Apple and the FBI – straight from the horse’s mouth

Apple has been in the news a lot this past week for its refusal to comply with a court order demanding it to unlock an iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre. There’s been a lot of ink spilled but there’s still a lot of confusion about what, exactly, the government is ordering Apple to do and why Apple is refusing to do it.

To help explain its position Apple has posted a public FAQ with more details. Among some of the major points:

  • Apple says the government request would require it to engineer “an entirely new operating system” compromised with flawed security.
  • Apple admits that it’s possible to do so, but fears that it would eventually end up in the wrong peoples’ hands, and all iPhone users would suffer as a result.
  • Apple says that it has not unlocked phones for law enforcement in the past.
Our country has always been strongest when we come together. We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology, and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy, and personal freedoms. Apple would gladly participate in such an effort.


It makes for interesting reading. I hope you’ll check it out and come to your own conclusion if Apple’s doing the right thing.

Error 53 redux – Apple’s apology and explanation

Recent reports indicate that iPhone owners who get their Touch ID sensors replaced can run into an “Error 53” problem, at least if the repair is done by someone who isn’t an authorized Apple service provider, or an Apple store. I’ll let Apple explain in this support document that’s been posted to their web site.

The company has released an updated version of iOS 9.2.1 that fixes the problem. It was released on Thursday and is available as an over the air download or an update using iTunes on Mac or Windows.

Touch ID is Apple’s technology that unlocks iPhones and iPads using a fingerprint in place of a passcode. It’s a convenient feature, and Apple’s gone to great lengths to make sure that the fingerprint data and its corresponding connection to your iPhone’s passcode remains secure. It does this by storing the information in a special cache of memory called Secure Enclave. It’s walled off from the rest of the device, and it isn’t stored in the cloud. It’s all by itself.

So Error 53 is a good thing. It’s your device protecting your data. The problem is that it’s a really inelegant error report. 

The trouble has led some to think (and report) that Apple is trying to punish people for using unauthorized means to fix their devices. Turns out the answer is a little more prosaic and mundane. In a statement provided to Techcrunch:

We apologize for any inconvenience, this was designed to be a factory test and was not intended to affect customers

Hanlon’s Razor strikes again!

Overload game is coming, for fans of Descent

More exciting news for old-school gamers: Overload is coming from Revival Productions. What’s more, it’s coming to Mac too.

Overload is from the original talent behind one of the most legendary 6DOF (six degree of freedom) shooters ever made: Descent. Originally developed by Parallax Software and published by Interplay (published for the Mac by Interplay’s Mac brand, MacPlay), the game put you in maze-like tunnels inside asteroids where you had to combat killer robots. The immersive graphics and quick action gameplay thrilled fans when it first came out in the mid-90s, and it spawned numerous sequels and countless imitators.

Overload follows the same basic design and gameplay principles as the original Descent, updated for modern game tastes and, of course, thoroughly updated to accommodate modern gaming systems.

Overload is currently being crowfunded through a Kickstarter campaign which is already off to a rousing start — $61,000 (of $300,000) pledged in less than a week. The initial flurry of support has caused the developers to change their minds about their first stretch goal: Support for Mac and Linux. They’re supporting Mac straight out of the gate, now.

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Obviously there are risks with crowdfunding — you’re not guaranteed the product is going to be finished when it’s promised, nor are you guaranteed the product is going to be released at all. But if the idea of playing an updated Descent gives you some joy, check it out.

Endless Sky: Old-school Mac gaming fun

Back in the 1990s I started my own gaming site — a web site dedicated specifically to Mac games. For the most part, I’d play games, post reviews, and move on to the next one. But a few of them were really addictive. Ones that I’d come back to again, and again, and again. Games that never seemed to get deleted off my hard drive.

At the top of my personal addiction heap was a series of games from Ambrosia Software called Escape Velocity. The game series launched 20 years ago this year.

Escape Velocity is a role-playing game that puts you in the pilot’s seat of a starbound vessel. You travel to different star systems, buying and selling cargo, ferrying passengers and special cargo. You could become a pirate, plundering other vessels for their cargo and goods, which you could then sell the next time you docked at a trading post.

