The iPhone’s Technology is Indistinguishable from Magic - That’s Now a Problem

| Particle Debris

Apple's iPhone is incredibly easy to use. So much so that its operation is indistinguishable from magic. Starting with extremely sophisticated silicon and working its way up through layers of abstraction, encryption technology and security and privacy measures in iOS, it is so sophisticated that few outside Apple understand its working principles. That's turning into a big problem for governments.

Billions of transistors make for magic. Image credit: iFixit

Believe it or not, there was some other news debris worth covering besides the Apple and FBI. I'll get to that abbreviated edition on page 2. But first...

The silliest thing I've seen yet is the claim by the San Bernardino District Attorney that the Syed Farook iPhone, at the center of the Apple vs. FBI dispute, may contain a "dormant cyber pathogen." As I understand it, this phone was owned by the San Berdardino Health Department, and so it's very unlikely that the terrorist would use that phone for something incriminating, let alone a science fiction fantasy conjured up by the DA.

Recall that the couple destroyed their personal phones. That says something about how they probably used their government issued iPhones.

Via ars technica quoting security expert Jonathan Zdziarski:

It sounds like he’s making up these terms as he goes. We've never used these terms [cyber pathogen] in computer science....Do they have any evidence whatsoever to show there is any kind of cyber pathogen on the network or any logs or network captures to show that Farook's phone tried to introduce some unauthorized code into the system?

The level of hysteria being raised for uninformed political purpose that would, in the end, destroy the privacy and security of hundreds of millions of iPhone users is alarming.

Touch a few buttons and talk! Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Apple has made incredibly complex technology, with layers and layers of sophistication, from the silicon on up, very usable to the average customer. It might even be considered a defect, in some sense, that an iPhone is modeled after the classic handset above. Touch it, tap it, and make a phone call. It's that simple.

Except that it isn't. And over the last decade, smartphone technology has moved so far forward, few politicians and government officials have taken the time to learn the underlying technology to the point where they can make informed decisions. The crazy, cooked-up fantasy of a so-called cyber pathogen mentioned above is one example of that ignorance.

The current national discussion, is just in time and very, very helpful. It's just too bad that there are some who still haven't taken the time to inform themselves. In the current political climate, even the most obvious technical facts are seen as self-serving agenda by the evil opposition.

That's a dangerous way to run a technologically advanced country.

Next: The Tech News Debris for the Week of February 29th. Robots butchering meat?

Page 2 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of February 29th


It's an intriguing technical challenge: train robots to butcher meat. But it can be done. I found this fascinating: "Would you buy meat from a robot butcher?" As I"ve said before, get ready. Any job that can be done by a robot, will be done by a robot. What are your own uniquely human skills for 2020 and beyond?

One of my favorite writers is Kirk McElhearn. He's an iTunes expert, and so who better to write: "How to Set Up Minimal iTunes for Music Only." I"m doing that right after I"m done here on my secondary Mac.

There's been some vigorous discussion lately on the App Store's developer ecology, health and well being. But one thing is certain. Swift, as a programming language, is coming on strong, especially with Swift 3 coming out at WWDC in June. So here's an update: "Want a developer job? Time to learn Apple's Swift as demand skyrockets." Don't underestimate this important language in your own career.

Are Apple customers wilting under the constant onslaught of technological advances? I've seen some evidence that this is the case. And I know for a fact that many OS X developers struggle to keep their apps current for each new version of OS X. Do we need a new version of OS X every 12 months? The PC wars are over, and Apple no longer needs to struggle mightily against Windows with dramatic advances in OS X.

This technological ennui may be manifesting itself in the adoption rate of iPads, and now, OS X El Capitan. See: "Mac owners in no rush to adopt OS X El Capitan." Eighteen to 24 months between OS X releases, with regular security updates, would suit me fine. How about you?

Finally, while this isn't news debris, it is awfully cool. The awesome Jonny Evans at Computerworld offers "6 Dock Terminal tweaks Mac users need." The level of UNIX geekdom and coolness here is hard to beat. Thanks Jonny.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.

