While most of us were taking a break over the Thanksgiving vacation in the United States, Adam and Tonya caught up on their reading and videos. Adam looks at a DVD of Apple’s early days in “In Search of the Valley,” while Tonya takes a trip with Suzanne Stefanac’s “Dispatches from Blogistan.” Also in this issue, Glenn Fleishman muses on the presence of 802.11n wireless networking hardware in some current Macs, Adam both examines a privacy issue with the Nike+iPod Sport Kit and reviews the RollerMouse Pro, and we note the release of DiskWarrior 4.
DiskWarrior 4 Adds Intel Compatibility
Alsoft has released DiskWarrior 4, the long-awaited upgrade to their essential disk-repair utility. DiskWarrior locates and repairs disk directory information, which can bring back to life an otherwise unusable partition which has no physical faults and no other data corruption. (DiskWarrior scored highly in David Shayer’s “Shootout at the Disk Repair Corral” article, 2003-11-24, which compared major disk repair applications.) DiskWarrior 4 adds compatibility with Intel-based Macs, repairs file permissions, identifies corrupted preference files, and repairs Attribute B-trees and Access Control Lists under Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. The utility requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later. DiskWarrior 4 costs $100; upgrades from previous versions cost $50, plus $9 for shipping the installation disc. (There is no downloadable version available for the upgrade.)
Nike+iPod Generates Privacy Concerns
File this one under P for “privacy” or perhaps “paranoia.” A research group at the University of Washington has shown that the Nike+iPod Sport Kit could be exploited to enable someone to track the movements and location of a Nike+iPod user surreptitiously.
It turns out that the Nike+iPod sensor, either placed inside a Nike shoe or attached to the top of any other shoe, continuously transmits messages containing a unique identification code that the Nike+iPod receiver uses when pairing with a particular sensor. It doesn’t even have to be attached to a shoe, but wherever the device is placed, it must receive the kind of jolt that indicates a step. The sensor transmits with enough power that a receiver can pick up the signal from up to 60 feet (18.2 meters) away, making it possible for a custom-built receiver to detect the presence and identity of particular sensors from a distance. Because the sensor is a transmit-only device and doesn’t require an acknowledgment from the receiver, larger or more sensitive antennas could theoretically pick up signals even further away.
Obviously, there’s no inherent connection between you and your Nike+iPod sensor, but once someone had visually identified you, the unique code in your Nike+iPod sensor would enable later tracking, even without human intervention.
Apart from leaving the Nike+iPod sensor home, the only workaround is to turn it off whenever you’re not using it, but few people are likely to do that, and Apple hasn’t made it easy. And of course, if you want to use the Nike+iPod Sport Kit for a workout, there’s no alternative but to leave the sensor on during that time.
The real question revolves around the likelihood that a miscreant would take advantage of this design flaw in the Nike+iPod Sport Kit to stalk someone or otherwise compromise that person’s safety. Unfortunately, the technical side of the equation isn’t difficult. The research group built surveillance devices based on a Windows XP laptop, a commercially available miniature “gumstix” computer (sold for less than $250), the combination of an Intel Mote and Microsoft SPOT Watch, and an iPod running Linux (which required no special hardware at all). They even wrote a Google Maps-based Web application that displayed surveillance data in real time and could send tracking data via email or SMS text messaging. (Be sure to watch their movie showing each of these devices.) Some technical skill would be required to create any of these devices, and the research team is not publishing their source code, but clearly, this exploit isn’t limited to government spooks.
Apple announced some time ago that over 450,000 Nike+iPod Sport Kits had been sold, so there is already a large installed base of people who could potentially be tracked, even were Apple to update the product to eliminate this possibility. Such an update isn’t hard in theory; it’s just a matter of the sensor and the receiver agreeing on an identification code that changes on a regular basis, but that may be hard to implement within the constraints of a tiny $30 device.
So, if you’re a Nike+iPod user, should you be concerned? Tough question. I usually come down on the side of common sense, and common sense says to me that the likelihood of something bad happening because of carrying a Nike+iPod sensor in your shoe is low. And yet, compared to most proof-of-concept security exploits, this one is pretty worrying, both in its ease of implementation and interaction with real-world safety. The research team’s paper offers some fairly obvious and easily imagined scenarios, including the jealous boyfriend tracking his girlfriend, the ex-boyfriend using it to “accidentally” bump into his ex-girlfriend, the stalker, the professional thief monitoring when someone was home, the unethical organization tracking members or employees, a store tracking customer behavior, and even muggers using it to “pre-qualify” victims.
