The Trouble Returning a Lost iPhone

I really, truly hate losing things. Maybe that’s why I feel so bad when others have lost something that belongs to them, and I want to get it back to them if I can. I remember being on a bus in San Francisco when I was a kid and a person with down syndrome got off the bus and left some gloves behind. I remember finding a kid’s hat on a ferry, and wondering whether the kid was upset because he didn’t have his favorite hat. Maybe that’s why when I find something, I want to get it back to the owner, especially when that “something” is a cell phone. A cell phone isn’t just a phone anymore, it’s an entertainment device, and could possibly hold important photos, or information, and it usually costs a lot of money.

Now, I’ve found and returned a number of phones over the years, from the old flip phones, to fairly new iPhones, and it’s usually quite easy. You wait until the phone rings, then set up a meeting place. That’s how previous “cell phone finds” have gone (though once I may not have gotten it back to the rightful owner, and the cell phone may have belonged to a drug dealer). On Monday I came across my most recent find at a park, an older iPhone 4, but unlike past phone finds, finding the owner was anything but easy.

I quickly looked at this phone when I found it and noticed that it had no service, which seemed a bit odd because we were in the middle of the city, though we were in the middle of the river valley, which could block signals, I guess. I tried to unlock the phone, but it was protected by a PIN. Popped it in my pocket and brought it home to look at later. At home I discovered the phone still didn’t have service, and restarting it didn’t change anything. This phone wasn’t going to ring, so it was up to me to find the owner.

I decided to connect the phone to my computer to see if I could learn anything from iTunes. A dialog box popped up on the screen telling me that I had to enter the PIN to unlock the phone named “Hamin’s iPhone.” Ahhh… so the phone belonged to someone named Hamin. That’s great, but a last name sure would have been helpful. Entering “Hamin” and “Edmonton” into Google didn’t help much. Searching “Hamin” on Facebook didn’t help much, and neither did Twitter. “Hamin” was no “Madonna” or “Cher,” that’s for sure.

If I was going to return the phone to Hamin, I was going to need to get more information. The phone was locked by a PIN, had no cell service, and no WiFi. I decided to pop the SIM card out to see who the provider was. Telus. Okay, I wrote the number down on the SIM card and headed to the local mall that had a Telus store. I went inside, waited a few minutes and then explained the situation to the guy working there. He told me that there wasn’t much he could do with the number on the SIM card, since that’s not something they can look up. He would need the phone number, which we couldn’t get. No problem, I’d take the phone to the Apple store the next day (Tuesday), and surely they would be able to help me. At this point I realized the phone was probably an old phone that had been replaced by a new one, so the SIM card wasn’t active and was essentially useless.

Now, I wasn’t looking for a company like Telus or Apple to simply hand over Hamin’s contact information, since that would be a huge violation of a company’s privacy policy, I simply wanted the company to contact Hamin and let him know I had his phone and give him my contact info. I figured that would be something they could do, and it shouldn’t violate any privacy policy they would have.

Tuesday morning I headed to the Apple Store confident that they would be able to connect the phone to a computer, pull up the serial number and use that to look up Hamin’s contact information, send him an email (or call him), and Hamin would get his phone back. No such luck. Apple doesn’t do that sort of thing, at least that’s what the manager of the store told me. Now, I’m fairly confident they could do that sort of thing if they wanted, but they don’t want to. She told me to take the phone to the police and they may get in touch with Apple and they could sort it out. I have nothing bad to say about the police in Edmonton (I used to volunteer with them many years ago), but I’d have to think that getting Hamin’s iPhone back to him wouldn’t be high on their list of priorities. Taking it into the police station was going to be my last-ditch effort; essentially me giving up my quest to get Hamin his iPhone back.

