OS X 10.6 versus Lexmark MX310dn printer (or, why Apple will never build world-class online services)

TL;DR Go here to download the correct driver that Apple refuses to auto-install, preferring instead to supply an outdated, non-working one.

So I recently bought this printer and set it up on my LAN. As one would expect, it was trivial to add in OS X and worked immediately.

The following day however (after the printer had gone to sleep) the Mac could no longer print, complaining that the printer was ‘offline’ (this was patently untrue). After blaming the printer for too long, putzing at it’s settings and gnashing my teeth, I started looking at the driver software on the Mac and in the Console logs. It became clear immediately that that was where the problem lay. Fixing it however was not as easy as it should have been..

I visited Apple’s long-standing printer info article and learnt that the Lexmark software had recently been updated with respect to the MX310dn, but thought “I just installed this printer – I don’t believe the software got updated in the last 24 hours”. So I got googling; the results amused me. One result gave me the results of searching for printer drivers at Apple’s support downloads page, which stated that the most recent download for Lexmark was V2.4. The next result however was for V3.0 Lexmark drivers for OS X, also from Apple’s Support site!

So then, Google was able to find me the Apple’s latest Lexmark printer drivers when Apple’s own site search could not. I think this is a perfect illustration of how Apple repeatedly fail in the online services space (iDisk, Mobile Me, iCloud); it’s just not in their genes.

To Jailbreak or not to Jailbreak..

Following my experience earlier this year with the iKee worm (which can only infect jailbroken iPhones) I thought it’d be worth expounding upon the pros and cons of jailbreaking.

Why not to jailbreak

  1. A stock iPhone is amongst the more secure computing devices out there, due to it’s security model. To my knowledge there’s not yet been a single ‘proper’ virus for it, that is, one that exploits a programming flaw in order to execute it’s code (compare this to the Android OS, where there are already botnets of infected phones). This is not to say that there will never be such a virus (since of course jailbreaks exploit just such flaws!) but the likelihood is vanishingly small, given the hurdles it would need to overcome. Jailbroken iPhones however are more susceptible for three reasons:
    • Jailbreaking at a fundamental level means to disable the iPhone’s ‘only Apple-signed software can execute’ security model. This makes a jailbroken phone susceptible to viruses.
    • Due to reliance on that model, the passwords of the two user accounts (root and mobile) are common to all handsets and are well-known (‘alpine’ and ‘dottie’).
    • Most power users who jailbreak will install OpenSSH, which increases the attack surface of the device since it will also become vulnerable to SSH-based over-the-network attacks.
  2. You can safely upgrade to the very latest version of iOS with impunity and benefit from all the latest new features (limited only by whether the age of your iDevice might make it too sluggish).
  3. You will have no issues with support when you have a problem with your device. The alert Apple Genius will drop you like a hot potato if they notice your device is jailbroken.

Why to jailbreak

  1. The other side of the coin of point 1 above is that it seems unlikely that anyone would go to the trouble of writing a malicious virus (as distinct from the iKee-style mischievous experiment) in the knowledge that it could only infect jailbroken phones – the worldwide population of infectable devices is just too small for it to be worthwhile.
  2. Jailbreaks depend upon finding and exploiting one or more flaws in the stock iPhone hardware/firmware/software. Once the relevant exploit(s) are published (including when the jailbreak is released) all stock iPhones become susceptible to a virus written using that method. Since a patch for the flaw(s) is usually released in the jailbreak community following the jailbreak, for these identified and specific flaws a jailbroken iPhone is actually less susceptible to penetration than a stock one!
  3. The benefit most often talked about, that being the freedom to install whatever software you choose on a device that you bought and paid for. We own the device after all and therefore it should be entirely up to us what we do with it; we don’t need an Apple-nanny to choose for us!


Turning the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight into a general-purpose Android tablet

As is now well described all over the ‘net, eReaders such as the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight (seriously B&N? Couldn’t you find a snappier name?) are just Android tablets with an eInk screen. As such, they’re ideal contenders for an extremely low-power general purpose tablet.

Getting root is simple enough, but to end up with a properly useable Android tablet there are a bunch of other tweaks that need to be followed. This post then is all about what else needs doing to achieve that end.

It’s worth noting that the Nook was at firmware revision 1.1.5 and that the nooter (the adopted name for software packages that perform the rooting process on a Nook) used will depend on the particular Nook in question and it’s firmware revision.