In the end, I think it comes down to individual situations. You probably have a pretty good idea if someone might want to track your whereabouts, or if you’re a potential burglary or mugging target. In such cases, I’d encourage caution; turn the Nike+iPod sensor off or remove it when you’re not exercising, or consider an alternate workout device. I’d encourage particular care around geek-intensive environments like college campuses. For most people, though, the minimal risk is likely worth the potential privacy invasion – most miscreants aren’t likely to rely on high tech methods of being creepy when the tried-and-true methods of skulking around corners remain available.
Perhaps the more overarching lesson from this security exploit is that we need to pay more attention to the concerns generated from our ever-increasing physical presence in the infosphere (see Luciano Floridi’s “Peering into the Future of the Infosphere,” 2006-09-25, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept). Even setting aside situations where a manufacturer of some gizmo intends for it to reduce your personal privacy in ways you may not realize, unexpected exploits such as this one are going to become all the more common, whether related to toll-collection transponders (which have been used to create traffic speed maps), GM’s OnStar car monitoring service, cell phones (which reveal your location within about 300 meters to your cell phone provider), or the next popular piece of personal electronics.
Do 802.11n Chips in Macs Signal New Wireless?
Shortly after the new MacBook Pro with the Intel Core 2 Duo processor was released, a MacRumors.com forum member took a close look and found, among other revised specifications, an 802.11n chipset from Atheros. Earlier, another MacRumors.com forum member wrote about finding a Broadcom 802.11n adapter in the Core 2 iMacs.
802.11n is a wireless-networking standard still in formation at the IEEE, an engineering standards body. The 802.11n standard will supersede, but will be backwards compatible with, 802.11b (which Apple calls AirPort) and 802.11g (AirPort Extreme), both of which are part of Wi-Fi. (Wi-Fi itself is a mark that indicates a piece of hardware has been tested for interoperability and for meeting specific tests.)
Although 802.11b runs at 11 Mbps and the 802.11g specification runs at 54 Mbps, those are raw network speeds, which include all the networking overhead that enables chunks of data to be wrapped up into packets and sent over the air, including the bits used when radios interact. 802.11b really produces about 5 Mbps of throughput, and 802.11g, without a host of proprietary extensions that some manufacturers include, hits about 25 Mbps of real throughput.
By contrast, 802.11n will be available in raw speeds from 150 Mbps to 600 Mbps; real world throughput will start at 100 Mbps and is expected to reach 300 to 450 Mbps in the most expensive devices with all the optional bells and whistles. 802.11n also requires MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) antenna arrays that have been in products for a couple of years. MIMO antennas dramatically increase network range and improve throughput at shorter ranges.
The problem with Apple’s apparent inclusion of 802.11n at this point in time is that no standard exists. Several chipmakers decided in early 2006 to release silicon based on the first working draft, called Draft 1.0, from 802.11’s Task Group N, the group deliberating on the standard. Draft 1.0 appeared after more than a year of horse trading and even the near dissolution of the task group, which could have thrown the wireless networking world into slight disarray. But Draft 1.0 is just what is sounds like: a draft.
This Draft 1.0 silicon may be rather different from the final standard. And there’s no guarantee that hardware upgrades for any so-called “Draft N” equipment sold this year will work with the final, approved standard – or even with future drafts! (Asus is the only company to offer a guarantee of replacement hardware, but not until 2008, when a final standard is expected.) That is, Draft N chips released now might work with each other (that’s not guaranteed, and is considered one of the current big drawbacks), but they might not interact with future, true 802.11n devices at speeds faster than the fallback of 802.11g.
Right now, Draft 2.0, incorporating hundreds of technical comments on the first draft, is expected in January 2007 with approval in March 2007. This draft would then serve as the basis of a plan by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the group that tests and certifies Wi-Fi-marked equipment, to ensure interoperability within a few months of that point in time – almost certainly before June 2007. This interim certification program would give some market stability while the standard moves toward expected full completion by early 2008.
Upping the hype was a recent announcement by Qualcomm on the same day it acquired MIMO pioneer Airgo. Airgo’s MIMO chips incorporated many principles of 802.11n and helped set the direction of 802.11n. Qualcomm said that Airgo was announcing the “availability” of Draft 2.0-compliant chips. Through interviews later, the company clarified that, first, “available” meant “in real quantities for producing devices after March 2007;” and, second, that “Draft 2.0 compliant” meant that at this stage in the game, all the parameters that might be in Draft 2.0 are known, and Qualcomm’s new division claimed to have all those parameters in their chips. This is a more reasonable statement, because even with many technical comments left to be resolved by the task group, it’s a manageable pile with probable outcomes.
