By Rick Sutcliffe

Cash away the old year passes as Cupertino has to be a happy place given the wild success of the iPhone 6. Only now are wait times reverting to normal after the most successful product launch in tech history. Apple is once again in ascendancy, Samsung and other rivals descending.

The question is, what does iTim do to keep the momentum going, or will 2015 be a relative disappointment by comparison? Try iPhone 6s and 7, refreshes of Apple TV and across the entire Mac line, plus the long awaited sales launch of the Apple Watch, the latter of which will be successful solely because of its brand cachet–another product the Spy can’t see himself buying for lack of a use case. But then there’s the vast reservoir of new products under development in the Cupertino labs–many of which will never see the light of rumour, much less a store shelf (a TV screen), but some of which may be either game-changing, or game-inventing. Stay tuned…

Most people, the Spy included are happy with Mac OS X Yosemite, perhaps largely because it isn’t revolutionary. Yes, there are new features such as Handoff and better notifications that enable new ways of doing, but one’s existing work flow patterns aren’t changed–apart from the desktop picture, the user experience can remain unaltered. This, and the fact that no machines that run Mavericks have been obsoleted by this upgrade, guarantees nearly one hundred percent take-up of the new OS. Mark this upgrade a winner, despite the Spy’s initial problems with the beta back in June.

Similar comments could be made regarding iOS 8, which, though a big change for the Spy from version four, is nonetheless familiar. Along with this, the iPhone six is deservedly a big hit, and no wonder Apple has more money than anyone seems to know what to do with.

Tablets revisited

For a long while there was no tablet market, jut an iPad one. Now even this is declining. Why? Well, the Spy has never seen the use for one. Yes, it’s an ultra-portable, but it would be a better player in that market niche if it ran Mac OS X and one could get real work done on it in a pinch. As things stand, and especially given the size of the new phones, he sees it as an overlarge iPhone/iPadTouch rather than the other way around, and he’d rather carry an auxiliary communications and database device in his pocket than lug it around under one arm.

Yes, others do feel differently, but he and many others have found no use case, and the bloom is off pads. Nice toy, but not worth spending money on. So far. The smaller form factor is the future realization of the PIEA, though. (Personal Intelligence Enhancement Appliance in his novels since the early 90s.)

Time to reinvent the pad? How about having it double as an auxiliary screen for the desktop, allowing it to run MacOS in parallel, using it as an input device (tablet, slate, or…) or…well, the Spy’s certain the Cupertino gnomes are working on alternatives.

When one does carry around a laptop from one desk to another, where there may also live a “big iron” machine (remarkable how that term has altered in meaning) such as an old Mac Pro, together with a variety of monitors, there is a use case for KVM switches and hubs.

The Spy recently picked up a simple two-machine KVM switch called the SnapX made by a company called Kanex. This one switches mini-display port and USB so one monitor and keyboard can switch between two CPUs at the touch of a single button. Switching is more efficient than on IOGear KVMs in the sense that the switch itself is not seen as a phantom monitor by the CPU after being re-homed. Rather the break is clean, and the Mac knows it, and reorganizes the desktop accordingly.

The unit is sturdy, has five-foot built in cable sets and LED indicators to show which port is selected–one of those elegantly simple products that, once you buy it, you can’t imagine not having. As the electrical connections–though not the signal–for Mini Display and Thunderbolt are identical, the unit may be useful for TB as well, though the Spy has not tested this.

Criticisms? Apart from the typical strangled Chinglish on the box, there can be but only trivial ones, the worst of which is that it appears the unit may no longer be in production. However, retailers may still have a few. Try Amazon.

So his one desktop has an older 24″ Cinema Display mounted vertically beside a newer Apple monitor (24″ Mini Display at home and 27″ Thunderbolt at work). The latter are raised so the MacBook can nestle underneath for a three-monitor desktop when using it, two when using the old Pro. The upright is great for document and book editing, the horizontal for mail and browsing.

Which brings us to said Apple 27″ Thunderbolt display. Its value for the buck is questionable, for one can buy 27″ monitors, including ones with the same panel, from other suppliers for half the price, albeit without the Thunderbolt hub. Yes, the Spy bought one of these units, and paid the premium for the Apple product, but money-saving alternatives are starting appear.

One of the most promising is the new OWC branded 12-port hub, providing two TB-2, five USB-3, FW800, Ethernet, audio, and HDMI. This appears to be the one-wire solution to desktop tangle, so the Spy has put in a pre-order at US$249 and will report later. Only suggestion for improvement: an additional Thunderbolt port. When there are only two, one must be the input, so the second is a mere extender, not a multiplier. But hey, the use case is cutting the connections to the laptop down to two–power and hub, rather than the seven needed now. Interestingly, OWC terms the device a dock rather than a hub, which seems a misnomer, as a dock is another kind of beast designed to solve the same problem.

