29 September 2012

Apple - A letter from Tim Cook on Maps


I guess removing Street View is, in Apple's view, an improvement. Apple Map's focus on useless frills like flyover and 3D  is a bit like having an Earthquate Alert App with skins, custom sounds, 3D maps, but doesn't actually warn you about an earthquake.

To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we're improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.
Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook
Apple's CEO

25 September 2012

Using your mobile phone overseas - getting more technical (part 2)

In Part 1 I discussed easy ways that anyone can manage to stay in contact overseas without too much expense, and only one software package on their smart phone or laptop - Skype. In fact, if you go to an internet cafe you may not even need your smart phone, as many have Skype installed.

These articles may sound like Skype advertisements, but I have no link to Skype at all - I am just recommending it because most people just want an answer that works.

Outgoing calls

If you run Skype on your smart phone you can ring any other Skype user. If you buy some call credit you can ring any telephone in the world (for 2-3 cents/minute) as well as other Skype users (free). You can use 3G or wifi, so judicious use of free or cheap wifi can make outgoing calls very easy. You can even make Skype calls from a normal phone. Note that I include using 3G (or other mobile phone technology such as 4G, LTE, and perhaps Edge - read on for details).

Incoming calls

A feature you might be strongly tempted by is having a permanent Australian phone number on which you can receive calls wherever you have Skype access. This means that you can be logged into Skype on a PC in Malaysia, or using Skype on your smart phone on 3G in France, and Skype will ring like a normal phone. The only caveat is that you need to be on the network (Ethernet, 3G or wifi on your phone) to receive the call, but even if you're not it will go to voicemail which you can pick up later. At the time of writing it costs €15 for 3 months for the phone number -  called an Online Phone Number.

Using wireless (3G, 4G, LTE, Edge)

What if you could carry wifi around with you? Normally you should just stick to using wifi for Skype calls. But, if you want to use wireless such as 3G, 4G, LTE, Edge and others to make (or receive) Skype or VoIP calls then you won't want to use your Australian SIM Card to do it (too expensive). So how can you do it cheaply?

Consider companies such as XcomGlobal (I've never used them, but the concept is right). For around AUD$15 per day you can  rent and carry around a little box that acts like a wifi access point, and it connects to the phone network for you over 3G. Your phone, tablet, computer etc, as well as those physically near you (who have the password) all connect to it just like a normal wifi point. Five devices can connect simultaneously. It's like your backback becomes a roaming wifi point.

Example: I have an iPhone, Nexus 7 tablet and a laptop.  I rent the MiFi and SIM card for France. When I arrive I put it in my bag and turn it on.  For $15/day I have unlimited mobile access for all three devices! For example, all up costs for 8 days of unlimited access is $164. However, you pay for days that you're not using it, such as flying days.

The downside to using wireless like this is that the MiFi has limited battery life, and wireless (as we all know) has patchy coverage, even in Australia. But, if you're in a good coverage area and can deal with battery issues then this is a cheap-ish solution for a few days.


Everything I've discussed regarding Skype can be done (and I do) using Voice over IP (VoIP). You can get an account with many providers, such as Engin, Spintel, Pennytel, CallCentric, MyNetFone (these aren't recommendations, just names). You then install a VoIP client like GroundWire or 3CX on your smart phone, tablet and computer and you get all the same benefits as Skype, and sometimes cheaper. Why didn't I mention this upfront? Because it's a little bit more complicated than Skype, and a lot of people already know something about Skype.


There are many ways to stay in contact cheaply while overseas. My recommendations will suit the average holiday maker in most countries, but if your needs are more particular then you will need to mix and match.

© 2012 Andrew Calvin andrew@calvin.it

20 September 2012

Using your mobile phone while travelling overseas (Part 1)


I am often asked how to cost-effectively use your mobile phone overseas. Here's my answer...

Think very carefully about your needs for your phone while travelling. Stop and think - right now.

Few people actually need a phone that works just like it does at home, even for business purposes. The only cheap method is the system I outline here -  everything else will be more expensive and/or will involve purchasing third party or foreign SIM cards with different phone numbers (often overseas mobile numbers, which will make it expensive for people at home to call you). If you do get a good value travel SIM card from an Australian provider like TravelSIM it will still be expensive.

The truth is that almost everybody doesn't need to be constantly connected or contactable. If you do need that, you simply will have to pay a serious premium when you're overseas.

Instead, try this:
Turn off data roaming


  • You have an Australian mobile phone account (pre-paid or post-paid) with international roaming activated.
  • You turn off roaming data - really important.
  • Your Australian carrier has roaming agreements with the carriers at your destinations.


Do you need to receive calls urgently? Probably not. You don't want to receive calls from someone just for a chat (not everyone will know you're overseas) - it costs you due to international diversion, and the call may be unimportant (I once received a telemarketing call in Frankfurt - it cost me $2 just to tell them to go away).