More interesting, however, is Qualcomm’s claim that they also support Draft 1.0, which could mean that Qualcomm would have Draft N devices that would prevent even gear made with other companies’ chips from a kind of obsolescence when real Draft 2.0 devices ship.
For Apple to include Draft N silicon now is therefore baffling, with the only chipmaker pretending to have something that resembles Draft 2.0 not available for manufacturing products until the second quarter of 2007. I could see them adding MIMO as an overlay on 802.11g, which is rather typical in many products now, and waiting until at least early 2007 for a certified draft version of 802.11n.
If Apple chooses to enable the Draft N features when the iTV media adapter ships in early 2007, there’s no guarantee that future Draft N chips would have full backward compatibility with what they ship. While many people compare the early release of Draft N devices with 802.11g, which appeared in equipment from Apple, Linksys, and others several months before its ratification, 802.11g was past Draft 5.0 when the first chips shipped, and had only minor changes after that point. And even those changes prevented interoperability of 802.11g equipment from different firms using the same wireless chips initially; Apple released something on the order of six firmware upgrades between AirPort Extreme’s shipping date and 802.11g’s final approval at the IEEE.
Apple often pushes the envelope, but if it proves true that they’re this far out ahead, they might be tearing that envelope.
“Dispatches from Blogistan” Puts Blogs in Context
Out of the many linear feet of books that crossed my doorstep for possible review recently, one stands out: Suzanne Stefanac’s “Dispatches from Blogistan: A travel guide for the modern blogger.” The book is a great read for anyone wanting to keep up with Internet trends, read and use blogs more adeptly, start a blog, or run a blog more professionally.
In today’s world of profit-pumping book publishing, a blog-related title is easy – the technology is simple enough to explain without much research or tech-writing talent and the buzz factor should make the book easy to market. Suzanne, however, pleased and surprised me by taking the text far beyond a get-rich-quick effort seen in other blogging titles. She includes historical context and piles of advice, and dishes it out with an appealing writing style intermixed with interviews and quotes from Internet denizens such as Cory Doctorow and Laura Lemay.
The $25 ($17 at Amazon.com) book begins with a survey of common types of blogs – diaries, topics, news, opinion, and so on. In each case, Suzanne puts the type of blog into historical context. Notably, the section about diaries looks at Japanese pillow books, Leonard Da Vinci’s notebooks, and the diaries of Samuel Pepys, while the section about news not only covers the emergence of the modern concept of freedom of the press but also looks at what separates a journalist from an advocate and discusses journalistic ethics.
I was a little less impressed with the middle section of the book, which covers the mechanics of setting up a blog and lists useful blog-software features and popular blog-making options. It’s tough to write scintillating prose in long lists of this nature, and though the writing was fine, I started skimming. Perhaps some of the lists should have been appendixes.
Before I bogged down too much, though, I reached a fascinating section covering topics like why an RSS newsreader is cool, and what the deal is with tags, tag clouds, blog search engines, del.icio.us, trackback links, permalinks, Flickr, and other jargon that savvy Internet users fling around but rarely explain with any sort of satisfying depth. I read this section with avid interest, since I hadn’t previously understood how it all fit together.
Suzanne offers piles of tips for enhancing a blog’s popularity, both through making a blog easier to find and through improving the writing quality. Much of this content is available elsewhere, but it’s still a nice rundown. The book also looks at legal issues that a blogger might encounter: copyright law, Creative Commons licenses, fair use, libel, and more.
Naturally, the book has its own blog, and on the blog you can read longer versions of the interviews in the book, plus some excerpts. The blog uses the same Courier typeface for headings that the book uses, which gives the blog/book combo points for consistency, but which work much better onscreen than they do on paper.
The book could use some help on Amazon.com, where a few favorable notes from readers can make a big difference to a book’s sales success. To that end, if you buy and enjoy the book, I hope you’ll join me in reviewing it there.
Suzanne’s prose is personal and witty, and I expect to keep “Dispatches from Blogistan” on my shelf as a reference for a few years and perhaps as a memento of an era after that.
