By Rick Sutcliffe
Apple was the first corporation to reach a stock valuation of $1 trillion. Spectacular latest earnings results have pushed that to $1.85 trillion, putting the company back in first place worldwide and poised to become the first to surpass $2 trillon. Not bad for the little outfit from Cupertino that all the pundits once forecast would fail. Earnings were up in all categories, including its somewhat neglected computer business. Look for the antitrust and breakup vultures to circle.
The Spy is still happy with his adaptation of two older MacPro towers to run Catalina, with one outfitted with a Thunderbolt 3 card. He contemplates doing the other one as well, as the towers do not seem to play well with USB-C or even 3.1 connected devices otherwise.
Intel validated Apple’s decision to switch to its own CPU silicon when it announced that low yields on its 7nm chip design would delay their introduction until next year. The two companies’ stocks went sharply in opposite directions. Perhaps Apple will end up supplying chips for other PC makers <chuckle>.
HP Inc., formerly known as Hewlett Packard, and recent unwelcome target of a Xerox takeover attempt, makes a pretty decent line of printers for many levels of use. The Spy had an older LasterJet2100TN outfitted with an extra tray that was starting to misbehave by picking up extra sheets when a tray was nearly empty and whose toner cartridges were becoming hard to find.
Searching for something comparable in a new machine, he settled on another HP, this time a LaserJet Pro M428fdw, as it was one of the few small-office machines that could be fitted with an extra tray (for legal sized paper). He hadn’t set out to get a multifunction, but the extra cost for scanner and fax was not great, and he now finds both to be quite useful, especially as he has used his home office much more since the university campus has become a ghost town.
The HP Smart software allows the machine to be controlled from a Mac or PC, the printer is endlessly configurable and worked out of the box with everything, including his iPhone6+, produces high quality monochrome output (for which he prefers laster to inkjet) and he can heartily recommend this unit for any small business or home office. He has reservations about everything being made of plastic, but had no issues with the previous model on that score, so… He will of course keep his very-expensive-to-run Epson Stylus Photo 3000 inkjet for high quality colour and large format work, though he notes that most stores no longer carry the 157 ink cartridges and they must be purchased directly from Epson or online at Amazon or EBay.
Logitech makes a wide range of peripherals for the computing industry. The Spy isn’t a great fan of mice in general or the Logitech trackballs in particular, preferring the Kensington 4-button version of the latter sitting beside an Apple Magic Trackpad2 for versatile navigation. Their keyboards are pretty good, and he’s thinking using one of their models to replace his Kanex wireless keyboards (the ones with the three Bluetooth buttons for different devices) as the lettering has worn off the keys, and the Kanex folk invoked their one-year limit on the warrantee to escape responsibility. Come on. Keyboard lettering should be protected from such wear, but the Spy no longer has keys labelled “E”, “A”, or “S”. Labels would help, but that is a little MM.
However his latest Logitech purchase is more interesting. When COVID hit earlier this spring and he realized he would have to record his Fall semester lectures, one of the obvious requirements was a better quality web camera, complete with microphone. Excepting the ripoff artists who jacked prices on limited stock sky high, inventory of every make and model vanished from the Internet almost overnight as hundreds of thousands of others came to the same realization. He tried anyway, put in an order for a Logitech BRIO 4K Pro webcam with supplier CDW, who suggested possible July fulfillment. To his pleased surprise, after a months-long wait, the camera arrived the other day.
The plain brown cardboard packaging is pedestrian, the instructions minimalistic in the extreme, and one has to hunt for the software support on Logitech’s site. On that score, the “Camera Settings” software works well, with a nice preview picture, field of view, colour, saturation and other settings available. Except for narrowing the field of view, The Spy left the defaults alone, as the picture clarity was already excellent. Indeed, the improvement in picture quality even at 720P is very noticeable, and at higher resolutions more so. The Spy will likely record lecture at a relatively low resolution, however, as students’ ability to download large files from the other side of the world will be limited.
The Logitech software site also offered a firmware upgrade, which installed smoothly and works well. Hard to know what it really improved as he took that plunge before doing any testing. A third piece of software, “Logi Capture” intended to allow screen capture of the camera output, a window, or an application was problematic. In fairness, it was openly billed as being still beta software, but its preview window could not display the camera output at all on the tower, only on the MacBook Pro, and the design seemed both awkward and unsophisticated compared with, say, that of Zoom, which, though less ambitious, at least looks good and works well. The Spy wasted a little time looking at other companies’ screen capture and video editing systems, but found himself unimpressed by their design, functionality, and price.
The camera itself is very compact, and looks good sitting atop a monitor. Its mount however, is not a clamp, but relies on friction to hold the unit in place. A bump, even the brush of a sleeve, could send it flying, as it is not actually attached. The bracket, however, can be popped off, revealing a mount hole for a tripod that permits the camera to be used anywhere in the room that its USB cord (A to C) would reach–a much more professional touch than the bracket design. There is, BTW, a little secondary bit of plastic that fits on top of the BRIO and provides a hinged privacy shutter–useful in case the camera is hijacked.
