The Northern Spy: Sweet Sorrow
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The Northern Spy: Sweet Sorrow

Parting can be tough when you've had a faithful machine for so many years. But the old model 180 was getting long in tooth and was no longer reliable. True, some of the problems were mere cosmetic scuffs, but others ranged from annoyances that had to be worked around to serious impairment of functionality.

So, when the Spy's local dealer announced an introductory (and deeply discounted) sale on a brand new (to the frozen north; they'd already been selling in the land to our south) model X380, he decided to put the suction hose on his bank account and make it "out with the old, in with the new".

On short acquaintance, the new machine is wicked fast. The combination of wider bandwidth and some 22% more horsepower appears on first blush to increase throughput by nearly fifty percent, which has always got to be an important goal of so major a technology upgrade. Moreover, operating speed adjustments are automatic; the manufacturer no longer makes the old manual adjustment type, and it was this aspect that caused so much grief over the years.

Facing a second replacement of what was now an $1850 component on a machine that wouldn't be worth half that much if sold, and the additional inconvenience of a compromised output module became too much for the Spy to swallow, so his faithful old machine is now a parts mine.

The LCD dashboard is perhaps a little small, but adequately informative for the job, particularly as it keeps and displays a non-resettable record of hours used so routine maintenance can be performed in a timely manner. There is also an indicator for CPU load, so performance can be matched to demand appropriately.

In this kind of processing, it is important that the CPU is kept level with the power supply, which can be a tedious adjustment, and was left entirely to the ingenuity of the operator on older models, but the X380 comes complete with a gauge and leveling tool to simplify the task.

Construction seems robust. The machine shares the basic chassis with four less expensive models in the X300 line (X330, X350, X354, X370) and three big brothers that all seemed overkill (and with a much heftier price tag) for the Spy's needs (X384, X390, and X394).

These are large units, and one may be inclined to wonder if they would easily tip over, but the slightly greater height is offset by heavier components at the bottom, and if anything the new unit is more stable than the old.

Is all entirely hunky-dory? Not quite. The Spy does have a quibble. The output peripheral, which is a type of pressed plastic, is sloppily moulded and the protective door does not fit properly. Moreover the overall construction of said sub-unit is of minimal quality. Yes, the Spy finds it necessary for his work and paid the extra money, but the manufacturer is selling that unit for five or six times what it would have cost to make. Even the main machine is pricey, but the Spy prefers to buy quality and make it last--his old one was not on its last legs until twenty-four years old, a veritable eternity for any piece of technology.

Family was over to his house for an Easter Monday meal, so the Spy took Gregory (2 years old, talks in complete sentences) into the garage to see the brand new toy.

"What colour is it, Gregory?"

"It's John Deere green."

That's Gregory's favourite colour, by the way. Oh, and you did note the date on this column, yet it's all true. On first use, the Spy's new John Deere tractor seems a fine machine, and the forty-eight inch deck ought to result in greatly reduced mowing times, though he suspects that pricey power blower with its ill-fitting parts will have its issues over time. OTOH, the wide tires provide greatly improved traction on wet grass, and the automatic transmission, though a sealed unit, cannot help but be a vast improvement on the old 180's problematic manual transmission (already replaced once). The trailer hitch is also improved and shouldn't wear as the old one did. Removing the bagging unit is about the same level of difficulty, provided you don't also need to remove the power blower, which requires several additional steps.

One more item: The same salesman's signature (ask for George) was on the 1992 invoice for the original machine. Prairie Coast equipment and its successors have been reliable suppliers of this kind of equipment (smaller and larger too) for a long time.

Apple's Encryption Flap Revisited

So, the U.S. government has backed off from trying to force Apple to build it a version of the OS that would have allowed it to crack into any iPhone, ostensibly because they found another way in. Good. Of course, the issue here was never the FBI's ability to get into that particular phone. They probably consulted the local hacker, like as not a 10-year-old down the street from one of the agents.

The real issue was the desire to read any iPhone anytime, with or without a Court order, the terrorist line a convenient front for requiring manufacturers to provide ready-made back doors for the convenience of law enforcement officers. No doubt they expected public sentiment to be on their side, as it usually is when the terrorist flag is waved, and were caught by surprise when it went the other away. Caught with fingers in the cookie jar is more like. Apple was right to refuse.

Of course the FBI announcing success via another way merely points out that no data (and particularly not email) is truly private. If you want data security, write it out on a piece of paper (with a hard surface directly underneath) and lock it up rather than make an electronic record. Or better yet, memorize it and then eat the paper. Anything else can be cracked. But, are you RUT?

More Adventures in Peripheral Land

Despite last month's caveats about MacSales and its CDW brands, the Spy sprang for one of their portable enclosures, the two-bay Cine-RAID that can take a pair of two-and-a-half inch drives, or in his case an SSD and a platter drive. The Spy plans to make this his main backup unit, as it is only a little large for a pocket, but if he partitions both, then creates fusion volumes by matching up partitions, he can get ultra-fast large-capacity portable backup. So far, he's just installed the two drives (positive points for dead easy) and formatted them. Partitioning and use yet to come.

But this too generates a quibble. The USB-3 cable is A-B, but with the older mini connector often used on cameras rather than the bifurcated one usually found on newer drive enclosures--despite that there is plenty of room on the back panel for a larger connector. Of course the enclosure came with a cable, but the Spy needs a couple more--one for home, one for the briefcase, and these cannot be purchased locally, even from stores with hundreds of cable variations. Of course, a USB-2 cable, even with the correct connectors, is detected as such and provides only USB-2 performance, presumably because it lacks the extra conductors in the cable. Bummer. Whatever happened to standardization?

Still, this looks like a solid unit. He's tricked it out with a 1T 7200RPM platter and a 480G SSD. It ought to be a screamer, but he'll let you know. Until then, he has no mow to say.

--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 alternate history SF 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
The Fourth Civilization--Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http: //www. arjay. bc. ca/EthTech/Text/index. html

Sites for Modula-2 resources
Modula-2 FAQ and ISO-based introductory text: http://www.modula-2.com
R10 Repository and source code: https://bitbucket.org/trijezdci/m2r10/src
URLs for resources mentioned in this column
OWC (Other World Computing): http://www.macsales.com/
Prairie Coast Equipment (John Deere Dealer in Langley BC): http://www.prairiecoastequipment.com/custompage.asp?pg=langley

 

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