I went back home a bit annoyed that Apple didn’t have a process for returning iPhones to people, but determined that there had to be a way I could pull this off. If only I could get past that damn PIN screen. I recalled reading about a number of vulnerabilities in the past, so I started searching for them. Different versions of the iOS firmware had different ways to bypass te lock screen, but I had no idea which firmware this phone had. It’s an iPhone 4, so it doesn’t have Siri, which some of the bypasses needed. Other bypasses worked if there was a missed call, but I had no way to call the phone to try this, since it had no service. I watched a number of Youtube videos, and none of them helped me get into Hamin’s phone so I could get some information and return his precious phone to him. I needed to know what firmware was on this thing if I was going to find the right hack to get past the PIN screen.

I did a lot of searching online, downloaded a lot of programs, but I finally found something that told me the firmware – 7.1.2. I even tried finding a program that would allow me to access the phone to read the data on it, but those were either extremely expensive (and limited to police agencies), or they needed the phone to be mounted in iTunes, which I couldn’t do because iTunes needed the PIN to be entered. More dead ends, but at least I knew the firmware version so I could do specific research into which exploit would allow me to get past the PIN screen.

The one that kept coming up involved having a missed call on the phone. You swiped this way and that way and turned things on and off and clicked on the missed call and then you were supposed to be into the main part of the phone. I needed a missed call on the phone, but no one was going to call the phone because it had no service! ARGH!! Then I remembered my neighbour, John (who I’m sure will comment on this blog post), is also on Telus. Kat, my wife uses Telus as well, but her SIM card is a different size. I asked John if we could try putting his SIM card into the phone to see if I could call his phone (which would now ring on Hamin’s phone) and then we’d have a missed call. He agreed.

So yesterday, Thursday, I headed over to John’s house and we put his SIM card into Hamin’s iPhone. I called the phone so it had a missed call, swiped this way and that way, turned this thing on and that thing off and… nothing. It didn’t work. The Internet had lied to me. I watched the YouTube video again, tried swiping things, and it still didn’t work. I was feeling quite deflated at that point, ready to take the phone to the police station and admit defeat, which I decided to look at the various alerts that had popped up when we had put John’s card into Hamin’s phone. You see, the phone had cell service with John’s card, but it also had 3G – data – and so various notifications had popped up. Facebook said there were 9 notifications, but didn’t say what any of them were. Instagram mentioned someone had “liked” a photo that Hamin had posted, and gmail had the subject of an unread message. I realized that if I could contact the person on Instagram maybe they were friends with Hamin and could tell him I had his iPhone. Maybe… or maybe this person just randomly liked photos of people they had no connection with, and if I said “hey, you liked a photo in the last few days and I need to get ahold of that person” they would have liked a hundred photos and have no idea who Hamin was. Then I decided to look more at the gmail alert, which at first glance appeared to be a spam message.

It turns out the gmail message would be the key to getting ahold of Hamin. The subject had an acronym in it, along with “ref.” Google told me the acronym was for an Edmonton soccer association, so I realized that Hamin must be a referee for the association. Surely they would know who he was if I emailed them, so that’s what I did. I composed a short email telling them that I had found an iPhone belonging to Hamin and that I’d like to return it to him, and I included my contact info. I was out running around yesterday, and the next time I checked my phone I had a missed call from a number I didn’t recognize. I checked my email and there was a response! The person with the soccer association had called Hamin’s dad, confirmed that he had lost his phone and sent him my contact information, and thanked me for taking the time to track Hamin down. I called the number and spoke to his dad, then we traded some emails back and forth.

Hamin is 12 years old, and he lost the phone earlier on Monday, the day I found it at the park. He’s gone on vacation for a month, but will be very happy to get it back when he returns. His dad will be coming by on Sunday to pick it up, and he thanked me very much for ensuring it got returned.

It wasn’t easy, but Hamin will get his phone back. Sure, I spent a few hours visiting Telus and the Apple Store, not to mention countless Google searches and trying out various programs, but the end result is a 12 year old is getting the thing he lost back, and that makes the time spent well worth it. Success!


