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The Intermittent Kevin

As randomly and rarely updated as most blogs

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Find My iPhone works, and it is awesome.
(Note: some screenshots are quite obviously simulated.)
(Note 2: this is my first blog post in over three years, feel free to read my ancient history if you like.)
(Note 3: All said and done, the comments and Internet-fame have been awesome. I'm moving on though. If you're interested, check back for more blog entries from me, or check my website at happywaffle.com.)

Myself and two compadres, Ryan and Mark, are in Chicago (each of us for the first time) to attend Brickworld, the world's largest Lego convention. Yes we're a bunch of dorks. Yes you totally wish you were here too.

Last night, after seeing Second City improv, we ate at a pleasantly sketchy dive bar in uptown Chicago, where the food was mediocre and the characters were questionable. I definitely had my iPhone while at our table, and I definitely did NOT have it (whoops!) when we were 100 feet down the street.

I raced back into the bar, not even particularly concerned, but it was gone like baby. In less than five minutes, with very few people in the small place, my beloved JesusPhone had managed to vanish into a black hole. Our waitress was sympathetic, and I left a number, but I was immediately glum about my prospects of seeing it again.

So I felt like about zero cents, but then we giddily realized that I had *just* activated the brand-new Find My iPhone service. Even better, Mark had a Sprint (yes, Sprint) USB dongle giving him Internet access over 3G on his MacBook Pro. Excited to try it out, we hopped onto me.com and clicked the Find My iPhone link.

"Your iPhone is not connected to a data network or does not have Find My iPhone enabled."

Well, crap. I guess all bets are off if the thieving person has the bright idea to turn the iPhone off. Oddly the phone still rang when we called it, suggesting it wasn't off; but, one way or the other, it was unable to broadcast itself to Apple so I could track it down. We sent a message to the phone - "CALL 512-796-xxxx" - but no luck. The MobileMe website said it would send me an email when the message had been displayed, but no email arrived.

Dejected, we prowled the bar one more time, but it wasn't that big a place and there weren't any places for the phone to be hiding. Game over. We went back to the hotel and I was disconsolate. This morning we checked again with no additional luck, and when Mark tried dialing the phone around noon, it *did* go straight to voicemail. The odds of ever seeing the phone again were slim to say the least.

After lunch, while at the Lego convention, I checked my email...

Holy crap! I jumped back to me.com and clicked Find My iPhone again, and to my absolute shock and amazement, it displayed Google Maps and drew a circle around Medill St.:

The block was about four or five miles west of the bar. It was too perfect to be a random glitch.

I sent a second message to the phone, slightly more to the point: "This phone is missing. Please call 512-796-xxxx to return it. $50 reward." Almost immediately I received a second confirmation email that it had been displayed on the phone. And yet, the minutes ticked by and no call was coming. I kept refreshing the location, and though the circle varied in size, it kept floating around that same block, five miles west of the bar.

The Lego convention was drawing to a close and it was time for the closing ceremony. But I wasn't about to spend an hour sitting through awards and Lego-themed thank-you speeches while my poor lost iPhone sat in some random Chicago neighborhood. So we packed my Lego creations, tossed them in the rental car, and drove from Wheeling back into town. Mark reestablished his trusty Sprint connection and as we drove, every five minutes, he refreshed the location. The phone wasn't moving. It appeared to be in a row of buildings on the north side of Medill St.

We parked along Medill and hopped out. It was a Puerto Rican neighborhood. On the south side of the street, an outdoor birthday fiesta was convening, and some of the participants eyed us three honkeys questioningly. Now at this point I had no fricking clue how we would find the phone; did I think I'd find it under a bush? I certainly didn't plan to go door-to-door, nor did I expect the cops to regard a blue circle around the entire block as sufficient cause for a search warrant. I sent a third message to the phone that I'd been formulating in my head: "We have tracked the phone to Medill St. and are locating it. Please call 512-796-xxxx to help us and claim a reward." Short version: WE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE.

In a burst of inspiration, I took Mark's computer with me as we walked down the block, figuring the recipient of the message might see us prowling the area with an open laptop and realize we meant business. I kept refreshing; the circle kept hovering; but it still stretched across the entire block, and worse, this included a big apartment building.

Suddenly Mark called my number - the umpteenth time he'd tried - and to our shock, somebody answered! He immediately passed the phone to me, but by the time I could say hello, the person on the other side had hung up. DAMMIT! I knew we were on the trail, but as we walked up and down that block of Medill for the third time, I had no idea how we'd get any closer. I pictured the possibility of driving away from the neighborhood knowing my iPhone was around. It was more frustrating than having had no idea where it was. I pulled up Google Translate, and sent a 4th message to the phone: "Por favor, devuelva el teléfono o nos pondremos en contacto con la policía." The email confirmations were arriving immediately in my Inbox, meaning our threats were showing on the phone's screen in real time.

Then an amazingly lucky thing happened. I refreshed the iPhone location and the circle moved, to the corner of the block, and shrunk in size to maybe 100 feet across. I waited a minute and refreshed again. The small circle had shifted southward down Washtenaw.


