The Northern Spy: the desktop/laptop market is past mere maturity
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Northern Spy: the desktop/laptop market is past mere maturity

By Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy and wife own and she drives a 1991 Buick Regal that in today's terms is generally regarded as hopelessly obsolete driving technology. It has no informative car computer display, not GPS, no telephone, no heated seats, TV in the back seating area or anti-lock /skid braking system, and the climate control system is primitive and manual.

Even the 2002 Buick Regal he drives has some of that, though it too is regarded as ancient by some people. Yet both continue to do the job for which they were purchased--transporting among home, Church, town, and children/grandchildren--and, contrary to some, the end use is far more important than the means. So, in what practical sense is either mere means of transport obsolete, except from an advertising bumph point of view, where the goal is to persuade us, against a known lack of need, that we want to buy the latest replacement?

Likewise, hundreds of millions resist computer upgrades because their old beat up Windows XP or Leopard box still defies the odds and keeps on handling email, browsing, and a little document composition. True, the former is likely to have been recruited into one or more bot nets and spend the night sending out bogus emails to plague honest folk, but both do what their owners want.

Customer demand in the modern computer industry is highly artificial--the market is all but saturated and any latest and greatest machines are only needed by a few very high end professionals in computing science, graphic arts, or video editing, who have put off upgrading until the old box' limitations become an obstacle to their work. Who else will buy a new Mac Pro, significant though the upgrade may be? Well, the Spy will, but he fits the profile.

Face it. The desktop/laptop computing industry is past mere maturity and well into old age. Very few people could make a convincing argument for more power in their box than they already have, could discern the difference between a "retina" display and the next notch up or down, could creditably claim that they are using what they have at a level even close to its capabilities. Want a new computer? Produce the truly important use cases as justification.

Recall the Spy's Tenth Law: Computers are not toasters. They're compound sliding mitre saws. The time is coming, perhaps has already arrived, when it makes most sense to sell them that way--in either tool stores, among general electronics goods, or at office supply emporiums, with the occasional shelf space in some of the large discount or general box stores. How long can Apple maintain the high end mystique for the corporation as a whole, or more particularly, for its retail boutiques? A broadening of the retail product line may soon be in order to keep those in business. More to the point, Apple must either produce a new game-changer, or slip into the mediocrity of a mature manufacturer lacking any distinctive cachet.

Consider the case of Sony which used to operate many retail stores. Three remain in the Lower Mainland of BC in very large shopping centres, none within fifty kilometres of the Spy's igloo. It's not hard to predict there will soon be none. With Sony's commercial paper now degraded to junk, corporate profits a thing of the far distant past, and few ideas to take to the bank, there's no access to capital for building out.

As with Kodak, there may be patents worth acquiring in a bankruptcy, but it's not clear there is sufficient "there" there to tempt even a breakup artist, much less a takeover or turnaround expert. And, in what mould could the company be re-invented? The only mould is what has grown on its problematic products and development department. No new ideas = no future. (Apple beware; the honeymoon is over.)

So why, faced with a bewildering array of other choices from marginally more viable suppliers, did the Spy purchase a Sony STR-DN1040 home-theatre-style receiver (list $799; actual about $549)? After all, he knew supplies had nearly dried up--a sure harbinger of either a new model line (typical at this time of year) or an ignominious exit from the business.

Answer: see the above. Both reviews and specs seemed promising, the price and service from electronics retailer giant Crutchfield were attractive, and the unit would do the job he wanted. As long as the latter is the case, the technology remains locally current, whatever the new product market is doing--or saying. This one has all of AirPlay, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and BlueTooth networking, though, contrary to what the Spy thought pre-delivery last month, the unit does not in fact have a phono input--a curious omission given the recent comeback of vinyl, though perhaps not in view of many newer turntables sporting a built-in pre-amp.

Hey, the Spy and wife are pleased to be able to play their fifty-year-old LPs, whether on their existing turntable upstairs, or a new one down. There's no music like it today--lyrics you can actually understand set to melodious and memorable tunes. Records were never obsolete except in the minds of those who came to believe something better had replaced them, and whether this was ever really true or mere advertising myth seems now to have become a matter of debate. (Careful objective analysis may verify this; opinions on the other hand are no longer so universal as they once were.) But the vinyl will still play, albeit through an inexpensive separate pre-amp box to the Sony receiver, and thence to a nice Tannoy home theatre speaker array--itself not top of the line, but adequate for the minimal basement space the Spy is willing to share for such amusements.

Unit setup was simple. Run a little plenum-rated speaker wire to achieve the surround effect with speakers installed beside the sitting area, hook the equipment to the receiver, attach the configuration microphone, power the unit, go through the simple calibration, lock in a few radio stations on the tuner presets, and all was ready to use. The sound is of course a vast improvement over the tinny speakers on any TV screen, and any source with better than mere stereo encoding offers a whole new experience in listening. The setup delivers pure, clean, listenable sound, and audiophile reviewers (which the Spy is not) rate receiver and speakers well.

One oddity--the 1040 detected the small Tannoy bookshelf left and right front speakers as "large" but apparently this is a recommended default, though it can be manually altered. The available 7.2 setup is currently being employed in a 5.1 arrangement, though the Spy may mount front high or zone two speakers in place of the unused rear (configuration options). He sees no need to employ the second sub-woofer, however. The kind of sound for which some find that useful has zero appeal here.