Silicon Valley Through the Lens of London
Steve Jobs is famous for his impatience with questions about the past; he prefers to focus on the future. That may be a healthy attitude for the CEO of Apple, but luckily for those of us who weren’t in the heart of Silicon Valley during the early days of the computer revolution, there are plenty of people who are happy to talk about how things used to be, including Steve Wozniak, Guy Kawasaki, the late Jef Raskin, John Warnock of Adobe, and Tim O’Reilly.
All of them, and others whose names may be less familiar, appear in a new 55-minute film about what makes Silicon Valley tick, called “In Search of the Valley.” Subtitled “Three friends’ journey into the psyche of Silicon Valley,” and directed by Steve O’Hear, the documentary is part history, part industry analysis, all wrapped up in a minivan-enabled road trip. O’Hear and his friends clocked over 3,000 rental car miles during September 2004 while driving around Silicon Valley to interview numerous luminaries about their experiences growing up and working in Silicon Valley over the last 30 years.
Overall, the film is technically well done. Perhaps it seems odd to mention that, but I had somehow acquired the impression the entire project was the work of relatively low-budget amateurs (i.e., normal people taking advantage of Apple technology to produce a high-quality result), so I was somewhat more impressed than I might have been with something that had already aired on TV. I learned afterwards that the entire film was indeed edited on a PowerPC G4-based iMac. The only glitches were some scenes that were likely shot in too-low light and suffered from graininess when their brightness levels were brought up.
But realistically, no one’s watching “In Search of the Valley” for the cinematography. It’s all about the interviews, and that’s where the producers score. Steve Wozniak and Andy Hertzfeld were their usual open and insightful selves, Guy Kawasaki exudes his trademark enthusiasm, John Warnock manages to combine the roles of elder statesman and engineer gracefully, and Tim O’Reilly is at his opining best. The people I don’t know – Lee Felsenstein, interface guru Brenda Laurel, Apache developer Brian Behlendorf, Craig Newmark of craigslist, and others – also offered insight into their parts of the industry, and Marc Canter, one of the founders of MacroMind, even contributes a raunchy blues riff at the end.
What’s odd is that the film is very much talked about as a “personal journey,” as is the “stranger in a strange land” aspect of a couple of Brits making a film about the most American of success stories. And yet apart from a few references to the fact that several of the filmmakers are from London, there’s little musing about how it must have felt to watch the rise of Silicon Valley from afar, or if it had to have been a peculiarly American story. Similarly, the director, Steve O’Hear, is in a wheelchair, and although he appears in numerous scenes, there’s no commentary about how the technology developed in Silicon Valley impacted his life. Indeed, at one point, the filmmakers are on the Apple campus, where Steve O’Hear is mistaken for the British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, but the event is discussed only in the film’s accompanying blog.
Another slight oddity is that the film seems as though it should be current, but since it was filmed in September 2004, there are topics, such as the rise of Google, that feel glossed over simply because of when the original footage was shot. Two years is a long time to go from shooting to final product, even given the 30 hours of original footage and the busywork of sourcing archive photos and obtaining all the necessary permissions; perhaps that was the real mark of the filmmakers’ inexperience, even if the end result turned out to be extremely well edited and produced.
Extras include 30 minutes of additional interviews (with Andy Hertzfeld, Guy Kawasaki, John Warnock, and Sandy Miranda), a set of animations that were originally intended to separate segments of the main film, a photo slideshow, and the original Web trailer. The photo slideshow is particularly notable, since it gives much more of a feel of what the filming was actually like; it’s rougher and less formalized. There’s also a touching clip of Steve O’Hear playing a piano duet with Jef Raskin.
The DVD costs $20, but is currently available for $18 for early adopters. If you’re the sort who watches documentaries about the early days at Apple or reads books about the history of the industry, you’ll find “In Search of the Valley” highly enjoyable.
Rolling Faster, Farther with the RollerMouse Pro
Some years ago, I reviewed the RollerMouse Station (now called the RollerMouse Classic), from Contour Designs (see “Get It Rolling with the RollerMouse,” 2002-08-05). Since then, Contour Designs has released the $200 RollerMouse Pro, essentially replacing the RollerMouse Classic, although the older device remains available in the Contour store for $190. The basics of the RollerMouse remain the same; it’s a USB pointing device built into a wrist rest, attached to a tray that holds the keyboard; the keyboard is not included. The pointing device comprises a roller bar, five buttons, and a scroll wheel, all located between a pair of gel-filled wrist rest pads. You achieve vertical cursor motion by rolling the bar; horizontal cursor motion comes when you slide the bar left and right. Combine the rolling and the sliding, and you can move the cursor as fluidly as with a mouse or trackball.
