Site icon

The Northern Spy: a less than stellar report card


By Rick Sutcliffe

Sierra’s problems continue, as the Spy receives other reports of programs not functioning besides the ones cited here last month. To be fair, the Olive Tree folk managed to get their Bible Study program working on Sierra, reducing the number of fails by one.

On the other hand, he now has multiple reports of Sierra installs killing off or corrupting the keychain, and some of SSH, ITunes, and other apps failing, or running very slow. There are also compatibility issues with Apple’s own Mail program, certain sound file types, and fast battery drain.

Safari is quirky too, but that was a problem in El Capitan as well–so much so the Spy has given up on the product for now and will use the ultra-reliable Firefox as his default browser.

Sometimes the upgrade process itself fails or hangs. Advice: don’t sidegrade, continue to use El Capitan, which is much more stable. But if you really want to take the leap into the semi-darkness, backup the keychain securely. Better yet, install on a fresh partition from scratch and migrate your user. Don’t delete anything from the El Capitan partition until everything has been thoroughly tested on the Sierra one. And don’t say you weren’t warned. In the Spy’s view this iteration is the most disappointing in many years.

A new Mac

The ancient white G4 brick of a Mac “portable” used in our Aldergrove Baptist Church sound booth has been dying lately. Last Sunday it didn’t want to open the Audio Hijack program at all. So, it became shopping time. Wanted: a replacement Mac, portable required, could be new or used, thirteen inch OK, must have FireWire connectivity and VGA (to match existing equipment), plus wired net preferred over wireless.

So the Spy, who is also the treasurer, got board permission to purchase and began comparisons. The slick and pretty new touch bar machines looked like possibilities, until he realized USB-C ports would not do–not so much for speed considerations, but because there doesn’t appear to be a FireWire dongle, and the two dongles Apple does make (for video and extra ports) are $99 CDN each. Given that essentially nothing has USB-C ports, the new would not do, because those dongles (and dongles on dongles?) are required, adding $200-$350 to the price. No go.

But long time supplier Simply Computing had at a decent price some early 2015 models (i7 2.7 GHz, 128+G SSD and 8G memory) These are similar to the 15 inch 2015 model he uses daily, the only difference besides screen size being a slight speed hit, and less storage. The one open box item was sold just before he called, but there is a new unopened 13 inch MacBook Pro available that he’s reserved for pickup tomorrow. Its ports include wired Ethernet, Thunderbolt-2 and USB-3, but the dongles to get VGA and FireWire are far cheaper and readily available.

The touch bar models may be the buy of choice a year from now when the technology is well tested, the Sierra OS installed on them actually works, and the necessary dongles are manufactured and sold at a reasonable price. Not now. Can’t afford to pay for mere cool.

No new Mac
November having come and gone with no announcement of a new Mac Pro suggests one of two possibilities. Either Apple has decided to scrap the high end and abandon the power users on whom they built the business in the first place, or Cupertino will wait until next generation Intel processors are available and iterate the big iron in March of 2017.

The Spy hopes the latter, and slightly expects it, but even if he were a betting man, wouldn’t put money on it. The cost of closing or repurposing the US-based factory where the “trashcan” Mac Pros are made would seem a deterrent to cancellation, but Apple is better at being the first to abandon technology than it is at being the first to use it. So, will it be “get it right” or “get it closed.”?


Last spring, the Spy sprang for a Cine Raid 2-bay portable drive as a mega backup solution for just about everything he does. Initially he provisioned it with a 1T HGST drive and a 480G 6G OWC SSD, and configured this as multiple partitions organized as several fusion drives for speedy backups. It all worked, too–for a few months. Then it croaked. Extensive testing revealed both the enclosure and the SSD were dead dead.

Retailer Mac Sales (OWC) honoured the warrantee on the SSD as it was a house brand, and issued an RMA. Back went the dead unit, and OWC shipped a new one on Nov 15. It arrived on the 30th. Not their fault the Postal Service is so slow, one supposes, but…

The CineRaid unit was a horse of another colour. OWC disclaims all responsibility for non house branded products after 90 days. Tekram, the distributer, failed to answer numerous requests submitted by their web form, and to return calls despite repeated promises. Apparently the only RMA person was on vacation. Finally getting through to a responsible individual after a month of trying, an RMA number was forthcoming in a mere day, the unit sent off, and now we wait. We’ll see if this saga has a better ending than it had a beginning.

–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 of 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
Olive Tree:
Tekram (CineRaid):

Exit mobile version