The Northern Spy: some things old, some things new
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Northern Spy: some things old, some things new

By Rick Sutcliffe

For the last two months the Spy has digressed from the reader's usual fare to cover two endemic ethical issues -- to wit, the misconduct of the spammer, and that of the rogue board member. For March, there are many interesting technology news items to consider. To complete the title, the Spy may borrow a rumour or two, and will certainly consider things Blue (-Ray, that is.)

New products are now in the stores, as Apple has released the expected iteration of the Mac Book Pro. The main item of interest, besides the number of cores in a portable, is the new high speed data channel -- Thunderbolt, which incorporates and subsumes the display port. What does this mean for the longer term?

° That as usual Apple is a good year ahead of the pack in introducing new technology,

° Far higher data transfer speeds, as manufacturers of disk drives adopt the new interface,

° Apple now seems unlikely to adopt USB 3.0, include eSATA ports, or continue developing or even using FireWire.

In other words, the announcement is as important for what technology Apples is moving away from as for the new thing it introduces.

But has anyone else noticed that clock rates receive much less attention than they used to? Apple abandoned the PowerPC chip a while back because it was perceived to be too slow, especially for portables. Yet the quad had a clock running at 2.5GHz. The Intel chips are about that speed in portables, and very little above it in desktops. As the Spy has pointed out several times, current chip fabrication technology is probably at or near its speed limit for a single core, so the only way to get higher throughput is to use the multiple cores that we are now seeing.

As also mentioned here before, this strategy has its limitations, for at some point the processing overhead for switching cores becomes greater than the marginal gain from adding another core, and the designer is then up against a hard limit that will bear little more tweaking except on the communication bus and the heat production (the real bane of the PowerPC). Thus, the Spy's current 8-core Mac Pro desktop is faster than his Quad PowerPC -- a lot where the power can be taken advantage of, a little in most cases, and not at all in some situations. It was a solid upgrade (and needed because the Quad's heat problems and fan idiosyncrasies had become a threat to his workflow), but it was not a spectacular one.

Yet another "not" is Blu-Ray. The Spy is beginning to think that Apple may skip this technology altogether and move instead to "no-moving-parts" storage (some indications already in SSDs). Some time back in a semi-tongue-in-cheek column, he speculated on true 3-D removable storage in the form of a one-cc data cube holding some 10T of decimal data (not binary). He now thinks that total could be pushed an order of magnitude higher.

What you care about in new products coming from Cupertino in the next few months depends on your primary platform. On the software side, Lion is preparing to make the leap into the market in the Summer. WWDC participants will probably be served a large dose of hype along with a developer copy. Apart from the obvious expectation of some moves in the direction of iOS, the strong likelihood of an interface makeover, abandonment of all vestige of PowerPC support, and the probability of some minor new functionality, the Spy does not expect big surprises.

The most pressing Apple software issues are elsewhere--first, in an overhaul of the whole clunky iTunes interface. A change to a comprehensive iStore shell with iTunes as a section is long overdue. The current separate MacOS store is surely also a stopgap measure. Second, and in the Spy's HO, iWork applications Pages and Numbers need some beef to make them enterprise-ready, though Apple may not care about the enterprise that much (see the rant below).

On the other side of the narrowing OS divide, the white iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches seem at the doorstep. Apple appears to be dithering on the display quality for the next generation of iPads, and may run through two generations rather than one this year. Most likely hardware change over the next year or two: a significant memory increase.

As for desktop hardware, the Spy is increasingly of the opinion that towers are about to topple. The iMac package is more than most people need, and a few high end configurations of it would likely satisfy the pros, obviating the need for tower platforms, cutting costs, and increasing profits. If the current towers are not the last generation of same, they may well be the penultimate.

On the gripping hand, as a fellow SF author is fond of saying, the Spy must give considerable credence to the rumours that Apple is planning to get into the TV set market. Even though Cupertino has no previous presence in this sector, this would fit the corporate direction like a glove. Such a move would see the AppleTV hardware bundled directly into a TV screen (let's hope they leave the tuner as part of the box) besides being sold separately as now for those with non-Apple branded sets. Yet, starting up a screen manufacturing division seems fraught with as much peril as starting up a chip fabrication plant.

