Over the years, I have been an early adapter of technology.  In 7th grade (1978), I won 2nd place in the Manatee County Science Fair for a program I wrote on a Commodore 64 that allowed one to take a quiz on the Solar System.  I had the first MAC in 1984 when I went off to Cornell University as a Freshman.  It was very cool, except when it made that unhappy MAC face (often).

JSW Mac at Cornell

Fast forward a few years in business (and a budget) and I always had the latest devices in laptops and phones and crossover gadgets almost every year since 1992.   From my cool Radio Shack phone (big and rectangular) while still at Vanderbilt for business school in 1993 to the dark grey Motorola Flip to the StarTac (almost $1k when it came out).  Since I had companies I ran outright or for which I oversaw the technology side of things, I had an obligation (it was part of the job) to test out the new devices.  After a long and loyal run on Blackberry’s (I had the original pager shaped device and almost every one since, until 2011), my current device set looks like a commercial for Apple.  It includes an iPhone 5, a PowerBook Pro and an iPad mini.

220px-Mobile_phone_evolution

Over the years, I have broken, lost or had stolen (from me) my fair share of these.   Invariably once missing, always missing with a couple of exceptions of cell phones returning to me from taxis in Chicago and New York and a laptop coming back from the back of a plane seat.   But it was not until this summer that I experienced a fundamentally different experience in attempting to retrieve a missing device. 

 

This story is about my iPad mini’s theft and return.

 

In July we went out to Denver to visit family in the mountains.  After a couple of days up at Grand Lake, CO (amazing lake at 8,000 ft surrounded by mountains at the back side of the Rocky Mountain National Park), we enjoyed an evening of friends and music while Anitra performed with her old band mate Ryan Tracy. 

 

2013-07-25 19.45.27  2013-07-27 18.59.18

 

Sunday morning we had early flights out of Denver International Airport with kids flying in different directions and us heading back out to Napa, CA.   In our hectic exit, my iPad mini (I love it, but it is a “mini”) was inadvertently left wedged between the front passenger seat and the console of our Avis rented Tahoe.  I realized this during my Southwest flight back to Sacramento.   We immediately called Avis lost and found (I have had some success in having things returned if you realize it quickly enough).  In the past insisting on having the rental company re-check a vehicle several times has been required.  I did so this time to no avail.  They said it was not there.  I was 99% positive it was.

avis-logo

That evening after I hosted a beer tasting at our brewery Napa Smith Brewery, I went online and reported my iPad stolen on the very user friendly Denver Police website (which was quite user friendly). The next morning, I turned on the “Find my iPhone” and searched for it using Apple’s iCloud service.  Sure enough, it found it, but it was in an area of Denver that we had not been.  I screen captured the image of the location and sent that on to the Denver Police.

findmyiphone

Note: I password protect all my devices.  While I’m sure a sophisticated criminal technology ring could crack the 4 digit code, I felt I had a little time to keep searching.  The alternative is to “wipe” the device.  This protects all your personal information, but prevents one from tracking the device ever again.  I choose to keep it intact to try to retrieve it.

 

Smoke's missing ipad in Denver

 

At this point my working theory was either Avis re-rented the vehicle and the iPad was in it OR it was stolen by someone at Avis, who had then either taken it home or handed it off to someone else.  I received a call from Denver Police detective Gomez who asked me to send her directly the picture of the location.  She told me she would call me when she got there and I planned on “pinging” it.  iCloud allows one to cause a device to make a sound, very useful in finding a missing one or stolen one.    When the detectives arrived on the site, they called and I began pinging the iPad.  They went door to door.  The find your iPhone is amazing, but it is not easy tell EXACTLY where it is, only within a very small area

Nothing.  The detectives even went into a couple of apartments (with permission).  They told me it appeared to be a retirement home of some kind and they did not think it was there.  I was confident it was on site given the images.  They told me to let them know if it moved or I had any new information and left the site.  Frustrated but with little recourse, I kept checking the site.

Sure enough shortly after the police left the scene, the iPad was on the move.  I tracked it and kept pinging it, hoping that whoever was driving would hear it and either fear they were being tracked or look at it and call my mobile number, which was prominently displayed on the front screen.  For a while it was at what appeared to be a junkyard. My working theory at this point was the perpetrator got scared and tossed it .  However, this theory was dispelled when it went on the move again, eventually returning to roughly the same spot where the police had been earlier.

smokes ipad on the move 2.37mt  smoke ipad new location - by junk yard

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning while my Peet’s coffee was brewing, I checked the Find my iPhone site.  Lo and behold it was on the move.  I kept refreshing it and it was clearly on the way back out toward the airport.  Sure enough, it pulled into the Avis lot.  We immediately called Avis again and told them and sent them a picture of where it was.  Remember, these pictures are a current location overlaying a satellite image that was taken some time ago.  So while you can look at cars and other things on the ground in the image, these are from a different moment in time.  Interesting.

Smoke's ipad route from the old aged home area back to the Avis lot at Denver Airport

Now my working theory was maybe the Tahoe was re-rented and it is now just returned.  Or the perpetrator panicked from the police visit was trying to bring it back. Or it never left the perpetrators car and was simply in it as they returned to work after 2 days at home.  They reported to work at 8am.

 

The image I sent Avis appeared to be in the employee parking lot.

Smoke's ipad current location is at Avis

Our Avis representative Yolanda went out to the area and began searching with some of her colleagues.  3 times they went out looking to no avail.

 

Then all of a sudden the iPad appeared to enter the Avis building.  We called Yolanda and told her it was on the move.  Quickly it moved back out into the parking lot into another area.  My theory at this point was the perpetrator knew there was a search going on, had retrieved the device and was moving around with it.  One possibility was they were part of the search group.  It felt like the Kevin Costner movie, “No Way Out” in which he was the spy but part of the search party looking for the spy.  Crazy.  Frustrating.   I was determined to get to the bottom of this.  Sitting in Napa, CA, watching my iPad move around Avis at the Denver airport – was simply amazing.

 

After a short while, Yolanda called back and gave us the good news that they found the iPad mini.  Relieved, and now more curious than anything, I wanted to know the answer to what happened and who did it.  Yolanda told us it was in a rental truck, but NOT our Tahoe.  My working theory at this point is someone took it, realized it was being tracked (police visits and pings), brought it back when they had to return to work, realized there was a search going on and planted it in a similar rental where Avis found it.  I reported all this to Detective Gomez at DPD.  I believe it’s not too difficult for Avis to figure out who worked on Sunday July 28, had off on the 29th and 30th, and then reported to work on the 31st at 8am.  This person likely lives at or right around the location of the iPad where we had the police search.

I am still curious as to the final outcome.  I’m sure Avis has every reason to find out who did it.

IMG_1787 smoke's ipad

I want to compliment the GREAT service I received at Avis, especially Yolanda.  My expectations were exceeded greatly with the excellent customer service from the Denver Police Department, especially Detective Gomez.  Both were terrific and it was appreciated.  This service from Apple is AWESOME!  I was so glad I had a fully charged iPad so we had the time it took to track it down and get it back.

 

With all the disturbing revelations regarding the NSA tracking, the targeted drone strikes and other technology enabled activities governments are now able to do, at least in this regard, the technology was put to great use!

 

While I can think of some enhancements to make this even easier, perhaps, make the iPad talk to the perpetrator – warning them that “I belong to Smoke, he is looking for me and will find me soon”, current level of function was sufficient to have a positive outcome.

 

It sure ain’t so easy anymore if crime was your chosen field…

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