The Northern Spy: The Pros and the Cats
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Northern Spy: The Pros and the Cats

By Rick Sutcliffe

More on the 15-inch Retina display MacBook Pro

The Spy has had this machine a month now, and experience confirms his first impressions. The machine is computationally fast, though not spectacularly so. Having an SSD for a drive makes more of a difference than any internal changes. The display is crisp, better than anything he's had in a portable before, and the glossy finish not nearly as annoying as such once were, but the improvements are not as revolutionary as some have gushed.

Having no Firewire or ethernet connection and being required to use Thunderbolt adapters for both is a major annoyance, and the Spy regards this as a bad decision. A little extra thickness at the back to allow both would not have sacrificed much by way of design, and would have been far more user friendly. The adapters do work, but being tied to Apple for cable purchases is a second annoyance. Competition would be better, and Apple does not need to be in a business others prosecute better.

As for the latest cat he could say much the same about Mountain Lion. Additions are in areas the Spy doesn't use or want (social media integration) and incompatibilities, apart from mail programs, are minimal. He does have a miscellany of dos and don'ts however.

Do not under any circumstances use Apple's Disk Utility program to re-size partitions. It is supposed to be able to delete partitions and allow expansion of the one above into the vacated space just by dragging the partition boundary. This appears to work, but damages the partition map, so that even Disk Utility itself reports errors afterwards.

Take care when rearranging Thunderbird folders. Sometimes they won't go where you want, or make copies instead of moving. Then they cannot be deleted without quitting, going to the Finder, finding your profile, and very cautiously cleaning up at that level.

Be careful with your use of Firenet. Yes, you can Firewire two Apple computers together, go into the Internet preference panel, give each an IP number (best not on the same subnet as the local router) and have a very fast connection. Why do this? An older G5, say, running Leopard, makes a nice Time Machine backup to a spare drive, and one can screen share to it and run older programs in a creditable way--perhaps to recover images or text in some proprietary format no current program will read. All very nice, faster than running Ethernet, and it works--most of the time.

However, keep an eye on this, for sometimes if you connect an external Firewire drive to one of the two computers, its volumes will mount on the other one instead. Stop. Do nothing that involves saving files. Eject the volumes in question, unplug the drive, then save open files and reboot. A system that does not know where its volumes are is a disaster waiting to happen, and Apple is not likely to spend time on matters Firewire in the future.

Be cautious about new USB devices, including USB3. Some ports on some machines and/or devices are close to the edge of spec, or not to spec. A non-shielded or longish cable or a slight port-cable mismatch can result in the USB device so connected being arbitrarily ejected, or deliver spurious partition and volume map errors. When this happens in the middle of a backup, big problems can ensue.

As a precaution, the backup volume in question should then be nuked and the backup done again from scratch. This is similar to the issues with the ill-fated Firewire 800 ports on the G5 machines, which were at the edge of voltage spec and regularly burned out external drive interfaces (just the 800 side of FW, not the 400 or USB). The Spy has occasionally wondered whether Apple's failure to get that right was what motivated abandoning the spec it created.

And, on the gripping hand, the Spy rather likes the new "Spaces," once he figured out how to use it. The three finger swish is a superior way to switch among desktops than the old choose-by-number approach, and helps to overcome the problem of applications that don't know how to activate their own space when switching in. It would be nice if the spaces could be in a grid rather than a line.

But on the yet another hand (OTYAH), the Spy notes the unfortunate appetite for batteries displayed by Apple's external Bluetooth track pad. A pair lasts as little as a month before croaking, and this is of course independent of OS. Trackpads themselves? Very efficient for the time saving gestures, and good for coarse navigation. Fine navigation is still best with a honking big trackball like the old Kensingtons. Unfortunately, one of his has croaked, and the little marble in the Logitech versions does not give the same control. New is not always better.

You read it here first quite some time ago, back when the Spy predicted Apple would eventually be required by market pressures and its own corporate culture to design its own processor chips. Now, he isn't part of the cell phone culture any more, and has no plans to rejoin, even with the reputedly amazing iPhone 5.

But others tell him the A6 chip is a custom design, apparently from scratch, showing that the Spy's predictions are occasionally on the money. The next step? Custom chips for the desktop, and cut loose from Intel. Now, if the Power design could be tweaked sufficiently to get the power consumption and heat down … But a new scratch design is more likely. Sell that Intel stock while you can.