Best move? Use some of that mountain of cash to purchase Samsung, a company that would fit perfectly into Apple's major moves toward the consumer entertainment market. Why not Sony? Because Samsung has noticeably better products. Catch for iSteve (still the brains behind, and don't let anyone say otherwise)? Apple would thus perforce become a Blue-Ray vendor, as the players and home theatre products that include them could not be dispensed with. The corporate fit would need work, as the Samsung support reputation is spotty, their track record on software leaves something to be desired, and they have several products that would have to be dropped, but otherwise, this might be the ideal catch, for it also offers the potential for greater vertical integration by owning the screen manufacturer rather than being its biggest customer. Apple might have to move fast on this one, as Samsung is reportedly cozying up to Google.

The reader may recall the Spy's adventures a while back with his Time Vault, whose router section failed while barely still under warrantee and was replaced by Apple. He regrets to report now that the hard drive in the replacement unit has also died, and of course the warrantee is long since over. Moreover, the archive function was unable to complete its task, and all data that was on the machine is now lost. Oh, of course the Spy has six other backups of everything, and more of some, but the incremental ones now rest in peace in the great bit bucket.

This failure is clearly a design issue. The so-called "server grade" disk in the unit runs too hot to be sharing an inadequately-ventilated box with an already warm Gigabit wired and N wireless router. The combination generates far too much heat, so much so that the unit feels like a pot on a stove to the touch--almost able to burn the fingers. A slower and less power-hungry drive replacement might help (after all, the data cannot arrive fast enough even on a 1G Ethernet to overwhelm it), and he may yet repair this one with a Western Digital green drive.

OTOH, he may instead do fully what he probably should have in the first place--buy boxes for one functionality each, not two, so that if one fails, only that has to be replaced, and reliance on one vendor is reduced (no multi-function printer/scanner/fax/coffee maker for him). To this end, he had already purchased and put into service a "house server" based on a Synology NAS Model DS211+ and two 2T Hitachi drives configured as a RAID-2. (This product has multiple uses, and can handle multiple connections, so may benefit from faster drives.)

Initially, this was intended as a photo and video server only, but with the Time Vault's capitulation he has now created a folder to be the Time Machine volume, so the Apple product, which lost that function, will probably not get it back. The next step (as soon as they are available in Canada) will be to order a Cisco-Linksys 4200 router (potentially much higher wireless speeds, more configurability), and Apple will at that point lose the other function as well, and the old Vault either be re-positioned with a new drive and the router off, or thrown out.

The Synology machine has a bewildering array of configuration settings and functionality, including serving photos, streaming video, security station, handling backups for multiple platforms, and acting as a web server (not exhaustive). Even for a long-time geek like the Spy, the documentation and software were hard to fully and accurately understand. (A dialogue he's had too often over the years, either with self or a technician: "Do the instructions mean this or that outcome from an action? Then, after much research and possible several calls: Ah, no, they mean something else entirely unrelated to either. How could one ever deduce that meaning from the words in the manual? You mean it isn't obvious? Only if you were already familiar with the product and didn't need any instructions in the first place.)

This common quibble aside, the Synology runs fast and cool. Once set up, it just works. Time Machine backups take far less time than with Apple's Time Vault (they should with a dedicated NAS), and the swappable redundant drives should mean that data is safer. For someone willing to spend a little money and time to get and configure a top-flight product, the Spy recommends the Synology line.

With the DS211+, he bought in at the high end of the home range (or low end of the business one) but the company seems to have a product for almost anyone's budget, its boxes are carried by numerous wholesalers and retailers, and the pricing, while it varies over the typical 25% retail range, seems competitive for the functionality. His only caveat is longevity. The design is patently superior to Apple's, but one never knows how long a product lasts until it dies. Ask him again in five years.

But the Spy must now firmly recommend against buying the Time Vault, unless Apple re-upps it with much better ventilation and a cooler drive. For those who already have one, he can only weakly suggest not doing backups to it via wireless, thus avoiding stressing heat production to the max. He also doubts that may of these units will survive three years. Apple could do (and should have done) far better, and this sad outcome illustrates that sometimes jumping into a product line already well done by others does not always result in success (just most of the time in Apple's case).

