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A flip phone, iPhone and a Nexus go into a restaurant…

January 4, 2015


A homeless fellow I’ve had a passing acquaintance with for many years approached me in McDonald’s a few weeks ago.

Usually he does this just because I’m sitting beside the electrical outlet he wants to plug his flip phone into. But this time he also had an iPhone that he said he’d found. He was wondering if I could help him contact the owner.

I looked at the shiny iPhone and the old homeless guy and decided that I just didn’t want to get involved.

I tried to brush him off by telling him to wait for the owner to call their lost phone — if the battery ran down before that happened I could charge it up for him but otherwise he should just wait patiently (and go away).

He tried to entice me by offering to split any reward that he received and otherwise kept pestering me until it was clear that the fastest way to get rid of him was to help connect him with the owner.

Things to try if you find someone’s iPhone

Generally, if I find a charged phone, it’s just a matter of maybe an hour before the owner notices the loss and finds a way to call their own phone.

Reversing the process and contacting the owner is only possible if you can access the phone.

There was no owner information specified on the lock screen of this iPhone but there was also no passcode to stop me from getting to the home screen and launching the phone app.

A quick scan of the alphabetical list of contacts found nothing labeled ICE for “in case of emergency” but there was a number for “Mom”.

I could have also checked the recent calls.

Assuming the owner had friends and relatives they stayed in touch with, calling any of the top numbers should’ve done the trick.

If the iPhone had been secured with a passcode I would’ve tried asking Siri for help.

Siri is the voice-controlled intelligent assistant that has been a standard feature of iPhones beginning with the iPhone 4S released in 2011.

You can access Siri even if the iPhone is locked by holding down the Home button and asking a question.

I could’ve tried asking Siri something like “Call home” or “mom” or “dad”.

And if that didn’t work, I could’ve asked the feature to “read my text messages”. I haven’t tried this on a locked iPhone but normally, Siri reads each new message in turn, giving you the option to reply.

Siri may ask for a passcode before reading text or email messages. Historically the voice-activated feature’s chattiness has been a bit of a security flaw and I won’t be surprised if Apple has refined it to be more closemouthed when an iPhone is locked.

If nothing else I could’ve passed the time by chatting with Siri while I waited for an incoming phone call.

It pays to be honest (even if it doesn’t)

As it was, I called “Mom”, who lived on Vancouver Island. She explained that her son was visiting Vancouver and she offered to contact him via his Facebook account. Within minutes the son called his iPhone. I explained the situation — how homeless people had their sticky fingers all over his iPhone and I started to tell him where he could find us.

My homeless acquaintance picked that moment to pipe up in the background and demand that I tell the fellow to bring money.

I ignored this and finished giving the fellow clear directions. I explaining that I’d be the one in the window seat with a laptop but that I was simply helping the fellow who had actually found the iPhone.

Off the phone, I faced my passing acquaintance who was showing a side of himself I’d never seen before.

He bluntly explained that if the owner wasn’t going to pay him he wanted to sell the iPhone downtown.

I flatly countered that demanding a reward for returning someone’s phone was extortion and selling it was theft, pure and simple.

He angrily declared that he wasn’t a thief and left the restaurant, taking both the iPhone his situational ethics with him.

When the iPhone’s owner arrived,  he only managed to pop his head in the door and say hello to me before he was waylaid by the holder of the iPhone and diverted into the back alley.

Later I heard that the owner happily handed over a $30 “finders fee” without the slightest bit of prompting.

I didn’t hear that from my homeless acquaintance though, for over a week he would only give me dirty looks in passing.

I suppose that I hurt his feelings. I had clearly passed judgement on his honesty.

But I don’t mean to leave the impression that he’s a bad person because I don’t believe that.

He is, however, an older homeless person with a serious drinking problem — which is a fact rather than an excuse.

Part of his problem is that he got help for his drinking. Over a year ago he entered a long-term detox program that involved getting of the street and into a safe house.

He successfully completed the program. I remember how clean and sober and healthy he looked when I’d run into him.

But he could only stay in the safe house for the length of the program. He was not fast-tracked into social housing. He was sent back out onto the street.

With predictable results.

All this supposed new social housing coming online but nothing for an elderly homeless person who had stepped forward on his own initiative and successfully kicked his alcoholism?

I can imagine his frustration.

And I can understand why, over the years, I’ve heard some homeless substance abusers laughingly refer to detox programs as a kind of holiday.

Maybe they didn’t take the programs seriously because they felt that the treatment providers didn’t take them seriously either.

Same guy, different phone


Two days ago (Friday evening) the iPhone finder suddenly started talking to me again and I couldn’t shut him up. He was in a very good mood, explaining to me that his sister had sent him $200. And he was scheduled to go back into detox in a few days.

Would I, he asked, hang on to $20 for him and give it back to him the next day?

I accepted a polymer $20 from him, quarter-folded it and gave it special lodging in my wallet.

He plugged in his flip phone at my feet and went away but only for a half hour. He came back towing a sore-faced guy who, it turned out, had a phone to sell.

