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#757: AirPort Firmware Downgrades, Apple Processors Power iDevices, Practice Safe Browsing, Spaces and Jiggly Icons

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

We woke up yesterday to a somewhat unexpected dumping of snow. While this Nor’easter was predicted, the snowfall amounts we saw and continue dealing with were much greater than the forecast called for. After a rainy weekend and lots of snow melt, my first-floor windows facing into the wind are covered by the drifting snow.

One of the most spectacular and destructive phenomena in Vermont and other cold climates is the flooding resulting from ice dams. The Mad River had frozen quite solidly over the course of the winter, and all that rain broke up the much of the ice. These foot-thick slabs of ice can become lodged in narrow parts of the river and create massive flooding. Just across the field, I can see the snowmobile trail and Meadow Road underwater. Surely, the field and road will be left littered with monstrous sheets of ice until Spring truly arrives.

We closed our South Burlington, VT store yesterday, as the roads weren’t plowed, and many of us simply had to wait to get plowed out. Waitsfield operated with a skeleton crew, and while UPS and FedEx let us down, our mailman Jason came right on schedule with the US Mail.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Tip of the Week: Firmware Downgrades  
   
 

Apple releases firmware updates for its devices now and again, but it seems that AirPort and Time Capsules see the most updating. Perhaps that’s because computers usually see only one update during their lives while AirPort products tend to last longer than computers. Firmware is low-level “software” that generally lives in some sort of flash memory, and controls the most basic functions of a computer or other electronic device like power flow, how various components interact, and at what speed.

In an AirPort base station or Time Capsule, the firmware also controls function of the ethernet and USB ports. A recent firmware update to the AirPort Extreme base stations rendered the AirPort Disk function unreliable. AirPort Extremes allow you to hook up an external USB hard drive that can be accessed over the network—a killer feature—but the 7.4.2 firmware is reported to bring frequent disconnections of hard drives. The only fix was to restart the base station through AirPort Utility, or by power cycling the device.

Luckily, it’s very easy to revert to earlier firmware versions using AirPort utility, found in the Utilities folder on any Mac running Leopard or Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5 or 10.6). Along the left side of AirPort utility, you’ll see your base station. Click once on it, then click the Manual Setup button on the right side of the window. This will bring up the configuration options. In the Summary section, click on the word Version to show a list of previous firmware versions. You can move back one version or several, but I’d advise only to backtrack one step and only if you’re having specific issues not resolved by standard troubleshooting tactics.

 
   
     
  Apple Processors Power iDevices  
   
 

This past week, Apple introduced iPad 2, and it’s twice as fast with 9 times the graphics processing capabilities while maintaining 10 hours of battery life. If you look at the iPad’s tech specs page, you’ll notice that it’s powered by a 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 custom-designed, high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip.

This is an upgrade from the current iPad’s A4, a single-core system-on-a-chip introduced last year that also powers the iPhone 4 and the 4th generation iPod touch. The A4 and A5 are systems-on-a-chip that pair an ARM CPU with a PowerVX GPU, a mobile architecture that consumes much less power than x86 processors from Intel that Apple implements in their Macs.

Apple has been using ARM CPU architecture for its power efficiency since its original iPod with processors clocking in at 90 MHz. When Apple introduced the original iPhone in 2007 it featured a 412 MHz Samsung ARM processor. As an integral part of the iPhone, iPod, and eventually the iPad, ARM processor architecture would be an integral part of Apple’s business strategy.

In 2008, Apple acquired a fabless semiconductor company by the name of P.A. Semi. In 2010, Apple acquired another fabless semiconductor company by the name of Intrinsity. Neither of these companies actually manufacture chips (Samsung has been providing the processors for Apple since the original iPhone and iPod touch in 2007), but since the A4, Apple has been able to leverage their engineering to control the future of its devices. Without Apple’s ARM-based acquisitions, working closely with Apple’s existing hardware and software engineers, Apple’s iPhones, iPods, and iPads would not have the battery life, the multi-touch responsiveness, or the graphics performance they currently (and will) have. They would thus not have the market share, the revenue, the hundreds of thousands of apps, and of course, the customers that they now have.

