13 October 2009


Growth of the City of Glass

Dave Winer has posted a bunch of photos from his parents, reaching back more than 50 years. A picture of Vancouver's Coal Harbour from his family trip here in the '60s is fascinating, because here's a similar view today.

Things have changed a little. If you open the two images in separate windows or browser tabs and look carefully, you might be able to spot a couple of the same buildings.

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02 January 2008


Magnetic kerfuffle

Recently, pioneering web developer Dave Winer became upset with Apple because he took in his laptop for warranty service, the Apple Store replaced his hard drive, and then the store wouldn't return his old drive to him, even when he offered to pay for it. After complaining enough to Apple and on his blog, he eventually got the drive back.

The reason he was upset was that his old drive contained a lot of his property, including source code, personal information, and so on. He was worried that Apple's keeping the drive risked that data, because they planned to refurbish it. There could be a security problem from that, including the possibility of identity theft if anyone ends up getting at the information on the disk:

What if the data on the drive can be recovered? What if there are credit card numbers and other personal information on the drive? Source code? Trade secrets?

Now, as I've noted before, Mr. Winer can be a cranky sort, so when he complains, it's wise to look at the problem carefully before deciding whether you agree with him. Some, including Matt Deatheredge (via John Gruber), initially argued that:

If the computer that needs to be repaired has sensitive information on it, I back it up and wipe the hard drive, restoring the default system on it.

Many people, including me, emailed Matt with variations of this point: If you take your drive to Apple (or anyone else) because it's died from hardware failure (which is presumably what would be covered under warranty), you might not be able to erase it. And if you take superhuman security efforts as some recommend on a dead drive (big magnets, drilling holes in the platters), Apple is going to say, "We won't cover this—you destroyed the disk."

Now, the risk of people poking around on your dead hard disk is mostly theoretical, although it is possible and has happened. And no one is yet sure whether Winer's disk was actually dead, or could have been resurrected enough for him to erase it before he sent it for repair. As Deatheredge notes in a big update to his post:

What happens if the drive is so damaged that you can't erase it at all? This case [...] seems genuinely problematic.

The real solution, other than for Apple to offer to give you your drive back (even for a fee), would be to encrypt anything important on your disk, or the whole thing, but few people do that. I have done it for some of my information, but not all, and when my MacBook drive died last year and I sent it back to Seagate, I was unable to erase it first. I'm not worried, but if I were paranoid, I might have eschewed a warranty repair, bought a new disk, and destroyed the old one myself.

But I didn't. Ooh, living on the edge.

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17 November 2007


Apple lies too

Smiley Face is still thereRobert and Dave are right. Macs don't work properly all the time. No personal computer does, or ever has, unless you get it into a working-perfectly-for-a-particular-task state and then don't change anything. Sound engineers and video techs who use their Macs (or PCs) to make money know that, which is why once they've got a system wired up and configured and working, they lock it down, keep it off the Internet, and avoid even innocuous things like bug-fix updates until they have a bit of spare time to tinker if something goes wrong.

We Mac-heads enjoy all those "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads, but we know they lie. The new Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" breaks things just as Windows Vista does. People have fun with their Windows PCs (seen all those games?). My in-laws had their iMac lock up after playing a YouTube video yesterday, but they managed to sort it out without my help. The brand promise Robert talks about of Macs "just working" is true a lot of the time, but not all the time—and not in the way we expect of our cars or fridges or TVs or stoves or pacemakers or jet aircraft or roadways or electrical grids or dialysis machines.

It's also true that, despite the problems—and I've had a few—I enjoy using my Macs, and do find they stay out of my way, more than I ever did with any of the Windows or Linux (or DOS or Unix or Apple II or PDP-11 or mainframe) computers I've worked with over the decades. In part that's Apple's doing, in part it's the hard work of the people who design the Mac software I like, and in part it's my familiarity with the platform, because if I have a problem, I also usually have some idea how to fix it. (After working with Windows a lot, it's true for me there too, but not as much.)

There are reasons people like me have stuck with Apple machines even when they weren't very fast, or very cool, or even with any apparent future. It's not just running with the underdog either. I'm not impressed with some of Apple's behaviour recently in markets where it now dominates, such as the iPod and online music and video sales. But it is no shock: Apple has always spun its stories, and has always had a streak of hubris—a pretty wide one at that. I don't think many people would like a computing world where Steve Jobs beat Bill Gates in the early '80s.

Yet when I open the lid on my MacBook to get something done, it generally helps me do it, and seems friendly in the effort. Even if you don't see it as much anymore, the smiley face is still there in spirit.

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08 November 2007


Winer's wisery

Dave Winer has a good point about why most conferences suck:

...if you want to have a truly useful conference that everyone gets something out of, structure it so that everyone has something to do at all times. Hopefully things that involve other people or the venue, if not, what's the point of going somewhere to do this stuff?

He's had a lot of interesting things to say recently, such as about Google ("...one thing they don't have in huge supply at Google is humility [...] the number one law of software, of course is Murphy's Law. And one of the big things it teaches is humility...") and how technology companies use the word open ("...they just serve someone's interest without thinking about the users' interest (at best) or counter to the users' interest (at worst)...").

Winer has been around the industry a long time. He's a controversial guy within it, but I think his experience has given him some wisdom about it too.

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