“Is this worth $10”? my homeless pal asked me as he handed me a black Android phone.

It seemed to work but it had a visibly cracked screen and a bunch of masking tape on the back, which may or may not have been holding the case together.

I explaining that I personally wouldn’t buy it; that I had no idea of the functionality of the phone or whether it was locked to a carrier or blacklisted.

The seller protested. He had wiped the data and declared that it was easy to unlock any phone.

Oh, for the love of Pete!

I wanted them to both go away. I even ignored the seller when he declared it was a Nexus phone, a pretty high-end Android device that is only sold unlocked.

The better the phone the less inclined I would be to buy it off a street person. A real working Nexus phone doesn’t just fall into your hands for a mere $10.

My homeless buddy finally left, remembering first to retrieve his charging flip phone. The would-be Nexus seller continued to haunt the McDonald’s and pester me until I left, saying that I had cost him a sale.

Third flippin’ time’s the charm

The next evening (Saturday) the homeless guy was waiting for me at the McDonald’s in the 1400-block of West Broadway  He was destitute and and I handed him his $20 bill.

He thanked me and plugged his flip phone into the outlet near my regular window seat and then retired to his regular window seat which looked out on the alley, allowing him to watch his shopping cart.

Nothing whatsoever happened. I was able to eat in peace and totally concentrate on whatever it was that I was doing.

My friend left before me and wished me a good night as he left.

I left an hour later and as I reached down to unplug my laptop, the first thing I touched was the charger for the guy’s flip phone.

I could have left it plugged in, or I could have unplugged it and left it with the staff; instead I packed it up to make absolute sure he got it back. After all I’ve seen him in the same McDonald’s every evening for the past four weeks at least.

Every evening that is except this evening.

 Contact info could be the ICE-ing on your lockscreen


It seems like a good idea to personalize your lock screen with some kind of alternate contact information — just in case of an emergency. This could help if you lose your phone or tablet or if you are found in medical distress.

A 2012 vintage Galaxy Tab 2, running Android version 4.1.1 (aka Jellybean), allows users to easily add text to the lock screen under Settings > Personal > Lock screen > Owner information.

Different Android tablets and smartphones may have the option in different places within Settings.

A 20114 HowToGeek page on adding personal information to the Android smartphone lock screen, finds the option under Settings > Personal > Security > Screen Security > Owner Info.

Hard to believe but this simple functionality seem to have never been built into the iOS. Apple iPhone users have to hunt through the available ICE and wallpaper apps to find one that allows adding custom text to their lock screen wallpaper.

In iOS8 there is a new feature that allows a user to create a medical I.D. that can be displayed from the lock screen. This could serve the same purpose as it includes a field for an alternate contact in case of a medical emergency. Click the image to enlarge it.

  1. Spellbinding post! Even for this tech troglodyte.
    Hope the old guy’s okay and shows up tomorrow evening.

  2. Slowcrow permalink

    This makes me think (again) of the viability of the ‘pod hotel’ approach. Maybe not permanent (but not as sporadic as the mat program), definatly not for everyone, but with the working poor increase and the folks like your friend, the surge coming of unhoused seniors we are very inhumane society. Check out the THRS unit at After a night like last night’s monsoon, why was it chased out of the Metro Vancouver area? Maybe climate change is real………

    • Econo Pro (now a div. of Pit Stop) may have removed direct links to their Homeless Relief Shelter content. I can only find the THRS PDF through search engines.

      The PDF highlights the only major problem I see with these wonderful units. Does the poor homeless guy have to leave his shopping cart out in the open while he sleeps in the THRS unit?

      Considering my friend Jonathan… I saw him a few times yesterday, wearing not even a garbage bag and utterly soaked through and through — he likely wouldn’t stay in a THRS — too enclosing and he wouldn’t dare leave his shopping cart unguarded.

      Maybe we could tax credit apartment buildings willing and able to set aside one covered parking stall (only one per building) as a designated Emergency Rough Sleeping Spot (oh, I feel a post coming on :-).

      As for the coming of unhoused seniors, I think we have a perfect storm brewing: aging and crumbling condos and aging and retired condo owners, OMG!

  3. Goldie permalink

    As a senior with a dog, I’m out walking most days, rain or shine and I’ve found a few cell phones in my time. The first time I found one, I picked it up and not knowing how it operated, tried to shut it off and planned to return to the park later with a “found” poster. I’m not that tech savvy, so I did press a few buttons I probably shouldn’t have. When I got home, I was in the kitchen when I heard a voice in my living room (like the voice of doom) say, “Hello….helloooo”. After the initial heart stopping shock, I realized it was the owner of the cell phone calling his cell.

    Now I just wait until I see a teenager coming along, looking very APPrehensive! Much easier on the heart.

    • Haha! Funny. Thanks for that.

      If you do nothing else with a phone found outside, try to move it to a visible spot where it won’t get rained on. Water can easily ruin a phone’s screen, which pretty much destroys the usability of the phone itself.

  4. Wow that’s a lot of drama from one guy but thanks for all the tips on protecting my device. Most Apple products let you track it via online or wipe it if need be.

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