On a similar note, the Spy opined more recently that Apple would have to clone its data centre operations to make serious inroads into the content service business, even possibly the application service business. While he isn't keen on the latter, and centralized control is not part of the traditional Apple customer culture, the market is moving back in that direction, and it is certainly Jobsian.

Why not sell ultra cheap dumb machines with little or no local storage, run and store everything in the cloud? (Wait. That's the Air.) iSteve would approve, even if the Spy didn't. And, Apple is building more data centres. Next step is to take operations international. Six to ten centres with one on each continent should be enough for starters.

But extend that thought. Apple wants to be in the entertainment content service and TV business, but is having trouble licensing said content. No wonder. Those who control it now don't want their profits to be swallowed whole by the Cupertino juggernaut. What would iSteve do? Build or buy his own network, deal with television stations directly, and bypass the cable (and phone) companies. And if the Time-Warners of the world won't license content they own, buy one or more of them, too.

The money is there, a portion of the infrastructure is a-building as we speak, the corporate culture is consistent with such a move, and Apple has a way of getting into and dominating any business sector it pleases. It's only a matter of time before they iCook up a way to do it.

Mysterious doings

Last spring the Spy purchased a Mercury Elite Pro Mini enclosure from OWC, complete with a nicely skookum SSD, and used the device for backup, formatting it with several partitions. Everything worked well under Leopard and Snow Leopard for several months. When he switched to Mountain Lion a month ago, the optimal size for these partitions changed with the new setup, so he redid the partitioning and all the backups. It now has seven partitions.

Currently it checks out OK under disk utility both at the top level and the volume level. However, it has gotten into a state where if one makes a change, say a new backup, then ejects and unplugs, then plugs back in again, none of the changes are there, and the volume appears exactly as it did before the change. Nothing has "taken" in other words, even if it was checked to ensure it had before unplugging.

To drive the point home, here is a scenario:
- remove two folders from one of the volumes on the device
- empty the trash
- inspect directory structure: they are gone
- eject and unplug
- plug back in, and lo and behold, they are back.

Here is another:
- Do a backup that includes some new or updated files
- check to make sure they are there by opening them on the backup
- eject volumes and unplug
- plug back in again and the new files are not there. The originals are instead.

Now, he noticed this happen early on after switching to Mountain Lion, before he repartitioned; indeed a concern about possible corruption was one reason he did so. After doing that, it worked fine for several weeks under Mountain Lion, but now the behaviour is back. It is repeatable on several machines including:

- an older MacBook Pro 17-inch
- a retina 15 inch
- an 8-core MacPro 2010 machine

all running OSX 10.8.2 and regardless of whether
- using esata, FW800, or USB interface cables
- initiating a backup with CCC or just make some finder changes
- starting and ending the above sequences of steps on the same machine or switch machines after unplugging.
- rebooting between making changes and final checking
- regardless of which volume the steps are done on (once the behaviour starts, it affects the whole device)

Note that using other backup devices, including a very old FireWireDirect Mach 2.5 portable drive or a memory stick do NOT produce the behaviour, only this one does.

Now, despite that DiskUtility says the partition map is OK, one cannot help but think the issue is there--especially when the changes have been confirmed made before ejecting and unplugging, and that they are gone and the original files are back intact after plugging back in. Two partition maps? Two directories per volume? A totally whacked out volume? Massively corrupted files not yet discovered? Go figure. Good thing the Spy keeps about seven backups, including three via Time Machine.

Well, the Spy gave all this info in a trouble ticket at OWC, and they sent back an RMA number--no comment or question. Had the problem before? Good on them, but information would be better. All right, one backup device now out the door, and rely on slower ones for a time. But he bought the thing because of its triple interface in the first place (esata, FW800 and USB0 and is loathe to part with its speed. Ah well, it won't work properly so off it goes. One niggling issue: He does not yet know if he can erase a partition of his files altogether before sending it, or even nuke the whole thing. And if he does the latter, the evidence of drive misbehaviour will of course be erased with it. But security on the files is too important to let them go out the door, so… More on this saga as news breaks.

