Archive for February, 2008

Too much Terminator?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

So you know when you’re watching too much Terminator, when you’re able to spot the little inconsistencies in the latest TV series. My favorite so far is last week’s episode, where Cameron (named after James Cameron? Director of the original?) de-activates a T-888 by removing its CPU, only for the camera to cut, and cut back to a closeup of her face, in which you can clearly see the “dead” terminator blink.


Hussein is visiting

Friday, February 15th, 2008

So, Hussein is going to be visiting the US for a week next month, and therefore we have been planning a little craziness over the Easter weekend.

Like all good friend’s visits, the first point of call is going to be New York (although actually we’re going to try to make this less touristy), and we’re going to meet up with some of the EMPEG hackers for the fun of it (maybe I’ll finally get convinced to actually hack up my MX5, maybe). We’ll hang out down there on “Good Friday”, but then are headed down to Florida for the weekend. We’ll hang out in Miami for a bit, but are then going down to Apple chipset land[0], Key West, for snorkeling. There must also be surfing, which obviously will need to happen in Miami. And probably protracted asthetical ornithology (a British pun[1]).

Ever since I saw True Lies again recently, I was reminded how much I’d like to be the last action hero type. Or just drive the Overseas Highway down to the evil badguy’s liar in the Florida Keys, which I guess will suffice for now. They actually blew up part of the old highway in making that movie (the bridges were being replaced – which is why you can actually see a second highway in the movie, if you bother to look at the screen, which makes for an inconsistency) – and the idea of picking up yet another stupid car and driving hundreds of miles over the ocean really does appeal to me. Not that I’m the type to go crazy in Hertz, obviously. Last year it was all about the Mustangs and MX5s. This time, I think it might actually end up being a Shelby, or, if I feel absolutely insane, a Corvette.


[0] For those who care (of which none of you do), Apple named a whole series of their PowerPC (the only Macs that ever actually mattered – none of these Wintel McMacs) chipsets after islands in the Florida Keys. Key Largo, Key West, and others. So it’s not just random parts of California that get used, folks, it’s other coastal places too.

[1] In British English, “bird watching” can also refer to an enjoyment of the female of the species, in her natural setting, especially on beaches. Why girls are referred to as “birds” is something a British social anthropologist can elaborate upon at some length the next time that I’m suffering from sleep deprivation.

WANTED: Your broken iPhone please

Friday, February 8th, 2008

I don’t normally use my blog for such purposes, but if you’re reading this and have a broken iPhone, and are willing to sell it for a moderate sum, then I am interested in hearing from you.

My plans definitely involve breaking it much further than whatever state it is in at this moment. The first thing I need to do is document all of the parts in use, and figure out a way to get at whatever debug/diagnostic interface(s) exist (there’s even a debug port mentioned in the device filesystem listings when you login to a modified iPhone system). It’s known that the phone/radio modem runs as a separate subsystem (and communicates over serial – look at the crash logs), and so it’s feasible for other software to communicate with said hardware, and have real phone functionality.


Making an iBrick

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Update: I swapped it out for a 16GB iPhone, cracked it immediately, and have been playing with various third party apps, which make it much more interesting than the piece of crap Apple originally supplied.

So I gave in and decided to “jailbreak” my iPhone. It shipped with an older firmware, but I had updated it to the latest already, which I want you to bear in mind before you send me helpful suggestions.

First thing’s first, you need to “downgrade” to the 1.1.1 firmware, which I did (more than a dozen times in total). Jailbreaking this is pretty trivial, and sure enough, you can install a wealth of apps. This would be really cool, except for the fact that the 1.1.1 firmware is incompatible with the GSM baseband firmware in the radio modem. And all of the GSM firmware downgrade tools I tried failed to downgrade the firmware (after I point, I counted myself “lucky” and decided to give up on that). So, it’s not possible to run 1.1.1 or 1.1.2 on my particular iPhone, as a phone.

Next, let’s try doing the “standard” 1.1.1 to 1.1.2 jailbreak. Oh wait, every single tool fails. Could this be my Java runtime, my OSX version? Or could it be the wild assumption that everyone has either Windows or an Intel Mac? I think the latter might be what we’re looking for here. It would seem that my Macs are so “obsolete” that nobody bothers to build these tools as Universal binaries that will actually work on them. Sigh.

Ok. So upgrading to 1.1.2 is out. Perhaps I can use the iJailbreak tool(s) to break my iPhone? There’s a handy “Mobile” version, which looks too good to be true. And of course, it is too good to be true. I watched it run a few different times, after many fresh installs of 1.1.1, even watching the script run line by line. It does everything they intend it to do, but silently fails to achieve anything, and the iPhone won’t boot. Perhaps, I should just try the 1.1.3 OSX jailbreak app? Except that’s not been built to run on a real Mac either (only on an Intel McMac), and will fail nicely after 5 minutes of looking interesting, with unresolved dynamic linker symbols. Basically, at this point, there are no further options left.

The only thing I can do for now is run a locked 1.1.3, until there’s an SDK or I can borrow the use of an Intel McMac or Windows PC. I’m not annoyed with the developers of these tools (the tools are awesome, I browsed some of the source on Google Code, and read some of the scripts they’re running to see just how much effort was needed), but I am once again furious with Apple, and Steve Jobs in particular, for wasting my time. I wish they’d either stop shipping such insanely cool hardware, or just wake up and live in reality – in a world where has some of the best (iPhone) features I’ve ever seen, and none of these are from the vendor, something is severely wrong.

