Sunday, November 3, 2013

Beware of Apple Mavericks -- productivity, security issues

Last week, I decided to install Apple's new free operating system Mavericks on one of the three or four laptops around the house. I'll say more about why, and the larger implications.. but for now, IF YOU are considering downloading Mavericks, I should get straight to why this was something of a disaster for me.
A little thing, with huge implications. And yes, some odd resonance with the NSA and Obamacare scandals floating around us this week.

Shortly after the new desktop appeared... a message appeared :"Calendar Agent wants to access your external group information and settings." Four buttons to choose - ?, always allow, deny, allow.

I looked dimly at that window.. and Luda chanced by: "Of course deny. How could you even think about it?" Since her information is part of the external contact information, and she is very strict about such things,
she would not want me to allow it. (I am suddenly reminded of Chancellor Merkel's unusual vehemence
about the NSA scandals, compared to many other world leaders. That may be partly due to other nations having their own active programs, and to personal history... but historians sometimes say wars between France and Germany were partly due to Germans feeling more upset about intrusions on personal space and privacy. In my personal experience, there is truth in that -- but proper Russians are even more uptight about privacy issues... long stories...)

I had no intention of allowing it myself either. (Among other things, I never use the Apple Calendar.
Google calendar works a lot better for me.) So I just hit "deny." And then the message appeared again, instants later, exactly the same. I would click deny 5 times in a row, but it just kept coming back.

OK, let's try "?". No information at all. The button didn't work. It seemed that the pushy people who designed this window would not take no for an answer, and didn't want to bother explaining themselves.

The damage is more than I really expected. Yes, we have three or four laptops, but I did most of my work on the Mac one, because of many advantages. But now... if my productivity gets reduced about 50% by the never-ending CalendarAgent (which I can just ignore to some extent, like constantly swatting at a horde of flies which keep diving for my face)... the obvious alternative is to switch permanently to the PC desktop which I am typing on right now. And hope that Apple eventually fixes this, so that I can go back to using the Mac.


Now, a little more on details....

What's wrong with just caving? Maybe that's what most people did who installed Mavericks this past week.
(Yes, there were a lot of them.) Being in the Twitterverse, why not let a hundred corporations know absolutely everything about you and every person you know? Many answers to that. And yes, respecting Luda's rights is an absolute unconditional constraint for me, so why even think about the other reasons?

Another thing that bothered me here. When my big Imac in the office crashed last year, in a suspicious sort of way, I did an intensive search on Mac viruses and related stuff. (In fact, there was a blog post last year.)
I wondered how they got around an operating system which was supposed to be 99.99% in compliance
with the high security standards of the "orange book." For the main vector of transmission... the operating system did "protect" users by saying that crucial data and permissions would not be released to a third party (like a virus) unless a window appeared requesting access, and the user OKed it. Then you may kiss your hard drive goodbye. And blame it on hardware. This new window reminds me a whole lot of the window I saw in accounts of Maccontrol. What's more, Mavericks clearly allows the source of the window
to engage in a level of bullying (and no option "never ask" or "never ask this month") which fully deprives
the user of effective choice.

This reminds me of how the line between a malicious virus and a normal piece of commercial software has become ever more blurry. "Evil viruses may sneak in and steal your personal data." While other programs may bludgeon you into doing it, without giving you much choice. I sold my stock in Adobe when they started
"being evil." (That was painful, because I really needed the access to usable JBIG2 compression of scanned papers. Really crucial historic papers may be lost. But they became "evil" in many ways, not just bludgeoning users but also kludging up any use of pdf for folks who have Acrobat installed.)


When one takes long walks in various parts of Arlington, Virginia, and goes downtown at times for meetings
in places like Rayburn, one can bump into all kinds of interesting people. Not so long ago,
I ran into a friendly quite guy who works a lot with NSA -- but not at all the Snowden type.
 He talked about how depressed he was about the worsening cybersecurity problems we have, with
power systems, banks, and all the rest in a losing fight with hack attacks of all kinds, relying on new plans based on patent medicine too weak to really work. "Why does it have to be this way?
We long ago figured out how to solve and prevent all these problems. We told them how, and even developed the tools, like what's in the rainbow books. Why do they just let things go to hell?"
I replied: "The rainbow books? I heard of the orange book, because I worked on that system long ago, but I never heard of the rainbow books." "Oh yes, the purple book is very interesting...."

Other folks told me about SE-Linux properly installed....


By the way, the changeover to Mavericks was yesterday.

Apple did urge people to upgrade on the first day, and many did.
But I did at least do some web searching before deciding to try anyway,
on one of our laptops. The tech press reported crashing problems for only about 4% or less...
(typical of some medical stuff that doesn't apply to us). It reported just one really major glitch:
folks who use Apple Mail to get and organize their gmail couldn't do it anymore.
They advised "wait a few weeks until Apple fixes this." Maybe I should have.
I have planned to use AppleMail that way, sooner or later... but it isn't urgent anyway.
(It was pretty messy when I did one experiment with it about a year ago.)

