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

Sketch 42 - Design app for UX/UI designe...
Sketch is an innovative and fresh look at vector drawing for the Mac. Its intentionally minimalist design is based upon a drawing space of unlimited size and layers, free of palettes, panels, menus,... Read more
Quicken 4.4.3 - Complete personal financ...
Quicken makes managing your money easier than ever. Whether paying bills, upgrading from Windows, enjoying more reliable downloads, or getting expert product help, Quicken's new and improved features... Read more
Apple Safari 10.0.3 - Apple's Web b...
Note: The direct download link is currently unavailable. It is available in the OS X 10.11.6 release, as well as in the Apple Security Updates. Apple Safari is Apple's web browser that comes with OS... Read more
Apple iTunes 12.5.5 - Play Apple Music a...
Apple iTunes lets you organize and stream Apple Music, download and watch video and listen to Podcasts. It can automatically download new music, app, and book purchases across all your devices and... Read more
Apple macOS Sierra 10.12.3 - The latest...
With Apple macOS Sierra, Siri makes its debut on Mac, with new features designed just for the desktop. Your Mac works with iCloud and your Apple devices in smart new ways, and intelligent... Read more
Lyn 1.8.5 - Lightweight image browser an...
Lyn is a fast, lightweight image browser and viewer designed for photographers, graphic artists, and Web designers. Featuring an extremely versatile and aesthetically pleasing interface, it delivers... Read more
iClock Pro 3.4.7 - Customize your menuba...
iClock Pro is a menu bar replacement clock for Apple's default clock. iClock Pro is an update, total rewrite and improvement to the popular iClock. Have the day, date and time in different fonts and... Read more
Opera 42.0.2393.137 - High-performance W...
Opera is a fast and secure browser trusted by millions of users. With the intuitive interface, Speed Dial and visual bookmarks for organizing favorite sites, news feature with fresh, relevant content... Read more
Apple Security Update 2016-003 Supplemen...
Apple Security Update is recommended for all users and improves the security of OS X. For detailed information about the security content of this update, please visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/... Read more
Apple iOS 10.2.1 - The latest version of...
iOS 10 is the biggest release of iOS ever. A massive update to Messages brings the power of the App Store to your conversations and makes messaging more personal than ever. Find your route with... Read more

Clash Royale gets some serious balance u...
| Read more »
Ironhide Game Studio prepares for a busy...
Kingdom Rush breathed fresh life into the tired tower defense genre way back in 2012. The game was a robust challenge that somehow managed to lift you up, rather than leaving you feeling crushed and hopeless. The rich array of unit types and... | Read more »
Collect pets and sling arrows in Arcane...
Mobile gaming is a crowded market, but regular updates are a good way to keep us attention-short players keen. The brand new content in Arcane Online is a prime example. Published by Japanese developer Gala, Arcane Online is a fantasy MMO that... | Read more »
Super Mario Run dashes onto Android in M...
Super Mario Run was one of the biggest mobile launches in 2016 before it was met with a lukewarm response by many. While the game itself plays a treat, it's pretty hard to swallow the steep price for the full game. With that said, Android users... | Read more »
WarFriends Beginner's Guide: How to...
Chillingo's new game, WarFriends, is finally available world wide, and so far it's a refreshing change from common mobile game trends. The game's a mix of tower defense, third person shooter, and collectible card game. There's a lot to unpack here... | Read more »
Super Gridland (Entertainment)
Super Gridland 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Entertainment Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Match. Build. Survive. "exquisitely tuned" - Rock Paper Shotgun No in-app purches, and no ads! | Read more »
Red's Kingdom (Games)
Red's Kingdom 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Mad King Mac has kidnapped your father and stolen your golden nut! Solve puzzles and battle goons as you explore and battle your... | Read more »
Turbo League Guide: How to tame the cont...
| Read more »
Fire Emblem: Heroes coming to Google Pla...
Nintendo gave us our first look at Fire Emblem: Heroes, the upcoming mobile Fire Emblem game the company hinted at last year. Revealed at the Fire Emblem Direct event held today, the game will condense the series' tactical RPG combat into bite-... | Read more »
ReSlice (Music)
ReSlice 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Audio Slice Machine Slice your audio samples with ReSlice and create flexible musical atoms which can be triggered by MIDI notes or... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

9-inch 32GB Space Gray iPad Pro on sale for $...
B&H Photo has the 9.7″ 32GB Space Gray Apple iPad Pro on sale for $549 for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. Read more
15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Amazon has 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pros (MJLQ2LL/A) on sale for $1749.99 including free shipping. Apple charges $1999 for this model, so Amazon’s price is represents a $250 savings. Read more
Deal alert! 13-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pros for $...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 13″ 2.0GHz non-Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for $225 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro... Read more
Free LibreOffice Portable 5.2.4 Complete Offi...
PortableApps.com and The Document Foundation have announce the release of LibreOffice Portable 5.2.4. LibreOffice Portable is an Open Source full-featured office suite — including a word processor,... Read more
Apple Planning Three New Tablets For 2017 – D...
Digitimes’ Rebecca Kuo and Joseph Tsai say that unnamed insider sources report Apple having three new tablets in the pipeline for 2017 release: a 9.7-inch model with a friendly price range, a new mid... Read more
Roundup of 15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro sale...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 15″ Apple Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar... Read more
Apple refurbished iPad Pros available for up...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 9″ and 12″ Apple iPad Pros available for up to $160 off the cost of new iPads. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 32GB 9″... Read more
16GB iPad Air 2, Apple refurbished, available...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 16GB iPad Air 2s available for $319 including free shipping. A standard Apple one-year is included. Their price is $60 off original MSRP for this model. Read more
Apple iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ Apple iMacs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2199 $100 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac... Read more
Apple refurbished Apple TVs available for up...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 32GB and 64GB Apple TVs available for up to $30 off the cost of new models. Apple’s standard one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: -... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* & PC Desktop Support Technician...
Apple & PC Desktop Support Technician job in Manhattan, NY Introduction: We have immediate job openings for several Desktop Support Technicians with one of our most Read more
*Apple* & PC Desktop Support Technician...
Apple & PC Desktop Support Technician job in Stamford, CT We have immediate job openings for several Desktop Support Technicians with one of our most well-known 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* Site Security Manager - Apple (Unite...
# Apple Site Security Manager Job Number: 54692472 Culver City, California, United States Posted: Jan. 19, 2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The Apple Read more
*Apple* macOS Systems Integration Administra...
…most exceptional support available in the industry. SCI is seeking an Junior Apple macOS systems integration administrator that will be responsible for providing Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.