And where have you been?

As you may have heard, iPhones store, unencrypted, a list of locations where the phone has been while turned on. This information, like all the user information on the phone, is also backed-up unencrypted on one’s computer when syncing the phone with iTunes.

There is a cute program, called iPhone tracker which will read this information and plot it on a map, also creating a video showing where your phone (and you) has been over time.

This is my neighborhood:

And this is me attending TCC 2011:

What could possibly go wrong with this?

The keyboard that goes “CLICK”

When I got a computer for my new office at Stanford last year, it came with the Apple wireless keyboard, a piece of equipment that some people like very much, and that has a handsome and minimalist design. The bluetooth connection was, however, occasionally flaky, and it seemed silly to have a battery operated device sitting in front of a desktop. So I decided to buy a wired keyboard instead, and since everybody raves about how good it is to type on Lenovo laptops, I thought Lenovo would sell a keyboard made to feel like their laptops. Unfortunately there does not seem to be such a thing.

Searching for information about keyboards, however, I found a whole online cult devoted to the keyboards that IBM made for its PC in the 1980s: the IBM Model M keyboard. Although I never owned or used an IBM PC, I remember using similar keyboards when I was a graduate student in the mid 1990s, and we each had a terminal on our desk connected to a mainframe in the basement. The terminals had monochromatic, text-only, displays, but they keyboards were good, and, every time you would press a key, they would go *CLICK*, just like the 1980s IBM keyboards. (The terminals were made by HP and were 1980s technology.)

The license/patents to make these keyboards went to Lexmark, when IBM spun off its printers/devices business. Making the keyboards, however, was not profitable because they never break — see for example this video of a Model M versus a watermelon.

Lexmark then sold the license/patents to Unicomp, an American company whose business is to make clones of the IBM Model M keyboard and other 1980s models.

So that’s what I got for my office and, while I feel rather self-conscious about showing enthusiasm about a keyboard, it is awesome. (To be precise, the keyboard I got is not an exact clone of the IBM model M: mine has a USB cable, a “Windows” key, and it works with a Mac without drivers. The Windows key becomes the “command” key. For the purists, it is possible to buy actual IBM models M, with a PS/2 interface which can be connected to a USB via converter, at, where they even have “mint condition never used” ones.)

This term, as readers of in theory might have noticed, I am writing notes for two classes, which means that I am typing for roughly 15-20 hours a week, mostly at home. Usually, at home I would work using the laptop on the sofa, and use my desk for storage, but this wasn’t good this term, so I (mostly) cleared the desk, got a monitor, a mouse, another, awesome Unicomp keyboard, and hooked it all up to my MacBook Air (which has new hinges, yay!). Continue reading

Hinges fail

About two years ago I bought a MacBook Air. I was worried about the lack of an optical disk reader, about the inaccessible battery and the presence of only one USB connection, but in the past two years I don’t remember ever needing the disk reader on the road (I have an external one at home), only a few times I wished for an extra USB port, and the battery has been holding up all right.

I have, however, encountered some completely unexpected problems. One is that the machine overheats very quickly if it does a computation-intensive task, and it has the “feature” that, if the temperature gets high, it shuts down one of the cores and makes the other go at about 40% speed. This means that it is not possible to connect it to a tv to watch movies from netflix or tv shows from hulu, because within half an hour it reaches the temperature that triggers the slowdown, at which point it skips so many frames that the movie looks like a slide show.

I also wish I could add more RAM. (The memory chips are soldered on the motherboard.)

Then last week I heard a cracking noise when opening it, and the screen would fall back instead of holding its position.

Despite the seemingly sturdy metal construction, the hinges had cracked:

Well, not a big deal, I thought, how expensive can replacement hinges be? Very expensive, a google search revealed.

The design of the computer is such that to repair the hinges they need to replace the screen. Not just the metal shell that covers the screen, but the LCD screen itself too, for a cost in the ballpark of $800.

“Thankfully,” Apple will repair it for free even if my warranty has long expired.

The announcement of the free repair offer tells a story all by itself. First, that there should be an official policy for this problem shows how many people had this problem and how defective was the original design. (A google search also shows that.) Notice the compound design failures of having a break that (1) is so expensive to fix and (2) is so likely to occur. Second, the announcement offers a refund to those who paid for the repair in the past: indeed for a while people were having this break while their warranty was active and Apple would make them pay for the repair, claiming that the users were responsible for breaking the hinges, evidently because they used the computer in a way that it was not designed for, such by opening and closing it on occasion.

Which one would you get?

It is time to get a new laptop, and I would like it to be as light as possible subject to having a full-size keyboard and a not-too-small (at least 12”) display. So it is down to the MacBook Air versus the Lenovo X300.

I have been planning to move to OS X, and I appreciate superior design, so the MacBook is the default choice, but I also like to be able to connect a computer to other devices, which leads to the problem described in the video.


The new Prada phone looks good, and it comes with its own Prada leather case, but I’ll wait for the iPhone (or whatever it will be called), which is conveniently coming out just before my birthday.

What I am really looking forward to, however, is the iCar. It will cost $50,000, it will do 10 miles to the gallon, of a special gasoline sold only at Apple gas stations, and if there is a small mechanical problem you will have to ship it to Cupertino, where they will replace the whole engine for a convenient $10,000 fee. But, as the first car without a steering wheel, it will be so cool!