--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:
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
General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:
Author Site: http://www.arjay.ca
Publisher's Site: http://www.writers-exchange.com/Richard-Sutcliffe.html

URLs for some items mentioned in this column
OWC: http://macsales.com/
Thunderbird:: http://www.mozilla.org/thunderbird/

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

VoxSyn (Music)
VoxSyn 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: VoxSyn turns your voice into the most flexible vocal sound generator ever. Instantly following even subtle modulations of pitch and... | Read more »
Catch Battleplans on Google Play from Ju...
Real-time strategy title Battleplans is due for release on Google Play on June 30th, following its release for iOS systems last month. With its simple interface and pretty graphics, the crowd-pleaser brings a formerly overlooked genre out for the... | Read more »
iDoyle: The interactive Adventures of Sh...
iDoyle: The interactive Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - A Scandal in Bohemia 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Books Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Special Release Price $1.99 (Normally $3.99) | Read more »
Five popular free apps to help you slim...
Thanks to retail and advertising, we're used to thinking one season ahead. Here we are just a week into the summer and we're conditioned to start thinking about the fall. [Read more] | Read more »
How to ride longer and tame more animals...
It's hard to accurately describe Rodeo Stampede to people who haven't seen it yet. It's like if someone took Crossy Roadand Disco Zoo and put them in a blender, yet with a unique game mechanic that's still simple and fun for anyone. [Read more] | Read more »
Teeny Titans - A Teen Titans Go! Figure...
Teeny Titans - A Teen Titans Go! Figure Battling Game 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Teeny Titans, GO! Join Robin for a figure battling RPG of epic proportions! TEENY... | Read more »
NinjAwesome: Tips and tricks to be a mor...
Sorry about that headline, but I'm going to go ahead and assume that GameResort would not have named its game NinjAwesome without expecting some of that. It is, in fact, pretty awesome the way it combines an endless runner and old school arcade... | Read more »
Into Mirror (Games)
Into Mirror 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: "Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?"- Edgar Allan Poe New game by Lemon Jam Studio, the team behind Pursuit... | Read more »
Perchang (Games)
Perchang 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Welcome to Perchang! A test of skill and puzzle solving across 60 stunning levels. | Read more »
BusyCal (Productivity)
BusyCal 3.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Productivity Price: $4.99, Version: 3.0 (iTunes) Description: BusyCal is a powerful, flexible calendar app for managing busy schedules, events and to dos. | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $200-...
B&H Photo has 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $210 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1799.99 $200 off MSRP - 15″ 2.5GHz... Read more
Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $649 $50 off MSRP - 2.8GHz Mac mini... Read more
Clearance 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs available...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available for $300 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook Air (MJVE2LL/A): $799.... Read more
Apple refurbished Mac minis available for up...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac minis available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
ABBYY TextGrabber: 1,000,000 Installs in 5 Da...
ABBYY, an international OCR technologies provider, has announced that their image-to-text application TextGrabber, got installed 1,000,000 times in just five days while being featured by the App... Read more
New SkinIt Waterproof Case For iPhone 6
With its impact and waterproof design, the Skinit Waterproof case provides security and protection to guarantee your phone will get you through even the most demanding outdoor conditions. The impact-... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2181.11 $118 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1949... Read more
12-inch 1.1GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $5...
B&H Photo has 2016 12″ 1.1GHz/256GB Retina MacBooks on sale for up to $50 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook: $1249 $50 off MSRP... Read more
WWDC Announcements Revisited Still Underwhelm...
I was disappointed that no new MacBook hardware was announced at this year’s all-software World Wide Developer’s Conference. Not even a hint about what’s in the development pipeline. Of course, we... Read more
Twelve South Compass 2 iPad Stand Now Availab...
Twelve South has updated its most popular iPad stand, Compass 2, with the introduction of two new colors — Gold and Rose Gold. These new color options n perfectly complement the new Rose Gold iPad... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant - APPLE (United...
Job Summary As an Apple Solutions Consultant, you'll be the link between our future customers and our products. You'll showcase your entrepreneurial spirit as you Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions, Towson...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
Job Summary The Apple Professional Learning Specialist is a full-time position for one year with Apple in the Phoenix, AZ area. This position requires a high Read more
Executive Director, Big *Apple* Performing...
Big Apple Performing Arts® (BAPA) is looking for a dynamic new Executive Director to lead the organization through its next phase of growth—an exciting opportunity Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.