The RollerMouse Pro isn’t wildly different, since it merely lengthens the roller bar and increases the button count to five. On the face of things, those changes wouldn’t seem all that important, but in reality, they’re huge, particularly the lengthened roller bar. Whereas I found myself bumping up against the sides with the RollerMouse Classic’s shorter roller bar, it’s uncommon to run into that problem with the RollerMouse Pro. And although I don’t use the extra buttons all that often, they come in handy on occasion.
In revisiting my previous review, I realized that as much as I felt the RollerMouse Classic was a good pointing device, it was clear that I hadn’t completely adjusted to it, thanks to the fuss of needing to get USB Overdrive X to control its acceleration and buttons. I had also tried to train myself to use my thumb to control the roller bar, with the hope that I would be able to keep my hands on the keyboard more, but that attempt failed, and I ended up using the roller bar with my right index finger, and clicking the primary button with my right thumb.
But with the added time using the RollerMouse Pro and the acceptance that I prefer using my index finger for the roller bar, I’ve become extremely comfortable with the RollerMouse Pro. It just feels right, which is the true test of a pointing device, and I have no desire to use my now-idle Kensington Turbo Mouse Pro trackball, which I could reach only by cocking my right arm off to the side. In contrast, the RollerMouse Pro’s roller bar is always right below the space bar, requiring less motion and a more relaxed position when doing a lot of moving of the pointer.
Some of my criticisms of the RollerMouse Classic apply to the RollerMouse Pro as well. USB Overdrive X is still required, adding $20 to the price. The tension in the scroll wheel’s button (you can click it too) is still too high, though I adore the scroll wheel and use it constantly for scrolling. And even with my increased skill and comfort, I still occasionally run into situations where I pull out a mouse because the roller bar doesn’t provide the control necessary for very fine graphic editing or fast gaming (the same is true of trackballs and trackpads).
Despite these limitations – and perhaps because I’ve proved to myself that they aren’t show-stoppers – I can now wholeheartedly recommend the RollerMouse Pro. There’s no question that it’s a bit pricey to try if you like the traditional mouse, but if you’re suffering from hand or wrist pain from using a mouse, I think it’s worth spending the money to see if the RollerMouse Pro can help you.
Take Control News/11-Dec-06
Register and Manage Your Domain Name with Expert Help — Custom domain names are fun for individuals and essential for organizations, but registering and managing your own domain name remains a topic that can perplex even long-time computer users. Never fear, though, because we’ve just published “Take Control of Your Domain Names,” a 103-page ebook from networking expert Glenn Fleishman. Glenn draws upon 12 years of experience with domain names gathered while running numerous Internet sites, including one of the first Web-hosting companies, to explain just what you need to know, whether or not you already have your own domain name.
For those new to domain names, Glenn starts by discussing how domain names work behind the scenes and the best ways to decide upon and find an available domain name. He then walks readers through the necessary steps to register a domain name, configure it with a DNS host, and connect it with a Web site and email presence.
The ebook also provides essential information for people who already have their own domain names, covering how to change registrars, DNS hosts, Web hosts, and email providers; how to use dynamic DNS to run a Web server from a dynamic IP-enabled broadband connection; and troubleshooting tips for common DNS-related problems.
Additional sections include advice for buying and selling domain names, instructions for using DNS lookup tools, and a glossary that demystifies jargon. The ebook includes a $10-off coupon for registering or transferring a domain to easyDNS, the registrar and DNS-hosting company that we use and recommend.
Take Control Authors Featured on MacVoices Podcast — The MacVoices podcast has featured several Take Control authors recently, so be sure to tune in! You can go under the hood of the domain name system with Glenn Fleishman in MacVoices #691, see the world through the eyes of professional photographer Larry Chen in MacVoices #690, and find out what Arnie Keller thinks about Dreamweaver’s place in the Web-weaving world in MacVoices #693. (Scroll to the bottom of the pages if you don’t see the Play links.)
Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/11-Dec-06
Great deal on a Brother 2070N printer — A reader finds a deal on a Brother networked laser printer, which leads to a discussion of PostScript emulation. (6 messages)
Recommended camcorders — What should you look for when buying a camcorder for use with a Mac? (2 messages)
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