Want a lesser machine for a little less money (around US$217), but that is in stock in multiple stores? StarTech makes one with fewer USB ports and the option of Mini Display or HDMI. Note however, that the Spy has not reviewed either unit or compared them in detail.

And finally, the Spy notes the increasing emphasis on screen density, with Apple now offering 5K screens, and others starting to sell 4K units. However, his old eyes don’t have that much acuity. He’s not been able to see the value in the Retina display he has over the standard screen MacBook Pro models. However, as the posties say, “to each his zone.” They all beat dot matrix hammered out on a Teletype “printer” using a roll of newsprint. Try programming in APL or PL/1 in such an environment. Ah, how easy the script kiddies have it these days.


Last month the Spy detailed how to set up a Fusion drive. ‘Course if you made a mistake–which the Spy never does–or wish to decommission such a unit back to individual drives, corresponding fission instructions are a propos. In his case it was necessary, for he inadvertently listed the platter drive first, the SSD second, which makes the wrong one the primary, and yields no performance gain whatsoever. Again, there are instructions out there, but they seem a little sketchy.

Here are the Spy’s more complete instructions:

1. Go to the Terminal and type
diskutil cs list
2. Diskutil will list all volumes under the control of the core storage (cs) software in a manner such as (only one here):

CoreStorage logical volume groups (1 found)
+– Logical Volume Group 0B41C871-7F3F-4466-803F-FE9239AA845E
Name: myLogicalVolGroup
Status: Online
Size: 3255965548544 B (3.3 TB)
Free Space: 11227136 B (11.2 MB)
+-< Physical Volume 545156C5-D70B-4973-ABBF-FBC3A0C9282F | ---------------------------------------------------- | Index: 0 | Disk: disk2s2 | Status: Online | Size: 3000249008128 B (3.0 TB) | +-< Physical Volume 169D2B28-245C-4596-8A54-63EB6D62BB27 | ---------------------------------------------------- | Index: 1 | Disk: disk4s2 | Status: Online | Size: 255716540416 B (255.7 GB) | +-> Logical Volume Family F61C66F2-2576-47A1-96CA-C68BD5262397
Encryption Status: Unlocked
Encryption Type: None
Conversion Status: NoConversion
Conversion Direction: -none-
Has Encrypted Extents: No
Fully Secure: No
Passphrase Required: No
+-> Logical Volume 5FDF78AE-ECA4-42FB-A5D0-061B02627E3E
Disk: disk6
Status: Online
Size (Total): 3255316774912 B (3.3 TB)
Conversion Progress: -none-
Revertible: No
LV Name: TB
Volume Name: TB
Content Hint: Apple_HFS

3. The relevant information is the Fusion drive’s Logical Volume Group UUID (on the first line as 0B41C871-7F3F-4466-803F-FE9239AA845E in this case) and Logical Volume UUID (ten lines from the bottom before the dashed underscore; here it is 5FDF78AE-ECA4-42FB-A5D0-061B02627E3E). Copy these, or more the window to a second monitor.
4. In the Terminal, delete the logical volume using the command

diskutil cs deleteVolume
like this:
diskutil cs deleteVolume 5FDF78AE-ECA4-42FB-A5D0-061B02627E3E
substituting the appropriate UUID (the second one from above, not the first.)
5. Once this process completes, and still in the Terminal, delete the logical volume group using the command:
diskutil cs delete
like this:
diskutil cs delete 0B41C871-7F3F-4466-803F-FE9239AA845E
substituting the appropriate UUID (the first one from above, not the second.)
6. Once this command finishes, the fusion drive is fissioned and will appear as two drives, which can now be used separately or re-fusioned correctly with the SSD listed in the first argument position (see last month’s column). Hey, the fission drive works great, both in an internal MacPro setup and an external one for the MacBook Pro.

That Other Technological Adventure with the Spy’s CPAP machine to control sleep apnea has now been abandoned. Time to see a specialist and determine whether some other treatment is more appropriate. There isn’t necessarily a technological solution to every problem.

A shot in the camera

The Spy bought a Canon EOS 40D SLR a few years back, complete with a 15-85mm lens-adequate for an amateur, but lacking in telephoto ability–which he always meant to add. Recently, however, the local Sears became an outlet/clearance centre and put many items on sale, including Canon lenses. The 55-250 mm AF IS lens was marked down from $359 to $199, but came up on price check at $119. Sold, and the Spy loves it.

Hey, its not the 70-200 L series glass that pros buy and that bends the wallet for more loonies than the camera, but it does the job for grandchild pics and is now his main lens. Good stuff. Great price. They also had the 75-300 mm lens without IS for well under $300, but that option is less attractive without the image stabilization.

–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.

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