Overall, the Spy gives the unit an A for picture quality, a B+ for sound quality, a C+ for physical design, and doesn’t really care about the packaging.
MacSales (OWC) has put out an update to its “Dock Ejector” software. The ostensible purpose of this kext is to allow all drives connected to the dock to be properly ejected with a single visit to the ejector in the menu bar. But the Mac version has another purpose–to enable power delivery through the USB ports on the dock. Why mention the update? It overcomes another issue with Catalina–namely that it does not rebuild the Kext cache on a restart. The update is needed to provide that rebuild so the kext can be recognized and do its work. A cautionary warning here, though. Apple has signalled it will deprecate kexts in the future. The Spy wonders how new functionality will be applied when this is done. Or, has Apple decided in its Big-Daddy way, that no one should be allowed to do that excepting themselves. That would break a lot of products.
Other tech used this month includes his trusty Stihl model 261 chainsaw. The fence down one side of the property here was damaged by the ice storm a couple of years ago, and he finally got around to clearing a path beside it so repairs could be done. Numerous trees across the fence had to be cut away so the barbed wire could be repaired. The machine is a few years old and replaced a 251 model whose engine was destroyed by the use of gasoline with ethanol additive.
This is a great (bad) example of unintended consequences–what was touted as an renewable energy source partially replacing gasoline not only drove up corn prices, but irreparably damaged engines–most especially the small aluminum ones in lawn and garden equipment. There is growing evidence that even larger engines have problems with ethanol, but they at least are not often stored for long periods with gas in the tank. In the latter case, the ethanol attracts water and can cause a separation of the fuel into three layers. Neither water in the gas, nor a layer of hotter burning ethanol is kind to any engine. Use either non-ethanol gas or specially-formulated fuel such as supplied by Stihl and other brands–expensive, but better than having to replace all your garden equipment every couple of years.
And, for his birthday last month (which Canada celebrates a couple of days early and the Excited States a day late) he got a brand new Troy-Bilt TB590TC 4-cycle 30CC engine Gas trimmer and blade attachment weed whacker unit. These of course are the kind with the interchangeable attachments such as small tiller, edger, tree trimmer, blower, etc.
He’s had several of the power units over the years with a variety of brand names painted on–though all manufactured by Troy-Bilt. The last one, branded Ryobi, was a bit of a dud, as the supplied trimmer head came apart and the company would not honour the warrantee. Lately the engine has been running hot, and it seemed to be nearing end-of-life, so… MTD has since bought both Troy-ilt and Ryobi–a common occurrence in commercial enterprise, where there are far fewer manufacturers than there are brands.
This later iteration of the themes is another 4-cycle, so no oil and gas mixing, and The Spy has to be careful to keep his fuels separate lest he ruin a machine. The new unit is more powerful than previous models, but caution must be taken when using the brush cutter blade as it can stall when slicing through, say, a Salmonberry stalk, and if the attachment is not very tightly fastened, the torque at the point of attachment can cause the steel button to eat away at the soft aluminum tube, and Also, the unit had likely been sitting in a warehouse for some time, because the nut that holds the blade on the shaft was corroded inside and could not be used. Ordinarily, a tap could restore a thread, but even this tool junkie does not own left-hand threaded taps, so called the warrantee line and asked for a replacement nut, which they promised to send. Meanwhile, because he has so much of this material from previous versions, he found a useable, if somewhat battered, nut to fit. His only other concern with this unit is that the plastic shield covering the area surrounding the air filter is not very secure and has come off twice. Fortunately, he quickly found it in the chopped up brush, but this and the soft metal tube are both design flaws.
Nope. Not this time either. But hey, enough with the crazy conspiracy theories, and the “don’t tell me to wear a mask” nonsense already. Relate them to the dead when you join them.
See you next month, DV.
–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 and Assistant Dean of Science at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He completed his fiftieth year as a high school and university teacher in 2020. 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 ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), since the early 1980s, and he’s a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972.
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
Other URLs of relevant interest:
BC Government COVID site: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19
TWU COVID Info: https://www.twu.ca/covid-19-information
Aberdeen Baptist lessons and Sermons: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4DbcQZJphc1oH7icCUBTJg
URLs for products mentioned:
Logitech BRIO Camera: https://www.logitech.com/en-ca/product/brio
HP Printers: https://store.hp.com/us/en/cv/printers
OWC Dock Ejector: https://www.owcdigital.com/products/dock-ejector
Troy-Bilt Trimmer: https://www.troybilt.com/en_US/trimmers/tb590-ec-string-trimmer-brushcutter/41ADZ59C966.html