Us three skinny white guys walked at a rapid pace in the direction of the circle. We moved past the birthday party, curious if one of the participants might be culpable, but the circle again shifted farther south. I was ready to break for our car if the phone started moving away faster than we could catch it, but it hovered at the very end of the street, at the corner of Washtenaw and Milwaukee:

Ryan and Mark raced ahead, literally making a flanking maneuver to the left and right, as I approached the intersection.

I clicked Refresh. The circle moved again. It was directly over the bus stop on the south side of Milwaukee Avenue.

I yelled and pointed.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of the iPhone thiever who will momentarily be entering the story. You might have told yourself, "Hey, free iPhone!" the night before. You might have seen the gently-threatening messages and ignored them, maybe even scoffed. Then the phone told you it was on Medill St. It talked to you in Spanish. And you saw three skinny white guys prowling in the street with a laptop computer open.

So you take off down the road, and to your shock and horror, the honkeys follow you. You stand at your local bus stop, expecting to lose them. And they converge on your location from across the intersection, the bald one with the laptop yelling and pointing at you. You probably think the angels of death have found you.

He sheepishly waved me over.

"Have you got it?" I asked as I marched up to the guy, acting far more intimidating than I felt. Our iPhone-pilfering friend apparently works at the sketchy bar, and as he fished around in his bag, he gave a questionable alibi about having found the phone, intending to return it, but being intimidated by "all these scary-looking messages" that kept popping up on the display. "Um, yeah, those were from me," I replied curtly. He pulled my phone out, totally unharmed, and handed it over. I resisted the urge to giggle.

I shook his hand - Lord knows why I did that - and the three of us walked off. We laughed triumphantly, adrenaline racing, feeling like the Jack Bauer trio. (Disregard the fact that we'd just left a Lego convention.)

I'd been amazed that the phone had enough battery life to make it through the night and still beam its location; the moment its battery was dead, then it would be game over for our little scavenger hunt. I unlocked my phone and saw almost 20 missed calls. And then, at that very moment, the iPhone shut down and displayed the "Connect to power" icon. My phone's battery literally hung on until the second it was in my hand. I wuv you, iPhone.

All said and done, it was almost worth losing the phone just for the thrill of finding it like this. We want to pitch a reality show to the Discovery Channel: "Phone Hunters." It certainly felt like we were in one there for a second.

And that, my friends, is why the MobileMe service is worth the damn money. It's been around for just over seven years and it FINALLY got a killer feature.

A few thoughts on our successful effort:
- If the man hadn't made a break for it down the street, we probably never would have been able to find him. Oh well, his loss.
- Yes, we sent a real number, not actually 512-796-xxxx.

A few bugs we found with the Find My iPhone process:
- Even though iPhone's alert notification plays whether it's on vibrate or not, it still obeys the ringer volume - so you can still, regrettably, keep it from playing. Also it's a lighter daintier sound effect than we'd prefer for locating something by sound. Hell, I'd prefer it if I could take pictures, play my iTunes library, and tase whoever was holding it.
- There's no real reason MobileMe shouldn't push the location to us; needing to refresh the location repeatedly on the webpage was silly.
- None of this would have been possible without Mark's 3G USB dongle for his MacBook. The biggest single problem is that you can't use me.com from the iPhone, meaning you can't find one iPhone using another. Hopefully Apple realizes this.

Responses to some of the comments made:
- The references to race are for two purposes:
First, to be self-deprecating about how little we actually looked like a bad-ass iPhone tracking team;
Second, to establish how much we stood out in this particular neighborhood.
Besides a bit of self-mockery, I don't think I said or implied a single negative thing about anyone's race.
- Yeah, we could have called the cops, and they probably would have yawned. Granted, in retrospect, chasing after a thief isn't the MOST prudent thing to do, but in the moment we had our adrenaline going and sure as hell weren't just going to watch the little circle recede into the distance.

former chicagoan

great story, glad you got your phone back. you're lucky you didn't get shot in the face.

Re: former chicagoan

yea considering it was the PR parade in Humboldt park this past weekend

Re: former chicagoan (Anonymous) Expand
Re: former chicagoan (Anonymous) Expand


Yeah, I'm a bit worried someone is going to get shot using this feature, and then there will be lawsuits against Apple, and it will be turned off.

It's main purpose I think is to help you find lost phones, but not track down and retrieve them by force.

I fear this feature is going to get removed real fast because someone is going to get injured, then sue Apple. :(

Re: Weaved

Nah, watch it come with stern warnings telling you not to try to play the hero yourself - same as if you're working at a store and somebody comes in and holds the place up.

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Re: Weaved (Anonymous) Expand

Call the police next time

...you can call 911. Well, only if you have another phone;)

Re: Call the police next time

Bad idea, moron. 911 is for life-threatening emergencies, not: "I accidentally left my phone at a bar and someone took it."

Good story

Although slightly bigoted.

