If anything prompts you for your password, make sure you know exactly what it is before typing it in. Your password should only be needed for things you have actively chosen to do.

If you’ve found yourself stuck with one of these pieces of malware, don’t worry: it’s quite easy to remove. Here are instructions for removing several variants of Mac Defender and Mac Protector on the Apple Support Communities forums.

Finally: it may be time to stop sneering at Windows users and accept that anti-malware software could be a good idea. Mark Allan’s ClamXav is free, and can deal with both Mac Defender and Mac Protector. If it saves your bacon, you may want to give Mark a donation via the PayPal link on his site.

Let’s be careful out there, everybody. Oh, and lose the attitude: Windows security is actually pretty good these days. From now on, Macs are only safer if their users are smarter.

iTunes Ping and Facebook: The Smoking Screenshot

Since Apple announced its new social networking service for iTunes, Ping, there has been speculation as to why it doesn’t integrate with Facebook.

Kara Swisher of All Things Digital asked Steve Jobs about this after the event:

…he said Apple had indeed held talks with Facebook about a variety of unspecified partnerships related to Ping, but the discussions went nowhere.

The reason, according to Jobs: Facebook wanted “onerous terms that we could not agree to.”

The plot thickened when Cult of Mac’s Giles Turnbull spotted a mention of “Connecting to your Facebook account” on the Ping page at apple.com (which is still there at the time of writing). Then Dan Frommer of Silicon Alley Insider pointed out that a mention of connecting through Facebook appeared in Steve Jobs’ demo of the Ping UI, although it doesn’t appear in the same place on the release version.

As I was having a play this evening after setting up a Ping account, I went to the “People” screen… and look what I found:


Oops! 'Connect with Facebook' message on iTunes Ping's 'People' screen
View on flickr

So it looks very much as if Apple planned Facebook integration right until the last minute, and when it was pulled they didn’t do a very good job of removing mentions of it from either the web site or the application itself.

I was astonished myself at the lack of Facebook integration: I assumed it would be a given for something like this. Presumably one of two things will happen. Either Apple and Facebook will come to a rapprochement, at which point Apple can flick a switch and enable integration of the two networks; or Steve Jobs will treat Facebook the way he’s treated Adobe over Flash. Given his track record of standing firm on such matters, those who want Ping and Facebook integration had better hope that Facebook cracks first.

Fix After Security Update 2009-001 Bricked My MacBook

This afternoon I finally got around to letting Software Update install the OS X Security Update 2009-001 for Tiger on my MacBook.

Being an idiot, I didn’t do a backup first. When the system restarted, it got to the grey screen with the Apple logo and the spinning gear, where it remained… for over half an hour.

At this point I gave up and switched over to my PowerMac, where an intensive Google session commenced. There appear to be a number of people encountering this or similar problems, but various suggested solutions didn’t work.

I was able to mount the MacBook on the PowerMac in target disk mode (which somebody on this Apple Support Discussions thread wrongly claims is impossible) and followed some of the steps listed at MacFixIt’s “Startup fails (particularly after a system or security update); solving” tutorial, specifically, deleting assorted cached OS files.

However, the MacBook still wouldn’t start, not even in Safe Mode.

So I then downloaded the standalone installer for the update from Apple. Despite being an Intel update, this ran on the PowerMac, and detected that the FireWire drive was a bootable Intel OS X installation. It installed successfully, and having ejected the MacBook drive, I restarted, holding down the Shift key to reboot in Safe Mode.

Bingo! The MacBook booted up. I restarted again, and it booted normally.

Panic over, and time to do a backup.

Hopefully this solution will prove helpful to anybody in the same situation.

WebDD: Microsoft’s Reality Distortion Field is Fully Functional

A designer?

A designer?

Originally uploaded by writerus drivelus.

Last Saturday I went to the WebDD conference at Microsoft Campus, Reading. Following my standard conference procedure, I checked in, obtained coffee, and fired up my MacBook.

Continue reading WebDD: Microsoft’s Reality Distortion Field is Fully Functional