Very Alarming


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jan 04, 2011 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

Over the New Year's weekend a news story started to unfold. It was about the Apple iPhone and how the standard clock application would not sound its alarm when set. The story became (said a radio announcer) the number two story of the day. All day long I heard about the iPhone's clock not working, and it was also reported that Apple was not going to fix it, since it was deemed as being a “temporary” problem and that things would be back to normal by January 4th “or so” one seemed to be sure why it occurred or exactly when things would go back to normal.

Late on the evening of January 3rd I sent out a Tweet that said:

> iPhone users: I know my Android phone will wake me. Can you say the same?

This received MANY re-tweets.

Now I do not tweet often, and I do not know all the features and methods of tweeting. I have a real life and real work to do. Unlike others who tweet a lot, I try to save my tweets for something of significance or substance. But in this case, something evil crept into me, so the next morning I tweeted:

> Android woke me. Now have to call all friends still using iPhone to make sure they are awake.

and Tweeterdom went WILD. People were re-tweeting, sending direct messages to me and LOL a lot. About two hours later this tweet became a “topresonancer” on Twitter's site. Only once before had I received that distinction.

However there were some iPhone users who apparently took offense to my tweets, and some took actual exceptions to my tweets. I will attempt to address some of those issues in this blog entry.

First, some background. In 1969 I wrote a calendar program in FORTRAN with punched cards that had a perpetual calendar. It took into account leap year, and no leap year every 100 years, and leap year every 400 years. I only had 4K of memory to work with, so I could not hope to accommodate the mess that has become time calculation today. All of this is to let the world know that I am sympathetic to the poor engineer at Apple whose code has caused all this hubbub. I am sure that when the solution is found it will be a "head-slapper".

Secondly I should tell you that while I do use my Android alarm from time to time to remind me of meetings, time to go to lunch and other things, normally I wake up to an ancient Sony clock radio that allows me to set two separate and distinct alarms, either alarm having the radio come on, or a buzzer or both. The Sony works and I use it. Don't ask why a single person needs two alarms, it has nothing to do with the reliability of the clock radio.

I also wear a Casio quartz alarm wristwatch. Re-set by Colorado's Atomic clock each day, it is reasonably accurate on time. While the alarm is not as easy to set as the Android alarm on my Nexus One (or even the clock radio), the wristwatch is always (and I mean ALWAYS) on my wrist. Waterproof to 30 meters, seven year battery. And the alarm, although quiet enough not to wake other people in the same room (and sometimes, if I am lucky, the same bed) wakes me on the first beep.

I can understand people using and depending on their cell phone alarm to wake them, and I am sympathetic to someone who spent a lot of money or was forced into a long term contract with a telephone carrier they did not like just to get Mr. Jobs' fabulous creation, then not have their alarm work.

Actually I am extremely sympathetic. I have a long history of being “pro consumer”, and when the original iPhone 4 problem of “you are holding the phone wrong” occurred, all I could visualize was Mr. Jobs holding his phone the “correct” way, with his middle finger extended towards his customers. No wonder it worked for him.

As I look down my Twitter log, I see that the tweet before my tweet of the evening of January 3rd was from a friend of mine, Dennis Jensen of Brazil (Hi Dennis!) who reported that the fifteen-year old Alpha computer running Linux that I had given him finally died, and he was looking for a new power supply. I am now in the process of locating a refurbished power supply for him. This sets the tone, I think, of how I believe computer hardware and software should work.

The tweet following Dennis' report of the dead Alpha was mine about the iPhone alarm. This awoke the Twitter faithful, and created many re-tweets adding “LOL” and “He looks like Moses” (from @kiirochan) to my log. [Thanks @kiirochan, normally I am identified as Papai Noel, particularly this time of year. Moses is a nice change of pace.]

I had a few iPhone users who reported back that their phones had been bitten by the clock bug and “they were almost late for work”, and one person who thanked me because (somehow) they had missed the story and they were going to set the alarm for the next morning. A news story said that someone had been fired because they overslept, but I did not have time to substantiate that story firsthand.

Then came a few interesting stories about alternate “alarms”. One from @ferggo told me that his two year old would wake him, and later on @mattboschetti told me that “in fact I don't need my phone to wake me up... my beautiful girlfriend gracefully does the job... :)“. I replied to @mattboschetti that he was indeed a lucky man.

One person told me that they never missed an alarm because they used a $1 clock that they bought from China. In this case I took an opposite tact, and asked them if they could call someone using their clock. They admitted that they could not.

Believe me when I say I can understand people who want to use their phone for everything. Why not? For all intents and purposes it is a 'general purpose computer'....hooked to the Internet. Some people are hailing them as the "new laptop" or the "replacement netbook". Defenseless, as it were, on the wasteland of the Internet....but you should be able to use it for an alarm. It is one of the features.

Some people were animate that the TWO things they wanted out of their $500 phone was MAKE CALLS and CLOCK. Wow. Apparently they never surfed the web, listened to music or used any of the other functions. If all they wanted was MAKE CALLS and CLOCK I really do have a cheaper solution.

Then the accusers started. @rizdroid was the first to ask me if I had heard of “ISSUE #1109” No, I had not...and likewise I had never had occasion to look for it. They kindly supplied me with a URL. Apparently there are issues with the Android alarm also, but some of these reports have to do with interactions of other applications (improperly installed or tuned “task killers” for example), for which I can hardly blame Android. Other reports seem to have been generated due to interactions of applications that turned down the volume of the alarm to the point it was “silent”.