1. Rooted with this nooter.

2. Installed SearchMarket from AppBrain website. This is necessary since the Nook uses Android 2.1 (Eclair) and the search functionality in it’s Market app is not supported by Google’s newer Play store.

3. Install Nook Touch Mod Manager. This app allows one to repurpose the Nook’s built-in hardware and software buttons, making it easy to switch between the Nook’s software and the Android Home screen. It also means one can uninstall ButtonSaviour (an on-screen soft button app).

4. Install NookColor Tools to enable non-market app installs.

5. Disable update notifications in Market app settings. Android 2.1 is long in the tooth and one will not wish to update many of the installed apps to newer versions that might no longer support that OS version. Also might reduce power drain.

6. Install DropBox & DropSync. In a future post I’ll describe how I brought my eBook library under my control instead of Barnes & Noble’s.

7. Disable OTA upgrades. Crucial! The last thing you want is to lose root due to the device auto-upgrading it’s firmware.

8. Enable multitouch. This is of arguable benefit, but some folks can’t do without it. Instructions here and recompiled kernels here.


Annoying bug with Barnes & Noble’s Nook for Mac application (and how to work around it)

So version v3.0.0fc9774 of the Nook for Mac application has an occasional but quite annoying bug in that, on launching, it hangs at the splash screen and will not respond to input, though according to Activity Monitor it is not Not Responding, so it hasn’t crashed as such.

The workaround (that I picked up from this thread) is to right-click the grey area of the application’s workspace, then click ‘Reload’ on the menu that appears. This should reload the splash screen and then get past it to loading your library. Hope this helps others.

My experience with the Ikee iPhone worm

TL:DNR summary

Change your iPhone’s  root and mobile account passwords immediately after installing OpenSSH! In fact, ideally do so using MobileTerminal before installing OpenSSH.

Long version

So I’m pretty embarrassed. I found out in December (by complete chance) that my iPhone 3GS was infected with the Ikee worm, and had been ever since July 7th 2011 (5 months!). I happened to be browsing the phone’s crashlogs (at /System/) and noticed recent and repeated crashes by a process named poc-bbot. “A filename containing ‘poc’ and ‘bot’? Gotta be fishy” I thought. And Google very quickly confirmed my fears; poc-bbot is the main binary of Ikee.A, .B and .C.

Now I’ve never seen the gurning fizzog of Mr. Astley as my lockscreen background, so evidently the virus never managed to deploy it’s payload. My hypothesis is that it was written when iOS3 was current, and changes in iOS4 rendered it ineffective.

The good news is that removal is quite trivial, and the only cost to me appears to have been poor battery life for the last 5 months. But how did it get in? I consider myself pretty diligent regarding security. Well, this worm operates by scanning IP address ranges looking for iPhones and, when one is found, attempting to log in via SSH using the default root password, alpine.

If your phone is not jailbroken you won’t even have an SSH server installed, let alone running so the worm only affects jailbroken phones. Checking datestamps of various files shows that I jailbroke my phone on July 6th 2011 and installed OpenSSH, then the following day changed the passwords for the two accounts. Evidently then I was infected in this 12 hour-or-so window between installing the SSH server and changing the default password.

Now why didn’t I change the passwords first you ask? Well, there is but one app for iPhone that provides a local terminal window – MobileTerminal – and for reasons unclear the version available in one of the default Cydia repositories does not run on iOS  and higher. Consequently at the time I thought that it was no longer supported and I was SOL. The only other way to change the password was to log in via SSH using the default password, then change it immediately; this was the route I chose but I was foolish not to do so immediately after installing OpenSSH.

Moral of the story? Either isolate the phone from the internet before starting up OpenSSH, or try harder to get MobileTerminal installed!

Ports used by Wi-Fi Sync (Jailbroken iPhone app)

Just a quick post to record the hard-won knowledge of just which ports Wi-Fi Sync uses for communicating with the server app running on your iTunes computer:

Wi-Fi Sync 1.1a uses port 48281 (TCP and possibly UDP)

WiFi Sync 2.0ß (build 97) uses port 14867 (TCP)

Locum – another step on Apple’s continuing quest to undermine OS X’s vaunted Unix underpinnings

Unix is deceptively simple. It’s file permission structure is a perfect expression of this. Simple to learn, but powerful in use. Unfortunately for some it’s just too much to get their heads around (viz “I keep trying to empty the trash but it tells me that I can’t!!11!”).