Why adopt in the first week anyway? I really liked the idea of reduced battery drain and higher speed,
which make a real difference when using a laptop. So when I seemed to have gotten a week of feedback, and Apple urged us on... I did make a decision I would now correct if I could (short of trying to play risky games with time, not warranted by something so small).

It was also a bit of a mess actually to do the installation. It wasn't like clicking on Adobe's button to download a new edition of Acrobat Reader! At the "App Store" tab (available only on Macs of course),
they want to make sure you have a Relation with Apple first. (Like buying a rug from some folks in Turkey. You must first take time for some apple tea..) But those are not feelings; they just want to augment their database to sell you stuff. No compromises allowed. And then... well, at least one can search open help files when it still doesn't do anything.   Click on "download"... and the wheel turns for a moment, and then it stops.
Nothing happens. Again and again and again. Not just queues; at any time of day.

The solution was to notice a new "X" icon in the dock, and then right click on it. (That on a laptop designed not to do right clicks. Well, keep trying...). Status "paused." (Who paused it? No windows of notice about THAT.)  Choose "resume". And then watch it be "paused"again a moment later. I gave up...
but hours later... notice a little bar under the X, with a tiny bit of blue. So I left it unmolested for about an hour, after which it announced it was ready, with a BIG X on the screen. Hit "install."
It says "installing, just a few minutes." But "you are not plugged in to power right now. PLug in.."
Plugged in. Then after the few minutes begins the real install, another hour or so; I just left the room where I plugged it in.

And then... well, after a restart, that new screen. Initially, the new desktop was a nice powerful ocean wave image... with all my icons about 5-10 times as big as before. Luda didn't like either, but I figure I can change the icon size back... if and when a new version of Mavericks appears which makes the laptop usable again.

Best of luck...


One week later:

Am back to the PC. For awhile, I just moved the CalendarAgent window to a location near the trash can,
carefully avoiding clicking anywhere near it by accident (one click to lose them all). But the speed of the new OS was never as great as the old one, and it really started slowing a lot yesterday. It's totally locked up now.

In that first hour... I never checked the iBooks option, since the Kindle paperwhite is so much better to
read books on, physically (and battery-wise).  I did ask Luda to look at the maps, since we do
fancy GPS stuff a lot. One glance at the map, and she just laughed, More precisely:
it was smart enough to use wifi immediately to locate us to within a couple of blocks, but the satellite image
had far less resolution than gmaps, and she was quickly able to spot things much older than the gmaps images we usually use.

Oh, well... downstairs at the PC desktop again...


Another week:

Out of the woods?

After lots of google searches... lots of other people had the CaldenarAgent and slowdown problem. Some documented that CalendarAgent (OR other required stuff) explained the slowdown problem. One guy reported the only way to turn off this nasty agent was to do a whole series of technical Unix type
operations which can be very risky...

Of course, I previously tried just deleting the Calendar altogether, which it wouldn't let me do.

But yesterday... I went INTO Calendar, and deleted the accounts it had set up for me by default.
Basically chose options within calendar to shut off everything. Then, after one final "deny",
the bad window went away forever. And maybe I am back to normal state! Am using the MacBook
even now, because of its convenient location.

BUT... it is still annoying now, as before, that the cursor just jumps around out of control on
the MacBook so often. Half way into sentence... it moves your words to somewhere else.

Have started to think about whether I should buy a new laptop... Vaio?... something else?
Did Mac ever fix this cursor nonsense in new models? But other things to think about...


Much later (Nov 21):

The problem of jumping cursors seems to be endemic to almost all laptops with trackpads.
Lots of people have put posts on the web complaining about how it impairs their productivity.
It should be better, in theory, for laptops with a separate "click bar" under the trackpad,
like the MacBook I have been using, because then trackpad by itself could move the cursor
WITHOUT clicking to shift typing to the new location; however, that doesn't work out for me in practice. EARLIER Apple operating systems had an option not to allow stray delicate touches
on the trackpad to count as clicks; I don't see that option in Mavericks.

I have looked at a number of new laptops at Costco, and did not see any which would clearly solve this problem. However, I heard that HP sells a laptop (not ALL its laptops!) with a button to just turn off
the trackpad whenever you like -- for example when typing.  Maybe that's where I will have to go.
Ironically, for simple scrolling of the content... where I'd want to use the trackpad... well, I just use the page down key now. (Did I turn off too much on the trackpad options, in a futile effort to stop the cursor jumping? Maybe.)

So maybe there is an HP in my future.

I wonder whether anyone thought of putting the trackpad in a different location, like close to the screen or to the right, where there is less chance of one's sleeve brushing it when one types? Or does
the delicate physical setup tweak the trackpad anyway too often (as suggested by folks who had the problem due to battery expansion)?

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