With all of this, however, there seems to be some people who are still having real problems with their clock and its alarm, and I would encourage the Android community to help solve the problem.

Some people and I had reasonable discussions via Twitter, such as @mikagrml where I pointed out that I had indeed received bug fixes and system updates for my phone, and they did not have to come from one vendor who chose one carrier. He was gracious enough to acknowledge that.

@mikagrml was also the first of several people to bring up the “SMS issue”. This appears to be another long-standing issue with Android.

Again, as an Android user I am a little different. I really do not send or receive much in the way of SMS. I know a lot of people do, but if I have sent or received fifty SMS messages in my life, that would be a lot. I prefer talking or using a “chat” client of some type.

Now when it comes to talking, my Android experience has not been altogether stellar, not because of Android, but because of my previous carrier. Due to my international travel I decided to go with GSM almost 18 years ago instead of CDMA. This was at a time when GSM was supplied only by a couple of small companies in the United States, and I subscribed to one of them. It was difficult for me to get a signal in my house, but there I had land lines. Any other place in the world my GSM phone worked great, so it did what I wanted it to do.

Seventeen years later when I first got my Nexus One I continued with my carrier of 18 years, T-Mobile. But the signal that I kept picking up in my house was (believe it or not) AT&T. So after 18 years I switched carriers to AT&T, and now I can make cell phone calls reliably within my house. So much so that I eliminated one land line.

Notice that I just switched carriers. That was because my phone was unlocked. Legally unlocked. When I go to South America I have a friend who will loan me a SIM and I will have a local number where I can make local calls. I will forward my cell phone calls to a VoIP number. And yes, I use a VoIP based service from my cell phone when I am around WiFi to save even more money.

So I started reading about the SMS issues. It seems like 5000 of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people using Android have had this problem. It seems only recently that some of the Android “power users” have convinced themselves (by experiencing the problem) and Google that it really exists. These types of problems are called “Really-Hard-To-Solve”(TM). From what I have read it seems to be a race condition of having lots of SMS messages coming in and going out, and therefore is seen mostly by “power SMS users”. But Google has recognized it and has moved its priority up.

Finally there were the people who pointed out that there was a virus reported for Android, and asked me if I had it on my phone. One of these people (I will not embarrass him by giving his Twitter name) assured me that they did not have a virus on their iPHONE or their IPAD (they used all iCAPITAL iLETTERS to describe these two devices), and would never have a virus on their devices because Apple was the only one to update the code, and Apple vetted all of their applications very carefully before putting the applications in the App store. He told me to “enjoy ur malicious Android software”.

Others told me that iPhones had no viruses because “Steve Jobs told him”.

Wow. Steve also told you that you were holding your phone wrong, that you could not have Skype on your phone, that certain applications were too “risque”, as if you were not an adult.

It was more than these two individuals who had these opinions, and for these people in general I have a bridge to sell them in New York City.

I have been in the computer industry for over forty years, and if there is one thing that all computer security people agree on, there is no such thing as a truly secure computer. Unless the computer is disconnected from any network, turned off, locked in a closet, with an ax through its disk drive. Some people would grind up the storage devices and burn the powder, but they usually work for organizations that only have three letters in their name (and they are not IBM, SUN or DEC).

There are only levels of security, security is never perfect. No sophistocated software on the Internet is “virus-proof”, particularly if it changes over time.

While Apple may take all types of precautions, and while the architecture of their software may help prevent viruses (as does Android's) there are still software glitches, buffer overruns, data downloads that get turned into active programs through trap-doors (intentional or not) that can allow a virus to enter. It is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. Back up your data often.

Unfortunately the person who told me to enjoy my “malicious Android software” is still not acknowledging that all software (even Apple's) is imperfect, and the “smarter” and more complex the software is the more likely it is to be imperfect.

It is now late in the evening, and the Twitterzone is coming back to normal. I had a nice question from @joaumfaria, who asked the question “Which Linux distro do you prefer, master?” to which I gave my best “Obi-Wan Kenobi” reply:

“The one that best meets my needs, and you should use the one that best meets your needs.”

I think that applies to cell phones too and, by the way, I have never had to reboot my Casio.

Carpe Diem!


  • hmm...

    It's odd how you mention being free.

    I'd have loved to see you on
  • Very Alarming

    These people who think that they have problems with alarms, that is nothing.
    My friend has a cat who gets quite annoyed at this awakening intrusion we call the alarm radio and the crafty feline has figured out what the snooze button does.

    Guelph, Ontario.
  • Virus on mobile

    Although, I think the person who saids that iPhone don't have any virus didn't googled it. If he'd did it, he would see that iPhones got their first virus on September 2009. He didn't know too, that not only applications, from AppStore or Android Market or whateter-store-or-market, can be malicious. If you surf the web you are vulnerable to malicious software. Remember that the main source of malicious programs that affects cellphones explores bug in the phone's browsers. We may remember him what's the most used operational system for servers and that it's an Open Source Software. That Open Source operational system actually is even more safe from viruses than that other that's a lot more expensive. It's just a matter of time to Android become safe as Linux, because every good programmer can contribute using their knowledge to fix security issues and make his name across the community.

    I love my Android phone because I like to be free and don't need to jailkbreak my phone to install everything I want. Some people like to be put in a jail and do only the things that one guy said them to do.

    [troll mode] I know the guy that said that thing about "enjoy ur mailicous Android software" and he's such a iThings-Maniac-And-Defensor-Because-Im-Too-Blind-To-Use-My-Brain. [/troll mode]

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