Is Apple’s solution to educate the masses about file ownership? Oh no no, if Johnny wants to delete a folder full of files he should just be able to right? Regardless of whether his account created the files right? That’s “it just works” in action right?? So what do they do? They have a helper (hah!) application with admin rights that Finder can kick off to merrily delete files that you don’t have the rights to delete. Neat huh? This aberration’s name? Locum.

A nice analysis here for those of you who grok Unix. The author makes a number of hopeful assumptions that Apple have put in the necessary checks and balances to ensure this little bugger is not misappropriated. Given the greater attention iOS has been receiving in Cupertino for the last few years I’m afraid I don’t share his optimism.

Macintosh malware – is this really how it’s going to go down?

Late last year the Koobface worm made a certain amount of noise in the virus community as one of the first cross-platform pieces of malware seen in the wild (it propagated in part via a Java applet). Now I can’t speak for Windows (wouldn’t bother) but on Macintosh it couldn’t do zip without the user actively clicking on a Java warning dialog (see first screenshot at this URL). I thought to myself “No worries, just one more example of how Macintosh is less susceptible to malware than leaky old Windows”.

Then I saw the graph on this recent follow-up from The Register; fully 16% of successful infections are on Macintosh. Given it’s relatively miniscule market share compared with Windows that is a HUGE infection rate! It just goes to show that the average Maccie is no smarter than any other computer user and will gaily click on any link if the social engineering is good enough ;-P

My PC killed my Mac – a sad tale of heat and industrial design

So my trusty PowerBook G4 finally turned up it’s toes after 6 years of faultless service. What happened? One warm evening the screen went black and never came back; my diagnosis is one fried GPU. So far so what; computers die every day right? What makes this different is why the poor bugger got too hot…

Front and centre on my desk is my work laptop; a big old HP Workstation, and the PowerBook always sat to it’s left. If only I noticed months ago that the exhaust vents for the cooling are at the back left corner, and that the intakes for the PowerBook are along the back behind the screen hinge…

So I checked the specs – the PowerBook’s top operating temp is 35ºC. The ambient temperature in the room was 26ºC. Then I put the thermometer behind the Mac….  33ºC! Okay so supposedly the Mac can take that, but for days and weeks on end?? I would imagine not.

Moral of this sad story? Always check where your laptop gets it’s cooling airflow from. Oh, and the new Macbook Pro now sits on the right hand side of the killer PC ;o)

The Mac-becomes-an-iPhone Lockdown – Phase Three

So it is of course obvious to any one that the introduction of code signing in Leopard plus the recent introduction of the Mac App Store are the first two steps on the road to your beautiful Apple computer becoming nothing more than a big iPad.

Here’s step three – a missive recently sent out to all OS X Developers who have apps hosted at Apple’s Mac OS X Downloads site.

Thank you for making the Mac OS X Download site a great destination with apps that offer users new ways to work, play, learn, and create on their Mac.

We recently announced that on January 6, 2011, the Mac App Store will open to users around the world, presenting you with an exciting, new opportunity to reach millions of customers. Since the introduction of the App Store in 2008, we’ve been thrilled with the incredible support from developers and the enthusiastic response from users. Now we’re bringing the revolutionary experience of the App Store to Mac OS X.

Because we believe the Mac App Store will be the best destination for users to discover, purchase, and download your apps, we will no longer offer apps on the Mac OS X Downloads site. Instead, beginning January 6, we will be directing users to explore the range of apps available on the Mac App Store.

We appreciate your support of the Mac platform and hope you’ll take advantage of this new opportunity to showcase your apps to even more users. To learn how you can offer your apps on the Mac App Store, visit the Apple Developer website at .

Best regards,

Ron Okamoto
Vice President, Worldwide Developer Relations
Apple Inc.

The short version? Apple are closing their Mac OS X Downloads site. The long version? OS X Lion (or whatever cat follows that) will make app code signing mandatory and suddenly if you’re not in Apple’s cosy little walled garden you’re out in the cold, and your laptop joins your phone in being a device that you rent from Apple rather than actually own outright.

In the face of this disappointing future, three cheers for Jay Freeman (saurik) for his recent announcement of ‘Cydia for Macintosh’ – at least there’s one person out there who sees the way the wind is blowing and is in a position to do something about it. Note that it is very relevant that Jay sees that in the main Cydia contains ‘system tweaks’ rather than applications. Fighting Apple’s lockdown of your iDevice (whether phone, pad, or laptop) is and has always been more about giving you back complete ownership over the device you paid for rather than running any particular application on it.