The game combined a detailed story line with a huge world map to explore, the ability to upgrade your ship with new capabilities and a lot more besides, which made it terrific fun to play and replay over and over again.

Now Escape Velocity as back. This time it’s an open source project you can download straightaway from Github (or Steam, if you prefer, where it’s still free).


Endless Sky isn’t an exact copy of Escape Velocity, but uses the same gameplay mechanics and design, right down to the 2D sprite engine for the game’s core graphics.

As an open source project there’s still a lot of work to do on it, including refinements to game scripts and more. But it’s fantastic fun. I’ve already spent more than a dozen hours playing it and am having a hoot.

So if you miss Escape Velocity or if anything I’ve said sounds interesting, check it out.

Getting a .bzvol error with Backblaze? Creative Cloud may be to blame

Some time in the past day Backblaze customers started seeing a peculiar error message pop up on their computers:

Screen Shot 2016 02 12 at 11 07 11 AM


Turns out the problem is related to Adobe Creative Cloud, according to this support document from Backblaze. Adobe Creative Cloud appears to be removing the contents of the first hidden folder it finds on the root directory of the hard drive. And unfortunately for most Backblaze users, the first folder is .bzvol. What does the .bzvol directory do? According to Backblaze:

Inside this hidden directory is a tiny file that identifies this hard drive for the rest of time.

Directions are included on that link to fix the problem – you simply have to tweak Backblaze’s backup preferences and everything should be cool. At least until Adobe FUBARs things again:

In some cases, the issue will reoccur if you update Adobe Creative Cloud or sign in and out of their app. 

Apple needs to get back to simple

Writing for the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik says Apple has a problem.

The last few weeks have seen an explosion of discontent with the quality of the core apps of Apple’s iPhones, iPads and Mac computers — not only its OS X and iOS operating systems, but programs and services such as iTunes, Music, iCloud and Photos. Not only do the programs work poorly for many users, but they don’t link Apple devices together as reliably as they should. These complaints aren’t coming merely from users but several widely followed tech commentators who used to fit reliably in the category of Apple fans. 

This problem hasn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been simmering for a very long time. Apple’s inability to keep iCloud services working consistently, trouble with multiple device sync, apps not working right, and stupid UX and UI decisions have been compounded.

It’s a problem that grown through years of increasingly intricate and complex technologies. Increasingly, users are frustrated that Apple products simply don’t work the way they’re advertised.

Simple is hard. Apple used to simple well. Apple’s software engineering, under Craig Federighi, needs to take a very close look at what it’s doing and rediscover what simple means again.

2013 Mac Pro with video issues? Call Apple

If you’re using a “trashcan” Mac Pro — one of the new turbine-shaped models released since December 2013 — you should be aware of a new “Repair Extension Program.” MacRumors has the scoop.

Graphics cards in some of the Mac Pros made between February and April 2015 have exhibited problems with distorted video, no video, freezing and other issues.

Because it’s a Repair Extension Program, you’re covered even if you don’t have AppleCare on the Mac Pro.

Apple’s app problem

Writing for iMore, Rene Ritchie on the problems Apple faces as an app developer:

And perhaps that’s where the answer lies — in stopping the impossible. Tough as it is, letting go of the legacy Windows and iPod support would let Apple take iTunes to the cloud and modularize sync and other services on the desktop. Letting customers with old libraries manage them the old way would let Apple Music stream unencumbered. Making things like News system-level projects surfaced consistently across apps would both surprise and delight.

I don’t see killing iPod support as viable, if for no other reason than the iPod shuffle and iPod nano are still current, supported products. That suggests to me that a phase-out roadmap is still a ways off.

And I sincerely doubt that Apple is going to turn its back on Windows iTunes users, given the millions of Windows users who use iPhones and sync their devices to their PCs.

Ritchie describes some clear systemic issues that Apple has to combat going forward, where app design decisions are either being made arbitrarily or in a vacuum, without a clear awareness of how the software will be used long-term. Hopefully better, sustained management will take hold, because the status quo leaves people with a mediocre experience.