Is it just the Spy or does the idea of Nokia abandoning its own cell phone platform to partner with Microsoft and Windows look altogether too much like a burning platform tying itself to a sinking ship? Choosing drowning rather than flameout as a mode of extinguishment scarcely seems like a survival strategy. The medium term result may be that Microsoft absorbs Nokia; the long can be of no value to either, for it is a non-innovator taking an innovator (albeit a failing one) out of contention. Bad for everyone, especially the parties involved.

To keep the negatives even handed this month, the Spy also notes that for a company whose future in the enterprise heavily depends on higher education (people like to buy for business what they use in school), Apple's track record in this sector is abysmal, and not getting any better. How about a university licensing system that makes sense, is not dependent on a minimum number of seats, comes at a reasonable cost, and with serious support? How about university partnerships to mutual benefit?

After all, Cupertino, you are trying to gain market share in a sector where you once had dominance, then threw it all away, and are now making stealth gains that you should be trying to transform into deliberate ones. Doesn't that suggest that your methods and terms of doing business should be better than the other guys' rather than worse? Hey there iCEO Tim Cook. Time to "get" education, especially at universities. They are as much the key to the future as the consumer market, and moreso to the enterprise. Oh, and abandoning the server market didn't exactly help your reputation. No one is going to use towers in a space-tight rack environment.

To really keep things even-handed, he ought to note that a typo last month caused the February column to go into virtual print with one of the very spelling errors he most rails against in pronunciation, and no one noticed until he did just now and corrected it, at least on this site. Tish tish. And we all thought the Spy never made mistrakes.

-- The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several organizations, including in the corporate sector, and participated in industry standards at the national and international level.

He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and six novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:
Arijay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
opundo : http://opundo.com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org
WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
nameman : http://nameman.net
URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:
Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com
Fictionwise: http://www.fictionwise.com
URLs for items mentioned in this column
Synology: http://www.synology.com/

 
AAPL
$97.19
Apple Inc.
+2.47
MSFT
$44.87
Microsoft Corpora
+0.04
GOOG
$595.98
Google Inc.
+1.24

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Firefox 31.0 - Fast, safe Web browser. (...
Firefox for Mac offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals... Read more
Little Snitch 3.3.3 - Alerts you to outg...
Little Snitch gives you control over your private outgoing data. Track background activityAs soon as your computer connects to the Internet, applications often have permission to send any... Read more
Thunderbird 31.0 - Email client from Moz...
As of July 2012, Thunderbird has transitioned to a new governance model, with new features being developed by the broader free software and open source community, and security fixes and improvements... Read more
Together 3.2 - Store and organize all of...
Together helps you organize your Mac, giving you the ability to store, edit and preview your files in a single clean, uncluttered interface. Smart storage. With simple drag-and-drop functionality,... Read more
Cyberduck 4.5 - FTP and SFTP browser. (F...
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
iExplorer 3.4 - View and transfer all th...
iExplorer is an iPhone browser for Mac lets you view the files on your iOS device. By using a drag and drop interface, you can quickly copy files and folders between your Mac and your iPhone or... Read more
Airmail 1.4 - Powerful, minimal email cl...
Airmail is a powerful, minimal mail client.It was designed to retain the same experience with a single or multiple accounts and provide a quick, modern and easy-to-use user experience. Airmail... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.1.12 - Monitor and co...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 9.37 - File, phot...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.9 - Fo...
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update is recommended for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. This update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected and fixes a rare issue... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Together for iOS (Productivity)
Together for iOS 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Productivity Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Together is an app for keeping things in one place. Notes, documents, images, movies, sounds, web pages and bookmarks... | Read more »
The Phantom PI Mission Apparition (Game...
The Phantom PI Mission Apparition 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ** Release sale! 50% off for a limited time! ** The Phantom PI Mission Apparition is a spooky, puzzly, rock’... | Read more »
The Great Prank War (Games)
The Great Prank War 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Help Mordecai, Rigby, Muscle Man and Skips take the park back from Gene and his goons with a plethora of prank-related... | Read more »
Traps n' Gemstones (Games)
Traps n' Gemstones 1.00 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.00 (iTunes) Description: LAUNCH SALE! 40% off, JULY ONLY! TRAPS N' GEMSTONES is an adventurous platform game, among gamers typically known as the... | Read more »
Soccer Physics (Games)
Soccer Physics 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: One-button soccer game! So dumb it's fun. "Soccer Physics is probably the funniest football game you'll play on iOS" —... | Read more »
Ex-Angry Birds Developers Release Monsu...
Ex-Angry Birds Developers Release Monsu Teaser Trailer Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 23rd, 2014 [ permalink ] Finnish developer Boomlagoon has released a teaser trailer of their forthcoming side-scrolling action platformer, | Read more »
Dragons: Rise of Berk – Tips, Tricks, an...
Things have changed in Berk, the fantasy Viking village of DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon series. Dragons and Vikings, once mortal enemies, now must learn to live together in peace. Dragons: Rise of Berk lets players manage dragon-Viking... | Read more »
Cowabunga! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:...
Cowabunga! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rooftop Run Is Currently Free Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 23rd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Lots of New Modes Have Been Added to Can...
Lots of New Modes Have Been Added to Canabalt Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 23rd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Stronghold 3: The Campaigns Review
Stronghold 3: The Campaigns Review By Jennifer Allen on July 23rd, 2014 Our Rating: :: DULL STRATEGIZINGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad A cumbersome strategy game, Stronghold 3: The Campaigns has a few too many issues to... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