Here are a couple of tips for ensuring you can get your phone back if you lose it:

  1. Turn on “Find my iPhone” if you have an iPhone. This allows you to send messages to your phone from a computer or another iOS device. You can also get the location of the phone, remotely lock it, and even wipe the phone if you decide it’s completely lost. However, the phone needs to have a data connection (either 3G, LTE, or WiFi) in order to work. I’ve started testing the feature every few months, just to make sure it still works.
  2. Create a special lock screen image that has your contact information. This is something I haven’t done yet, but I will now. Include a phone number someone can call if they find your phone (tip: don’t included your cell number, since that’s what you lost). This makes it easy for someone to get ahold of you, since your number is visible, and they don’t need to search for it. It also works if the phone has no connection, since it’s just an image on the lock screen. I have an old iPhone 3GS that I’m going to do this with since there’s no way to call the phone.
  3. Seriously, if you have an iPhone TURN ON “Find my iPhone”!!!
  4. Have you turned on “Find my iPhone” yet? TURN IT ON!

Thanks to Vincent at Connect2Edmonton (great forum for people in Edmonton) for the following info:

If you have an Android phone you can find your phone at www.android.com/devicemanager.
You must have location services turned on, on your phone.

If you have a Windows phone you can find your phone at account.microsoft.com/devices.
You can also ring, lock or erase your phone from here.
You can toggle a few options on your phone under Settings/Find My Phone

If you have a Blackberry you can find your phone at www.blackberry.com and search for “Blackberry Protect”.
You must have the Blackberry Protect app installed on your phone and use it to enable location reporting.

Of course all those items assume the phone has some sort of connection in order to work. The lock screen contact info is the only one that’ll work without a connection. I just went and added the info to all our phones and iPads in the house.

An Info-Junkie Marriage: Zite and Pocket

I love reading news on the ‘net, whether it’s local news, international news, or just an interesting article about a movie, TV show, new gadget, or a metal that’s 100 times lighter than styrofoam. I came across Zite when it was first released last year, and I instantly fell in love with it. The app, which is available on iOS and Android, allows you to select subjects that interest you from their list, or add your own topics. Then it pulls in articles relating to those topics, and presents them in a “magazine” format. Click on an article and it’ll open up, allowing you to read the entire thing. I’ve come across a ton of interesting articles on sites I’ve never heard of before, or rarely visit. This sets it apart from RSS readers, which allow you to easily read articles for sites you frequent. Zite also uses a “thumbs up, thumbs down” way to rate what you enjoy, and then it factors that into what it’ll display for you. My “Technology” section in Zite will look different than yours because of the way we use Zite, and the articles we’ve given a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to in the past. That personalization is something that sets Zite apart from other apps that do similar things, like Flipboard. The Zite magazine that it creates for you is always changing, so an interesting article you read may not be there the next time you open the app. That leads me to my next app that completes the Info-Junkie Marriage, Pocket…

Pocket used to be known as “Read it Later,” a name which describes what it does; it allows you to save an article for reading later. There are apps for iOS, Android, the Amazon Fire, Mac OS, browsers… it’s all over the place, allowing you to save articles, and read them later, on pretty much any device. If I find an interesting article in Zite I’ll use the “Save to Pocket” feature so I can read it at a better time, or so I can refer to it later. I use the browser plugin for FireFox to save articles as well, because some times I just don’t have a chance to get through a 5 page article about an interesting topic, and I know I’ll forget to read it later. Pocket also allows you to read articles when offline, you just have to download the article to the app when you have a connection. That’s a great feature if you’re boarding a long flight and want to catch up on some news.

If you’re an info-junkie like me, download both these apps (they’re free). Zite and Pocket were made for each other…

Things that are Awesome

My last post was such an emotional roller-coaster that I figured I should post something a bit more upbeat. Here are some random, and not-so-random, awesome things:

