Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is my Apple refurb GSM iPhone really factory unlocked and ready for Virgin Mobile Canada?

Last year I discovered that Virgin Mobile Canada's [1] prepaid service worked quite well with an AT&T (GSM) post-contract unlocked iPhone 4S. It looked like for about $15-$20/month I could buy enough data to support email, iMessage and Facebook (with video autoplay disabled) [2].

That made me think about a battered AT&T iPhone 4 unlocked refurb phone with an old battery and balky Home button [4] we've been using as a backup. My Canadian sister has no computer or net access -- maybe I could set her up on Virgin with the iPhone 4. 

A bit of research [2] suggests that the American GSM iPhone 4 should work on Virgin's network -- though at a slower rate than the 4S. (Virgin's SIM card FAQ IMEI lookup didn't recognize my IMEI, but I think I ran into that with the 4s too.) So the plan looked doable, but I wanted to give her a phone that would last -- and I didn't want to try my own repairs [5].

There are two options for refreshing an old iPhone 4 with a known defect (I don't know of any equivalent service for Android). You can pay about $170 for an Express Replacement or you can see what the local Apple store will do. If you do the Express Replacement or a typical Apple store refresh you'll probably get an AT&T locked iPhone back, and have to beg AT&T for help.

This time I tried my local Apple store -- and got a top notch "Genius". She decided to give me a refurb for $155, so I saved on the ERS fee. Even better, she said, I'd be getting an Apple unlocked refurb [6]. The entire process took about 15 minutes. Nice deal - looks good as new, fresh battery, home button should work for a while.

Except ... how could I tell it was really unlocked? I tried the erase/restore procedure for AT&T unlocks, but iTunes didn't show me the nice "Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked" message. I tried (surrendering more personal data), but it didn't recognize the IMEI. I think Factory Unlocks are different.

In the end I found two techniques. One is to inspect the Settings screens, there I found a "Carrier" menu I'm not used to seeing. It showed up with an old (inactive) AT&T SIM card inserted.

Photo 1

The Carrier menu let me select two carriers (after I turned off 3G data [7], I think T-Mobile only does EDGE data for the 4/4s though maybe a carrier settings update would help):

Photo 2 

I had an old (inactive) T-Mobile SIM in my desk, so I tried that and got some more menus of interest:

Photo 3

and with the old T-Mobile SIM my carrier changed (though I still had no service)

Photo 5

So Apple delivered as promised. I think the Carrier options by themselves are a pretty good indicator of an Apple factory unlocked GSM phone.

- footnotes -

[1] A Bell Wireless Affiliate

[2] Voice is 40 cents/min, so strictly for emergency. This strategy is a pure data play.

[3] Radios:

Bell Affiliates like Virgin use 850 and 1900MHz GSM frequencies (and some CDMA). 

iPhone 4s

  • GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • HSDPA 14.4 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, UMTS, EDGE, EV-DO Rev.A
  • GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • HSDPA 7.2 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, UMTS, EDGE
[4] Achilles heel of the iPhone 4. They all fail.
[5] I've done that -- it's a mug's game. It's difficult to find genuine parts, and it takes most of us a few phones to get good at these repairs.

[6] Maybe improved policies since Nov 2013?
[7] At some point in my experiments I got a No Service - Restricted Network message. Turning off 3G and cellular data let me connect to T-Mobile.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

GrandView Outliner and Information Manager: Scanned manual from 1990 - and a DOS Emulator

Before the Omni Group created OmniOutliner, there was Symantec MORE 3.1 (Mac) and GrandView 2.0 (DOS) [1]. I was a heavy user of MORE, but I also owned GrandView. Like OmniOutliner, GrandView combined features of a traditional outliner with a spreadsheet (columnar metadata).

Recently Jim W and Daniel G scanned the GrandView Reference Manual. It's a bit of history, both of an innovative software app and of a time when floppy disks shipped with lovingly prepared paper manuals. Grab it while it's hot!

(I'll eventually move the files to my personal site and fix up the above link, but it should work for the moment.)

[1] OmniOutliner 3 imported MORE 3.1 outlines. I don't know if that's true of version 4, I haven't upgraded. I wouldn't blame them for dropping that feature!