What Should Apple’s Next MacBook Priority Be;...
Stabley Times’ Phil Moore says that after expanding its iMac lineup with a new low end model, Apple’s next Mac hardware decision will be how it wants to approach expanding its MacBook lineup as well... Read more
ArtRage For iPhone Painting App Free During C...
ArtRage for iPhone is currently being offered for free (regularly $1.99) during Comic-Con San Diego #SDCC, July 24-27, in celebration of the upcoming ArtRage 4.5 and other 64-bit versions of the... Read more
With The Apple/IBM Alliance, Is The iPad Now...
Almost since the iPad was rolled out in 2010, and especially after Apple made a 128 GB storage configuration available in 2012, there’s been debate over whether the iPad is a serious tool for... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale starting at $799, free s...
B&H Photo has the new 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. They also include free copies of Parallels... Read more
Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Display (refurbished) a...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ Thunderbolt Displays available for $799 including free shipping. That’s $200 off the cost of new models. Read more
WaterField Designs Unveils Cycling Ride Pouch...
High end computer case and bag maker WaterField Designs of San Francisco now enters the cycling market with the introduction of the Cycling Ride Pouch – an upscale toolkit with a scratch-free iPhone... Read more
Kingston Digital Ships Large Capacity Near 1T...
Kingston Digital, Inc., the Flash memory affiliate of Kingston Technology Company, Inc.,has announced its latest addition to the SSDNow V300 series, the V310. The Kingston SSDNow V310 solid-state... Read more
Apple’s Fiscal Third Quarter Results; Record...
Apple has announced financial results for its fiscal 2014 third quarter ended June 28, 2014, racking up quarterly revenue of $37.4 billion and quarterly net profit of $7.7 billion, or $1.28 per... Read more
15-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Retina on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1829 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $170 off MSRP. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished Mac minis for up t...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished Mac minis for up to $150 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 2.5GHz Mac... Read more

Jobs Board

Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
Senior Interaction Designer, *Apple* Online...
**Job Summary** Apple is looking for a hands on Senior…will be a key player in designing for the Apple Online Store. The ideal designer will have a Read more
*Apple* Sales Chat Rep - Apple (United State...
…is looking for motivated, outgoing, and tech savvy individuals who want to offer Apple Customers an unparalleled customer experience over chat. At Apple , we believe Read more
Mac Expert - *Apple* Online Store Mexico -...
…MUST be fluent in English and Spanish to be considered for this position At Apple , we believe that hard work, a fun environment, creativity and innovation fuel the Read more
*Apple* Industrial Design CAD Sculptor - App...
**Job Summary** The Apple Industrial Design team is looking for a CAD sculptor/Digital 3D modeler to create high quality CAD models used in the industrial design process Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.