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Uh, the Page 2 button and the Next button appear to only take me back to the TMO home page.

John Martellaro

geoduck.  I made a syntax mistake. WOrking on it.


these webpages, too, seem indistinguishable from magic; sorcerer’s apprentice Mickey’s magic !


Yup, page 2 is MIA. . . .

John Martellaro

I created a fix. P.D. is now all on just one webpage. It’ll have to do this week.


That chicken carving robot video is one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen. Imagine when they get the technology perfected and the blades and dis-assembly line are running 100 times as fast.


Old UNIX Guy


Couldn’t agree with you more about wishing Apple would slow down the pace of OS upgrades.  18-24 months with security updates in there sounds great to me, especially compared to what I’ve got now…

The latest and greatest El C(r)apitan where e-mail has NEVER worked right in an version.  10.11.0-3 have an egregious memory leak if you’ve got a standard IMAP server as one of your accounts.

I’m running 10.11.4 beta 5 on my iMac and it appears they’ve fixed that ... and introduced a bug where deleted e-mails come back ... again and again.  When you’ve deleted the same e-mail 4 times I at least become thankful that I am 2,000 miles from Cupertino and at least one temptation is therefore removed.

So yeah, Craig Federighi - please stop wasting time going on Gruber’s podcast and telling me how all your metrics show your software quality is the best it’s ever been.  My STINKING E-MAIL doesn’t work!  I don’t know what metrics you’re cherry picking, but the quality of OS X has been in free fall since Bertrand Serlet left and you took over…



Oh, and in answer to your question:

What are your own uniquely human skills for 2020 and beyond?

I am an actor. Vocal and live. My run as Peter in Sound of Murder wraps up this week. . And next week I’m doing a couple of read throughs in preparation for next season.

I defy any robot to match my murderous intent as I confront Charles or my malevolence as I run upstairs proverbial blunt object in hand to finish the job. Nothing is more terrifying.

(Other than that butcher robot video. <shudder>)

Lee Dronick

The iPhone’s Technology is Indistinguishable from Magic

Magic was the name of the operation during WWII to break the Japanese communication codes.

Scott B in DC

“What are your own uniquely human skills for 2020 and beyond?”

When I read this suddenly Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525” come to mind.
I’m sure you youngsters can ask Apple Music to play it for you. I have it in my iTunes library. It was their only hit in (I think) 1969.


“Eighteen to 24 months between OS X releases, with regular security updates, would suit me fine. How about you?”

YES!!  I am tired of the time invested to keep up with changes.  El Capitain is fine and a great improvement over Yosemite.  Now can I get on with my work?


Scott B in DC

@Bob, there’s no rule or law that says you have to follow every upgrade. I stayed comfortably on Snow Leopard until I moved passed a program that needed Rosetta. I upgraded to Yosemite and have held there since. There is no compelling reason to go further, especially with problems with programs like Mail.


That’s a dangerous way to run a technologically advanced country.

Some in the US may be technologically advanced, but many are luddites or technologically inept, or clueless.  Our government officials (DOJ/FBI, Congress, San Bernardino County, New York DA) are in which group?

PS: Agreed on longer intervals for OS upgrades..


@ geoduck: Break a leg, sir.  I’m very impressed with the website and the program for your Village Players group. Very professional, and makes our larger local theatre pale a bit in comparison. I’m sorry that I’m not in B.C. because if your productions match that quality, they must be quite entertaining.


Apple’s thought about OS X update cycles seems to be to align it to annual, free updates on the iOS devices. Except iOS devices to me are like appliances. I want them to work with all the latest features but I don’t poke into their guts. OS X, on the other hand, is my workbench and I don’t want things on my workbench constantly moved around.

I have not updated to El Capitan, specifically, because of the lockdown on certain system files which will probably break a bunch of software I depend upon. I hate sysadmin work, so I don’t want to deal with updating and reinstalling all that software. My usual approach is to update my laptop first and later my desktop if things go smoothly (or after I figure out how to smooth things out), but I’ve completely skipped El Capitan.

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