In summary: there’s a wealth of tutorials, guides, HOWTOs, and self proclaimed “experts” out there, including one 13 year old kid who gets a lot of attention, but actually none of them have a utility that works for me, with my legacy couple of year old Apple hardware.


iPhone – Initial Review

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I bought an Apple iPhone last week. And after a few days of playing with it, here’s a brief initial review. In summary, the hardware lives up to Apple’s typical quality standard, but, unfortunately, so does the software.

For the longest time, I swore I wouldn’t buy one of these things. But like all good resolutions, ultimately, one gives in to the Apple shininess. I picked up an iPhone on Thursday, and started playing. I like the fact that surfing the web is pretty easy (there’s no flash, or Java, which might encourage people not to use these), that many third parties have mobile interfaces that work well (BoA, Facebook, etc.), and reading a standard IMAP account (with no modified settings whatsoever) works just fine. I also like the iPod, and a few of the other features.

Unfortunately (for Apple anyway), that’s where it ends. Here’s a growing list of things that I don’t like about the iPhone:

*). The software. Apple installed OSX on this device, but then crippled it. I haven’t “jailbroken” (guys, please stop inventing new terms for old tricks – it just makes it harder to Google for whatever silly word you’re using today) my device yet, solely because I wanted to try the regular firmware, and give Apple a chance to get the SDK released later this month (if they don’t, my iPhone will be fixed soon to work around them).

*). The VPN client. Apple use the same utterly broken VPN client that they ship on OSX. They only support L2TP and PPTP (and a draft broken Apple version of the former, even in the latest iPhone firmware – Apple, fix it, please), and the NAT-T detection doesn’t work properly either. Rather than expect Apple not to be crappy, I used the opportunity to upgrade my home infrastructure. So I bought a whole bunch of routers, returned some, bricked one, unbricked it, then picked up a Linksys N350, which just about runs the RC releases of dd-wrt (don’t install the 6.2 RC unless you want to spend *hours* fixing it), with a lot of effort. It also has a USB port, and enough RAM and Flash to do some useful stuff, and I found one someone else had returned, so I got it slightly cheaper than the silly price. My iPhone now connects to my home VPN, on occasion anyway. When I get some time, I’ll rebuild openwrt, or something not quite as annoying as dd-wrt, but for now, I have sufficient infrastructure to workaround Apple’s software.

*). The mail client. Broken. Just like the OSX one, doesn’t allow configuration of simple different ports, doesn’t do most of the things you would want. Does read email fairly well, when configured using absolute default configuration(s).

*). The Calendar. Broken. Doesn’t do half of the things you would want, not very full featured. It’s annoyed me several times already.

*). Web Apps. These “the web is the future” fanboys have got to *wake up* (see my comment below about AT&T’s network outages) and smell the copious quantity of coffee in Northern California. The future will be the web when we have constantly on subspace communication, and can do all of the things that native apps can do. Until then, saying we should use “web apps” is a silly way to avoid providing decent third party developer support. At least that’s getting fixed. Well, maybe, but I expect Apple to cripple that with some kind of broken DRM-will-save-you-all digital signing silliness.

*). The camera. Obviously can’t keep up with reading frames from the hardware (visually quite obvious), doesn’t do video, files aren’t written to the filesystem in a fashion that’s trivial to pull from elsewhere, need to “sync” in order to get at them.

*). I have a whole host of other annoyances with the software, and the UI.

And on a tangent, AT&T’s EDGE network is dying under the load. It’s failed completely several times this week (as in, no access to anyone coast-to-coast, not just iPhone users), they don’t publish this status online, and only admit to it after you discover others with the issue, call up, wait on hold, get transfered to technical support, /and/ ask them to stop BSing and tell you the truth. So all those annoying “Cannot’ activate EDGE”, and similar messages, are just the network. It’d be nice if iPhone also had a “conventional” modem exposed to software, but I understand why it did not. When it works, AT&T do a reasonable job. I just wish they wouldn’t also trash your active diverts every time you even think of touching the silly visual voicemail crap. My voicemail lives on my private voicemail server, where it will be staying, well away from any reliance upon the phone carrier (btw, they note discretely in the setup that migrating to “visual voicemail” will trash your existing voicemails, so this is obviously living on some entirely separate system within AT&T). Let’s see if active diverts stick this time.

The good news is that there’s a higher chance now that Apple will force me to buy another iPhone soon. Someone has simply got to fix their little wagon by porting Linux, or something sane, to this wonderful hardware. Those “designed in California” folks really know what they’re doing. It’s just a pity they crippled it beyond anything remotely sane. As usual, Apple doesn’t trust the consumer, but this happy little consumer isn’t actually going to accept their story this time. I can’t express how happy I am with Apple’s hardware engineering, and how unhappy I am with the iPhone firmware.

The bottom line: a shiny Apple product. I recommend not buying one unless you plan on breaking it, are an Apple fanboy, both of the former situations, or just want to waste some money feeding the gadget monster. Wait until Apple figure out people aren’t happy with their silliness and release less broken software.