Optus Diversion
Get SkypeOut
A better option:- divert all calls to voicemail, and change your greeting to tell the caller you are overseas. Ask them, if it's urgent, to send you an SMS requesting you to call them back. You will get the SMS at little or no cost. Then you can return the call as set out below in "Outgoing".

Your voicemail message should be something like:
Hi, thanks for calling me. I'm overseas at the moment. You can hang up, or leave a message now which I will not receive until I return to Australia, or if you really need to talk to me urgently you should send me an SMS asking me to call, stating your name and phone number. I will call as soon as I am able.


Don't make calls using your normal mobile line. Instead, use SkypeOut when on wifi - 2.3 c/min to any phone anywhere in the world and it works great. Put $10 credit on your SkypeOut account and install Skype on all your devices. Top it up if you need to while you're travelling, but trust me - $10 on SkypeOut goes a long way! On the other hand, I once paid $20 just to check my voicemail from Germany. Ouch.

If it really can't wait until you get back to wifi, then send an SMS - it won't be cheap but it will be much cheaper than anything else.


Do you really need data over 3G while travelling? You probably don't. You can probably just use wifi in cafes, hotels, restaurants, McDonalds etc.

If you want to use data to get maps it will be cheaper to either:
  • buy a GPS app for the relevant countries (eg TomTom Europe for the iPhone); or
  • use Android - my Nexus 7 caches maps and is easier to use than OpenMaps (see below); or
  • use OpenMaps on your phone, after caching all the maps you need while on wifi. This is fiddly, but it works once you get the hang of it - I recently used this in Singapore.
If you really need 3G data then consider http://www.travelsim.net.au/. For example, data is $0.65 per MB (USD) in 33 European countries. This isn't cheap (65 cents to look at one page of the the Sydney Morning Herald), but it's about as good as it gets.

Using local SIM cards

This is possible and can be cheap - for example, I recall that the Woolworths (now called countdown) SIM card in New Zealand was pretty good. However, you end up with a new phone number and can't easily check for SMS on your real number (you have to play SIM-Swap), and calls back to Australia still won't be very cheap. Your friends and family won't thank you either, because they get to make an international mobile call.  Generally speaking I don't think this is a great option unless you are happy to forget about inbound calls and just use it for local data.

Don't forget to consider the size of SIM card you use. There are three types currently in use:

  1. Standard SIM -  the original big SIM
  2. Micro SIM - smaller than the Standard SIM and can be manufactured by simply cutting the Standard SIM. This size was more or less introduced with the iPhone 4.
  3. Nano SIM - introduced with the iPhone 5, and cannot be easily created from larger SIM cards.
If you want to use a local SIM you need to consider whether the local carrier provides a SIM that will fit in your phone. At the time of writing the Nano SIM was not widely available, but by January 2013 this should no longer be an issue.


  1. You ignore my advice and simply take your phone overseas: your buddy calls to organise a beer on Saturday night. It costs him $1.50 and you $1.50 just to say you can't make it. Worse still, he might ask about the trip - this call ends up costing you $10 or more.
  2. You take my advice: your buddy gets your voicemail telling him you're overseas. He forgets about drinks on Saturday night. It might have cost him 40 cents.
  3. You ignore my advice: you receive an SMS telling you there's a missed call. Then you get another one telling you there's a voicemail for you. You ring your voicemail and it's a message from a mate asking you to give him a call. You call him and he says "Do you want a beer on Saturday night?"... All for the cost of 2 x SMS, calling voicemail and calling your buddy. No actual benefit to anyone, and probably cost $10.
  4. You take my advice: your mother needs to get in touch. She rings your mobile and it goes to voicemail. She sends you an SMS asking you to ring. You ring back on SkypeOut. Cost: 1 x SMS and maybe 15 cents for SkypeOut.


Everyone has different needs, but I think these recommendations will suit most people. If not, try your own ideas.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 - Getting more technical.

© 2012 Andrew Calvin andrew@calvin.it

iOS 6 - Maps

Apple Maps overview
I've been using the iOS 6 beta for about 6 weeks, and the NDA no longer applies since the retail version has been released. Here's my take on maps because I'm a bit of a maps geek.

The worst part? Apple Maps. Apple Maps are terrible. I forgave them during the beta, because it was, well, a beta. But the production maps are the same! The maps have little detail and terrible fonts. I could probably make other criticisms, but these are deal breakers.

Fortunately you can still use Google Maps in Safari - if you want detail and readability then you have no choice.

Apple Maps

Google Maps

Oh, and one more thing: Google Maps starts predicting the address as soon as you start typing - Apple Maps doesn't. It makes Google Maps so much better. Actually it does on the 4S, but not the 3GS.

15 September 2012

History isn't all bad

I wasn't great at history at school, but I suspect it had something to do with learning facts about the French Revolution, as opposed to learning about significant issues in human life which might teach us how to behave in the future. Yes, the French Revolution could have taught me that, if only it was taught by someone else.

Anyway, I was watching Channel 11 in Sydney the other day - it's an offshoot of Channel Ten - Ten Network Holdings Limited ABN 14 081 327 068.