Re: Good story

Also enjoyed the story but, as a Puerto Rican myself, I'm not sure about the honkey name calling. Puerto Ricans don't call white guy's honkeys. I think Gringo is the derogatory term you were looking for.

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Re: Good story (Anonymous) Expand

%)*)% lawyers

When you accept the terms for mobileme, there's probably some fine print in there that's a CYA for Apple in the event someone is injured while retrieving their lost phone. Anyway, glad you got yours back without a problem. I've kinda been on the fence about getting mobileme, and I think your experience just shoved me over to the "get it" side. Thanks.

Re: %)*)% lawyers

You're correct. It's kinda bogus...

I used Rewarding Return App and believe it or not, they ship your iPhone back to you free when someone locates it. (And by free, i mean they dont charge you for chipping - but the app costs $4.99).

You'd hoping not only that the finder is honest, but you entice them by offering a reward that Rewarding Return helps you transfer to them anonymously. It worked for me and apparently many others.

Search "Lost Phone Recovery" in the App store.

traced ibook via pop3 log

Same situation i had with daughter ibook.
We discovered it was stolen but was still being used to get email.
Since i do the admin for my own pop3 email server, i enabled debug and waited for the incoming ip information from pop3 requests.

Spoke to NTL( fibre provider in UK) and then spoke to police about which subscriber was using the end NTL device.
However Police never gave me feedback as to outcome :(

Re: traced ibook via pop3 log

Thats typical UK Police behaviour. They don't give a damn about loss of personal property to criminals (which they arrested and let go the next day because they screwed up somewhere), but they come after you without hesitation if you are threatening income to the state, for example by tax evasion, or denying some poor in-the-pocket-of-the-government company boss his profits by copying a couple of movies.

Oh my god...

This is priceless... hahaha
(Randomly came across this article from Slashdot. You guys rule!!!)


You made (me) day! I just signed up for the iPhone finder this a.m. Called my son and told him about it. The next thing I know I get this PRICELESS story.
Loved, loved, loved it.

very nice indeed!

I can see Apple adding onto this feature instead of removing it. Imagine if you left your iPhone in your car and it was stolen (the car).

You have your very own personal lojack.. "iPhone, what do you want to track today?"

Re: very nice indeed!

Good point. Actually, it'd be the perfect tracking device for a kidnapping case. Give every kid an iPhone. ;)

Re: very nice indeed! (Anonymous) Expand

dangerous but..

I think this helps to highlight the fact that a lot of crimes are crimes of opportunity. There aren't a small group of people continually stealing up all the little bits and pieces out there, but chances are a lot of people you know have acted similarly in a situation where they feel morally justified taking from someone they don't (or do) know.

You don't know why you shook his hand? Well, he returned your phone, why not? Granted, it would never have happened without the mobileme feature, but still, it could have gone a lot worse.

I have a feeling that Apple will find a way to limit this feature in order to avoid such real time pursuits, except in the case of law enforcement, and rightfully so maybe.

"You don't know why you shook his hand? Well, he returned your phone, why not?"

Well, the guy knew the phone wasn't his, made no attempt to contact the phone's owner and hung up on people trying to contact it. I think a better way of putting it was that they took back their own property as apposed to him returning it.

Re: dangerous but.. (Anonymous) Expand
Re: dangerous but.. (Anonymous) Expand


"The biggest single problem is that you can't use me.com from the iPhone, meaning you can't find one iPhone using another. Hopefully Apple realizes this."

You can use tethering, assuming you still have a laptop handy, and don't live in the USA.

Re: Tethering

You can in fact use me.com from your iphone.


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Re: Tethering (Anonymous) Expand

thank you to restaurant

You should send a "thank you" to the restaurant owner, telling him that his employee "rescued" your phone for you.

Re: thank you to restaurant

This! I am sure the restaurant owner would be very interested in knowing that one of his employees is stealing.

@3:24 Anonymous

Bigoted? Why, because the victim was white and the criminal was probably not? Take your politically correct bullsh1t and stuff it straight up your @$$.


actually it is. The self deprecating term, the indication of language. subtle but present. I am cool with political incorrectness, just don't feign the nature of the tone.

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ive got a story for you

It's similar to what you've posted. I'll email it to you tonight.

-- Joe
Middletown, NJ

build upon

I think it could be a real good feature if apple added a explicit "i'm stolen" feature that you could active.

It could put your phone in a sort of dummy mode, like I dunno, perhaps always call a certain number, no matter what you type in.
Hide all your personal stuff,

Re: build upon

Post it here instead.

Remember: Not all iPhone thieves are non-violent

A friend of mine confronted some thieves who stole his iPhone during a bus ride in Seattle. They clubbed him over the head repeatedly with a skateboard. If you think that's funny, well it wasn't. You should have seen the photos. Pretty grim. My advice is to not confront criminals unless you have some hope of being able to defend yourself.

Re: Remember: Not all iPhone thieves are non-violent

The three of them has seen the perp was alone. Pretty good odds...