  1. Pinball Arcade
    As you know, I love pinball, and this game recreates real pinball tables in virtual form, and it’s coming out in less than an hour. The game launches with 4 tables (Tales of the Arabian Nights, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Black Hole and Theatre of Magic), and they’re working on more tables to release later on. I was a beta tester for the game, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s coming out for iPhones/iPads today, and other consoles and platforms later on.
  2. “The Losers”
    This is a comic series I ripped through about a week ago. It came out a few years ago, and tells the story of a group of CIA officers that were screwed over by a superior, and want to right some wrongs. There was a movie based on the comic which starred Idris Elba (who is also awesome). It’s only 32 issues, so it was a quick read.
  3. Archaia Entertainment
    This is a small comic company, but they’re awesome. They take a lot of foreign comics and translate them to English, then release them.I’ve read the three volumes of “The Killer” that they’ve put out, and managed to track down “Secret History” (volume 1 was out of print, but Chapters actually had a copy in stock). They’ve also started releasing comics based on some Jim Henson properties – Fraggle Rock, The Storyteller, The Dark Crystal, and Tale of Sand (a screenplay that was never made into a movie). Their books are all really high quality, and the ones I’ve read have been excellent stories.
  4. My kid
    Yes, he poops a lot, and cries a lot, but Broderick is pretty awesome to have around. Kat has gone out with him a few times and left me at home, and it’s really weird not having him around.
  5. Books
    I’ve been trying to read more lately, and thankfully a writer friend (Lee Goldberg), and some of his friends had a big Kindle book giveaway last week. There were 75 books for free, and many of them were short stories. While I enjoy novels, short stories can be a blast as well, simply because you can read them in much less time (which is something I’m short of). I have so many books that I bought and haven’t read yet – I hope to make time for them sooner rather than later.
  6. Twitter
    I’ve met a ton of really awesome people on Twitter! Both virtually, and in person. Edmonton has a wonderful Twitter community. If you aren’t on Twitter, you should give it a shot.
  7. Kat
    This wasn’t a list of things in order, but I saved the best to the last. She’s an awesome wife, and a super awesome mother, and I can’t imagine going through life without anyone else by my side. She makes me laugh, she makes our house pretty, she pushes me, and makes me a better person, and for that she is the most awesome.

I love pinball!

Playing pinball, shortly after our wedding

Pinball is awesome – I love it – and I’ve recently been feeding my addiction with a new iOS game from Zen Studios called “Zen Pinball.” Now, I already own Zen Pinball on the PS3, along with all 11 of the tables they’ve released, plus Marvel Pinball, a game from the same company featuring Marvel-themes pinball tables (6 tables for that).

Anyway, last week they released Zen Pinball for iOS as a Universal app (meaning the same app runs on the iPad and the iPhone), and I’m in heaven. My favorite table from the PS3 version is “Sorcerer’s Lair,” and they’ve bundled that for free with the iOS game, and the game itself is a free download! They’ve also made Wolverine and Captain America tables available for download at just $1.99 each. Though I own them both, I jumped at the opportunity to buy them again because I could now play them “on the go.”

The game plays beautifully on the iPad, with its nice large screen. It’s a bit more difficult on the iPhone, because the table is quiet detailed, and the screen is very small, but it’s still a blast to play. I used to routinely drop $20 into pinball machines as a teen, so these tables are a steal at $2. I expect we’ll see a lot more tables released for the game in the coming months, especially considering the backlog of tables they have from the console release, and Marvel Pinball (which will get another 4 tables added to it next week).

Also coming in 2012 is “Pinball Arcade,” a new game from Farsight Studios. These guys have been around for a long time, and they’ve released a number of games under the “Pinball Hall of Fame” series (Williams, Bally and Gottlieb). While Zen Studios focuses on creating new tables, Farsight focuses on recreating existing tables in digital form. This is great for fans of the classic pinball machines, as it gives us an opportunity to play games that cost thousands of dollars, for just a few bucks. While they’ve released a few trailers showing off the first four tables, and promised lots more available as downloadable content, they haven’t mentioned a price yet. The game will be available on PS3, X-Box 360, iOS, Android and Nintendo 3DS. I expect I’ll buy all the tables on the PS3 and iOS, and I’ll love playing them all.

That photo was taken at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, just a few hours after Kat and I were married. Look closely and you can see the ball is still in play (down near the flippers).

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