Site icon

The Northern Spy: Back to School


By Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy, like everyone else still breathing, is always learning new things–or re-learning old ones–especially so as a new crowd of students (and many more old ones) is about to descend on campus.

El Capitan falls into both categories, for it has a few extremely annoying bugs that he has not had to deal with for several OS X iterations.

One of the worst is the tendency to forget it has ever heard of Bluetooth. The menu bar icon turns greyer and loses its three dots. Any attempt to do things bluetoothy results in an error message. So, one tries resetting the NVRAM (once called parameter RAM) at startup with the old four finger salute (holding down command-option-P-R keys all at once). No joy.

So he tried something more adventuresome–resetting the SMC (System Management Controller), also done at startup with the keys left shift-control-option, also used to correct errant fans gone wild. Best practice: hold for two reset gongs, release, boot, then re-boot per the NVRAM reset step. No help.

Third try: Delete the preference file located in root/Library/Preferences (not in the user preferences). One must then reboot and re-pair. This did work. But it now has had to be repeated several times. This is a known El Capitan issue. Time will tell if the latest update to 10.11.6 has fixed the problem.

Likewise the bug where the finder cannot find files to delete them. Symptom: You chuck a file in the trash and are told it cannot be deleted because it cannot be found. Duh! You had to find it to drag it to the reluctant trash in the first place. The fix, for another known bug: Force quit (restart) the Finder. The problem goes away–until the next time.

Then there’s the bug previously mentioned here where Apple’s 64 bit code fails to display PICTs. Nasty, because the Spy has dozens of old math exams each containing forty or more Math Type PICTs. Oh, clicking on one will bring it up in Math Type, but to get it to display in NisusWriter (now also 64 bit) one must set the copy preference in Math Type to PDF, then copy and paste the image over the original document’s PICT (after which only copy paste editing is possible). The interesting part of this one is that a fresh install of the OS does not have the bug and displays the files correctly.

But after using that install for a while, the bug returns. (Some obscure permissions or…) The Spy keeps a recently upgraded but still working version of the OS around to copy over one that has forgotten how to do PICT display. Apple is uninterested in supporting this file format and therefore won’t fix the bug–if indeed it is theirs to fix. Design Science could make a utility to remedy this, as the code is clearly there to save PICTs as PDFs, but is also uninterested. Perhaps they have too many W*nd*ws installs to bother.

Yet another bug reported by the Spy to Nisus (long time Nisus Writer user; once kept its Internet bug list) was the failure to properly load document converters, particularly the Libre Office versions. He reported it; they fixed it and sent a special version to check and confirm, and included the fixes in version 2.1.5, released today. Problem solved. Very efficient. New version of Scrivener was announced at the same time, though the Spy had no bugs to worry about. They two and BBEdit (also today updated to 11.6.1) are his go to writing programs for small documents, books, and code, respectively.

Utility of the month is MacID, which is a pair of apps, a free one for the Mac itself and a paid ($5.49CDN) one for the iPhone. The program(s) allow one to wake a Mac from the phone by touch ID or mere proximity, or to wake by setting and using a Mac Trackpad tap pattern such as 1-2-3 fingers in that order. Proximity to sleep and proximity to wake is the Spy’s choice for now.

Brickbat of the month goes to megalith Google, for allowing game manufacturers (in particular) to request and get access to far too much personal data. This is a bigger problem on Android than on the IOS platform, but there oughta be a law about this–games do not need access to one’s entire Google account and everything thereon. Ten lashes for permitting this abuse. The Spy, BTW, never uses cloud services such as Dropbox for anything but non-critical and non-confidential copies of files he has backed up elsewhere.

A second brickbat goes to Melnor, the watering company. They sell various models programmable of water timers, which allow one to water a garden at the same time every night. The Spy had one and two zone models, four in total, but three had to be returned to the store. Why? Because if they got wet (and a little dew would do the trick) the connection between the controller and the screen malfunctioned and the screen went dark–unless one gripped the device with two hands (which reactivated the screen) and used one’s third hand to program it. A water timer that can’t get wet!

Come now. To its credit, Melnor has another model with a detachable controller so it can sit inside where it’s dry while the business end functions in the wet outdoors. But these were like a computer that after running a little code through the CPU loses its I/O to the keyboard and screen. Well, come to think of it, the Spy has seen both that and every other conceivable Murphy malfunction. Murphy was an optimist.

Intentions if we accept the old saw, are that of which the road to the pit are paved. Perhaps Apple will do better when its intended iPhone 7 and 7 plus are announced in a few days. (Oh, and another watch.) The Spy might update his 6+ phone around version ten or eleven, but is unlikely ever to buy the watch as he has no currently foreseeable use case. He’s more interested in the updates to the MacBook Pro and the tin can, er…MacPro desktop he believes are intended to be announced a month or so later.

–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 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 or Rick’s SF? Check out the Arjay blog at

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

URLs for resources mentioned in this column

Design Science (Math Type):
Apple’s September Event:

Exit mobile version