The 1040 has eight (one front) HDMI inputs--more than most people would ever need--plus component, AV, coax, and analog audio inputs (2). Some of these are assignable, meaning they can be used, say, for audio or component, but not both. Seven total is the maximum in any one configuration. One or two more pure audio RCA inputs would have been more convenient, but there is one optical audio input besides the return on the TV--the latter needed because the set in use does not return on the HDMI connection. The unit can handle 4K video, which the Spy does not require. There is one switched AC outlet.

The remote is of course programmable. Once the code for a component is discovered and attached to a selector button, that button turns the remote into the controller for that peripheral--except that oddly, there is no eject. For a second zone, one can either co-opt the powered rear/high front pair, or employ a separate unpowered output for a pair with their own amp. The multi-lingual GUI is minimal when displayed on the receiver's own screen, but quite acceptable when routed to the TV screen. (First thing the unit did was download an update to this.) Network choices seem quite broad for radio, but limited for video. Local network choices are limited to audio and video, and the unit does not recognize a photo server. Fortunately the existing Samsung Blu-ray does, so there is no loss.

The Spy and wife inherited from her parents a beautiful old stereo cabinet dating from the late 1960s that is even now being gutted of electronics and fitted with shelves for components. There is nothing obsolete about a piece of furniture this fine--solid wood and plywood put together with glue-and-screw joinery and given a finish never to be seen in the modern particle board imitation furniture milieu. The electronics still functioned, and the scratchy tuner and volume control and the sticky phono might have been repairable, but forty-six years is perhaps slightly past the best-before date.

What other "obsolete" technology will the Spy install in said cabinet, besides a better phono than came out? A dual cassette tape player, a combination DVD/VCR (for the latter) a newish Blu-Ray player, and an ancient (1970s) cartridge-style CD player. The latter is the 6-disc type made for many years by Pioneer and sold by them and under Toshiba, JVC, and Kenwood brand labels. Since there was already one of these in the living room (picked up for $10 on EBay as a replacement for a broken one) it made sense to acquire another from the same source so the cartridges could be played downstairs as well. There's nothing wrong with the electronics in these; it’s the mechanical parts in the changer that eventually fail.

"Impossibly old fashioned" you say? Perhaps true, but the Spy has neither the time, the inclination, nor the motivation to copy all the household music from CDs to the house server in order to play it from there. True, he has the house wired with CAT-6 (because he could) but does not do everything for that reason. He limits how much time he'll allot to toys or tools. When the old perform to the necessary level, he sees no need to change. When the new does a new task he deems useful, he considers a purchase. But, this column notwithstanding, people are far more important than things.

Oh, and you might have wondered why only radio presets were mentioned. That's because there is no television feed in the house. The cable company supplies Internet and phone, but there is no need for modern broadcast TV here. This household is content with classic BBC productions and a very few very old TV shows on DVD or Blu-ray, but this true-north-strong-and-free household cannot even justify TV for hockey, and there's certainly no "want" for a single current entertainment offering, thus, nothing to justify a cable TV feed. Don't want it, don't miss it.

So, though it's a pity that the Sony 1040 receiver may already be an orphan, quite probably to be joined soon by everything bearing that brand name--unless a buyout can quickly be organized--that consideration didn't play into the purchase decision. Every mere thing eventually becomes obsolete. The need/want was delineated, what was on the market to meet the required specs was investigated, charted side by side, and the best technology fit ordered and installed.

Considerations of the supplier's future prospects did not factor into the decision. If one hammer, drill, or brand of compound mitre saw vanishes from the tool store shelves tomorrow, another will replace it the next day. Meanwhile, the one purchased remains current and useable for as long as it continues to pound nails, drill holes and set screws, or saw boards, respectively. True, his current Bosch cordless drill and driver offer more torque than the older corded models, but they were bought for the portable convenience, not because the others were obsolete. Same goes for electronics.

Ditto programming languages which are also tools. They remain useful until their utility falls behind the demands of emerging use cases. That's the motivation for the Spy being involved in the Modula-2 R10 project--moving the art and science of programming language design into the modern era so as to have tools to solve present day problems. The older languages remain useful for the purposes for which they were invented, but clumsily bolting on new features to accommodate new needs eventually becomes old. The time comes when the basic structure of the tool needs a partial or complete gutting, the philosophy needs a re-thing, and the tool re-cast for modern construction methods. The authors froze the grammar this month, and look to freeze the library structure shortly, so a descriptive book can be published, and a compiler built.

The top line:

Let's have some perspective. Technology only becomes dead dead--or even obsolete--when it either ceases to perform the task to which it was set, or the task itself no longer needs to be performed. Until then, it remains current, no matter how old. The useful retains at least some value. Moreover, of those who say "(s)he who dies with the most toys wins", the Spy gently enquires, "Wins what and where, pray tell?"

Friends and family are of infinitely more importance, will always endure, never become obsolete. Human values such as fidelity, constancy, truth, love, righteousness, honour, duty, and morality are timeless. Such will be current even when the universe itself is replaced by a new heavens and a new earth, at which event both technology and the negations of such values will forever be forgotten. Let's have some perspective, even when we talk ephemeral toys.

--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 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 community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine 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 items mentioned in this column
The Sony 1040: http://store.sony.com/7.2-channel-4k-wi-fi-network-a-v-receiver-zid27-ST...
Crutchfield: http://www.crutchfield.ca/
Modula-2 R10--see the link at: http://www.modula-2.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.