It has a promotion at the moment for comedy shows "Sunday Silly Sunday". I can't think of a reason why they'd use that phrase, unless it was a reference to the U2 song about Bloody Sunday - the Bogside Massacre - which involved the massacre of Irish citizens by British troops in 1972. This was a tragic time in UK and Irish history, of which, I suspect, neither is proud.

I believe that this is not an intentional slight to those murdered - the relevant staffer in marketing probably had heard it at some stage and thought it would be catchy if modified as a marketing slogan.

However,  if this is the level of intelligence by the relevant manager, and a mark of the oversight of approvals by mature personnel  then there's little wonder that Channel Ten seems to be in dire straights.

Perhaps a history lesson might be useful.

11 September 2012

Cyberspace October 2012


You may recall the Great Google Kerfuffle of 2010, when it became known that Google had kept some data it had captured from unsecured wi-fi networks while recording Street View images and maintaining its database of wi-fi networks. On the latter topic, it’s worth mentioning that Google is one of a fair number of companies that drive around, capturing the location and identity of all wi-fi networks it sees to aid in geolocation software used by devices such as iPhones, Android phones and many other devices.

I call it a kerfuffle, because some people got very excited about the fact that Google had recorded information that was publicly available and “broadcast” to everyone within 50 metres of the access point. “It was private!” they screamed, and Senator Stephen Conroy said it was ““single greatest breach in the history of privacy.”

The US District Court of Illinois released an interesting opinion on 22 August 2012 in In Re Innovatio IP Ventures dealing with the capture of data from unsecured wi-fi networks. Innovatio is a patent owner who is litigating over the use of wi-fi patents. It wanted to collect wi-fi packets to support its claims, but was concerned that it might be a breach of the Federal Wiretap Act 18 U.S.C. It therefore filed a motion to establish a protocol for collection of data.  Innovatio’s staff used wi-fi packet capture hardware to capture information from wi-fi networks such as those at cafes. Anything sent public unsecured wi-fi can be easily made human readable (which is why you subscribe to a VPN solution such as Witopia (www.witopia.net) and use it at unsecured wi-fi hotspots, don’t you?).

Bear in mind that in NSW s.308A of the Crimes Act 1900 specifically states that interception is not impairment of a communication, and it would be a long bow to draw to say that sniffing of the type described comes within “unauthorised access” under s.308B. However, in the USA capturing wi-fi data is likely to be a breach of § 2510 of the Wiretap Act.

The problem is that all devices like your mobile phone on a network listen to all packets, but they discard packets if they are not meant for them.  Innovatio had to listen and capture packets, but then wanted to ensure that the payload itself was not stored, as it didn’t need it. Luckily for Innovatio it didn’t have to go too far down this road, because the court held that it fell into an exception: “to intercept or access an electronic communication ... that is configured so that such electronic communication is readily accessible to the general public.” In other words, if you don’t secure a network then you can’t complain if someone listens.

The court considered the USA Street View litigation and noted that that court accepted the proposition that capturing insecure wi-fi data required considerable sophistication and therefore was not publicly accessible. However, in the present case the court noted that the required hardware and software can be had for well under $1,000, and I note that it is not akin to using a ouija board. What this highlights is the tendency for courts and politicians to come down hard on new things they don’t understand, rather than taking the time to understand.

The court noted that the public might, due to lack of understanding, have an expectation of privacy for data transmitted over private wi-fi that is unsecured. The trouble is that reality does not match that expectation and the fact is that those communications are “readily accessible to the general public... Any tension between that conclusion and the public's expectation of privacy is the product of the law's constant struggle to keep up with changing technology.”

Cyberspace is published in the Journal of the Law Society of New South Wales.

10 September 2012

OS X - Do your network shares keep disappearing?

I have a Mac Mini so I can keep in touch with Apple computer technology.

I don't like it a lot - especially with way it plays on a network. For example, mounting a network share and getting the file listing takes less than a second on my old Windows Core 2 Duo, but on my Mac Mini i5 with 8 GB of RAM it takes up to 20 seconds. The same Mac, running Linux inside VMware, takes less than a second - in a virtual machine!!

Anyway, another frustrating thing was I have some iTunes content on a network share, and I'd like iTunes on the Mac to be able to see that content all the time. I set up the startup so that the appropriate network shares auto mounted on login. The trouble is that they kept disappearing after a relatively short time.

After a lot of digging around on the internet, it turns out that Apple has decided that if you don't use a network share for more than 60 minutes it will simply unmount it!  That is truly bizarre. Windows does something very slightly similar by closing the network connection, but it reopens it instantly. This is unlike the Mac OS X system where it trashes the entire connection, requiring human intervention.

Anyway, here's the answer to a problem that shouldn't have occurred:

edit the file:


change AUTOMOUNT_TIMEOUT to a large number. It is set for 3600 seconds (1 hour) by default. Restart and you're in business.