 
   
     
  Practice Safe Browsing  
   
 

There are many terms that are synonymous with Mac such as “ease of use”, “it just works” and “right out of the box.” “Virus” is not one of the terms that you would think of with an Apple computer. Viruses have not been very common in the Mac world, but they have existed from time to time – but only under the classic Mac OS (OS 9 and below). With Apple becoming a larger portion of the market share they are becoming a more enticing target.

While there are no Mac OS X viruses today, there has been word of some on the horizon. One in particular is the BlackHole RAT (Remote Access Trojan). This can cause any number of problems starting with fairly innocuous things such as telling the user “I am a Trojan Horse and have infected your computer” to sending your Mac in to an endless reboot cycle. While it is currently true that Macs don’t get viruses, remember that a virus is just a piece of software that results in unwanted events. Viruses can come from any number of locations, including suspicious websites, emails, and applications.

Though this news may sound ominous one should not worry. Apple has recognized that these risks are coming and has been working with security experts to finalize virus protection implementations on their newest distribution of OS X version 10.7 Lion. Lion includes a number of innovative changes to Mac OS X and will be available this Summer.

Aside from the efforts of Apple to keep their operating system nearly impervious to viruses, there are a number of good anti-virus solutions out there. ClamXav is a great open source free antivirus program that is simple, straight forward, and, in Mac tradition, easy to use. Another anti-virus solution I would recommend is Sophos, which you can try for free or purchase the full version at a nominal fee. Though paid solutions at their core do the same functions programs such as Sophos offer many more options and are backed up by greater support.

These solutions work very well to keep your Mac virus free, but remember the first line of defense should always be discretion. If a website, email, or application looks suspicious, do not proceed. Macs are designed to keep you out of trouble. For example, when Safari warns you before proceeding to a website or before opening an Application downloaded from a non-Apple source. This is not to say that every website the invoke a warning or every application that is non-Apple is going to infect your computer with a virus. In general, if a website, email or Application does not look legit research it before proceeding. Google is your friend.

 
   
     
  Reader Questions: Spaces and Jiggly Icons  
   
 

Di asks, “I’d love a rambling about Spaces, is it possible to have multiple desktops for one app?”

Well Di, Spaces is an aspect of the Mac OS that enables you to have multiple desktops for organizational purposes. We had a technician here who was a multi-monitor addict and had a hard time adjusting to only having one monitor on his bench here in South Burlington. In order to compensate for this, he would use Spaces to create several desktops to organize his applications and work flow as though he had several monitors. To my knowledge, you can’t use Spaces to create multiple desktops for a single application. What you can do is have that application appear in each Space but as far as I know it doesn’t virtualize multiple instances of that application being open. You still only have one install of Word for example. A good quick intro to Spaces is the Apple Knowledge Base article HT1624 that you can access here: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1624

Kirsten asks, “What does it mean when the icons on the iPhone 4 start jiggling? Also, I have noticed that I can switch apps but can’t do more than one page in Safari at a time.”

To answer your first question Kirsten, the jiggling icons signify that you’ve held your finger down on an app for a few seconds longer than it would take to start that app. This enables you to rearrange the icons by dragging them, or delete the app from your iDevice by tapping on the ‘x’ in the top left corner of the icon. To stop them from jiggling just click your home button once. This applies not only to your iPhone 4 but any of Apple’s iDevices running the current version of iOS.

As far as Safari is concerned, you can open another Safari window by tapping the icon in the lower-right that looks like two squares on top of one another. The screen will change slightly and you’ll see a button for ‘New Page’ in the lower left. Just tap that, and you now have multiple browser windows. That double-square icon will now have a number in it showing how many windows you have active in Safari.

If you have any questions for the service team here at Small Dog Electronics send an email to support@smalldog.com or find our direct contact info on the Small Dog Contact Page.

 
   
     
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