Update 4/21/2014: I’ve yet to update my old web page, and I’ve more files from Jim and Daniel to post, but life is hectic. In the meantime I’ll share here a note from Gregory J on running GV in a DOS emulator on Win64:

Just wanted to follow up with you to let you know that I found a pretty easy way to run Grandview inside 64-bit Windows 8.1. I downloaded the "DOSBox-0.74" DOS Emulator Program and install it (the 32-bit works fine under my 64-bit Win8)

Next, I put my Grandview Program Files and Data Files into a subdirectory c:\GV

I navigated to C:\Program Files (x86)\DOSBox-0.74 and I Run "DOSBox.exe"
At the Z prompt type MOUNT C C:\GV
then c:\
then GV.EXE

At this point I'm able to run Grandview perfectly. More importantly I'm able to EXPORT my Outline contents into an ASCII File (a/k/a a Text File) into the c:\GV subdirectory. Then I'm able to cut N' Paste text in this text file to use elsewhere inside of Windows 8. My goal is to find OLD data I have stuck inside Grandview and get it copied so I can use that Data in new programs under Win8.

BTW, Pressing alt-enter will switch to Full Screen (making GV highly usable) and inside GV pressing Ctrl-2 will expand everything in the outline to make for a GREAT text file export.

The DOSBox Tutorial is at

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Managing unwanted Mac startup apps: ScanSnap's AOUMonitor and Citrix Receiver

I replaced my despised ScanSnap S1300 with (sigh) another Fujitsu - the ScanSnap ix500. So far I like the ix500 almost as much as I disliked its predecessor. I bought it as a document scanner, but I'm using it to process several thousand prints currently stuck in a bin. The image quality is nowhere near as good as my Epson V700 [1], but it's a lot better than nothing. [2]

The next day though, my 2009 iMac (Mountain Lion)'s mouse pointer was frozen after screensaver clearance. The machine didn't respond to keyboard either; I hard to power cycle. This happened a few more times, though sometimes the keyboard worked.  I found if I unplugged the peripherals, including my Mini DisplayPort external monitor, I could get things working.

In my recent experience this kind of problem is most often hardware related -- perhaps a problem with my USB bus (7-8 devices on one old hub!) or Firewire bus. I do look for software issues though, and I realized I had two new apps running in my Menu Bar. One was called AOUMonitor and the other was Citrix Receiver.

Yikes! It's true that modern Mac issues are more often hardware than software, but those are two bad actors. AOUMonitor is Fujitsu's "ScanSnap Online Update" -- and Fujitsu is known for buggy Mac software. I only run ScanSnap Manager when I need it. Citrix is even worse -- my wife has to use it but it shouldn't be running in my account.

I needed both of them out.

AOUMonitor was easy. From my Admin account I found ScanSnap Online Update and turned off auto-update. then I went to the Admin startup items and disabled AOUMonitor. I saw that ScanSnap Manager was also running for all users on startup, so I deleted that as well. I'll run it when I need it.

I figure AOUMonitor crept in when I uninstalled my old ScanSnap software and installed the new stuff, then updated it. I can't explain how Citrix Receiver showed up; until now I'd only seen it in my wife's account. Maybe some auto-update? Maybe I just never noticed it before. Disturbing!

Of course Citrix Receiver is an evil hack, so you don't find it Apple's User Startup Items list. I followed MacWorld's Take control of startup and login items (See also: Troubleshooting Startup and Login Items) and found several Citrix items in ~\Library\Library\LaunchAgents. I moved them to Emily's personal Library\LaunchAgents folder so they'd only run in her account.

Now we'll see if my mouse problems improve. Next thing is reducing the stress on the USB hub - and changing my screensaver away from Aperture slideshows.

- fn -

[1] Scanner tech isn't changing much -- just faster. So good photo scanners last a long time, but of course prints are going away -- so the useful lifetime of photo scanners is limited.

[2] Not the point of this post, but I just dump 30 or so photos in the feeder and scan to iPhoto at 300 dpi, color, minimal compression.  The ix500 does a batch in about 15 seconds. Then I flip over to Aperture and organize 'em. The photos go into appropriate "Events" after I fix version names and set an approximate date, but I also create albums that match the photos to a code number (S1 ... Sn) on the photo envelopes. Then when I'm done it's easy to find prints or negatives that I want to scan property. I didn't return to high quality cameras until I went digital, so for most of these prints the quick scan is good enough.