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The Northern Spy
December 2006

View From The Telescope

Rick Sutcliffe

As November winds down

and we're now six weeks past Thanksgiving (never could understand why it's celebrated in the middle of winter down south instead of in the fall as it is here in the frozen north) and the shopping igloos turn to thoughts of flogging Christmas wares and cash register bells, the Spy is impressed at how iPods fly off the shelves. In one recent visit to a big-box retailer just after the latest model was released, he saw a dozen peddled to the gathered crowd in minutes. Can the MS Zune make a dent in Apple's dominance, now in the eighty-five to ninety percent range, higher in the "cool" market.? The Spy sees no reason to suppose so. He's already marked another run-of-the-mill music player down as road kill on the information highway.

Market share revisited

Meanwhile, the Spy notes figures for Apple's share of the computer market in the six percent range overall and twelve for laptops. These are within reasonable sight of previous predictions in this space, and on track to reach ten percent overall in eighteen to twenty-four months, with the likelihood of an acceleration beyond that.

Winter storms abound

on the coast of British Columbia this year, with one dumping 350mm of rain in some places during a day, and another cutting off power for two hundred thousand homes and creating a boil water advisory for two million people. Seems the water around here is so good no one has ever installed a filtration system.

If there's a lesson in that for Mac users it might be with respect to viruses. While malware on that other platform outnumbers bad pennies on the Mac by five orders of magnitude, complacency is the mother of all downfalls. Even in the safest and most pristine environment, you don't drink ditchwater. So take the Spy's advice and make sure you don't have your eMail client or web browser set to unstuff, de-tar, or unzip downloads automatically. Else, sooner or later you're going to end up with beaver fever.

The R/O factor is alive and well

at least in Canada, if not elsewhere. The Spy had occasion to require a new PRAM battery for an old G4 tower (well, heavily modified to a dual 1.8G processor and large SATA drives, but still...) and when he checked at the local Apple dealer, they wanted $13CDN for what he's seen to $4.99US south of the terra incognita price bump at the forty-ninth. He was over the proverbial barrel, needing to get the machine functional again, so he paid the ransom, but.... A day later, a second machine of the same vintage killed its battery. He's thinking of laying in a supply.

Besides being a prognosticator extraordinaire

(the kind that never makes mistrakes) the Spy is a big time software consumer in at least some markets (productivity, programming, utilities, and assorted other goodies) in Mac, Linux, and Palm. (He doesn't do W*nd*ws or games.

As such, he has a vast collection of software (had over sixty startup enhancements in OS 9), and isn't shy about offering opinions. Example: the same large company makes the best spreadsheet, indeed the best and most important single software application of all time, and in the same package peddles a poor word processor and the industry's words database offering on record. Go figure.

He's also been a shareware author, and vigorously promotes both that model and open source as the proper Fourth Civilization ways to distribute value-added productivity enhancements. He even eats his own catfood (only one on the block with no dogs) by offering his non-fiction as shareware (programming and ethics texts).

Here are a couple of favourite, and indispensable items from today's shareware marketplace.

Graphic Converter

from LemkeSoft has a simple premise: a utility convert any graphic format to any other, adding a few manipulations along the way. It has grown far lager. The Spy uses GC as his main creation application for creating and editing web-quality graphics for logos, backgrounds, and buttons. You can edit the colour table of a file, apply most of the standard transformations, add text to a figure (any available font), merge graphics, save in GIF, JPEG, and other formats, convert between W*nd*ws and Mac graphics, create and view slide shows, and, and, and....

Now at version 5.9.3, this one's been around a few years, and keeps getting more versatile without becoming harder to use. As with all shareware, you can download and try it out before paying the $30 shareware fee for a proper license. Unlike many packages, you'll pay gladly when you realize that for most tasks, GC replaces larger, more complex applications costing ten to thirty times as much. Oh, the Spy has those too, but doesn't believe in using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut, so GC is on tap for 95%+ of his routine graphics work. You can't do without GC. Five telescopes.

Drag Thing

Does Apple's dock and its single-mindedness and inflexibility frustrate you? You can see currently running applications and those items you store there, but it's a single dock, not sorted by category, and you cant drag folders to it, only applications. It's useful, but only somewhat

Drag Thing, from TLA*Systems is far more. You can have any number docks around the edge of the screen, each styled the way you like, and each with multiple tabs for layers. Put productivity applications in one, communications tools in a second, utilities in a third, classic items in a fourth. Have a separate dock for folder tabs (hierarchical of course), another for URLs or FTP sites. You still have the option of activating a built-in running process dock, which for fast switching you can put at the top of the screen to complement Apple's dock at the bottom.

Also built in are a dock for mounted drives, and a trash can alias that can be placed anywhere on screen. All the docks attached to the sides can be made to pop out from their tabs on rollover, and can be configured to suit your taste.

Currently on version 5.6.4, this one has also been on the Spy's system since long before OS X, and is in his view the best docking system currently available.

And, while he's giving accolades to TLA, he notes that their scientific calculator application PCalc (version 3.2 reviewed) seems like one of the best of its type also. He's only had it on system for a week or two, but it appears to be everything you want in a desktop calculator: fast, complete, keyboard reconfigures according to mode, fast, has hex, binary, can be configured to present different styles, has a tape and other drawers, also runs with fewer features as a widget, and is in short geeky cool. Course, the Spy once had a slide rule with the periodic table atomic masses as a scale, sometimes still uses his round slide rule for converting grades en masse, and employs for regular tasks a TI Voyage 200 (ahem).

Licenses cost $29 for Drag Thing, $19 for PCalc, or $34 for the bundle. Buy the bundle. Amazing. Five more telescopes.

Putting Your Money where Your Mouth is Department

Sitting under another of his many hats, the Spy is a web services provider, through the various subsidiaries of ArjayWeb.com. His brand shiny new dual Opteron server has loads of speed and bandwidth, so, he's decided to give a little to the shareware community. Starting this month, the above mentioned programs (and others to be added) can be downloaded via downloads.thenorthernspy.com. This free service helps authors keep their wares in circulation, but the Spy reminds downloaders that they have an obligation to pay the shareware fee within a reasonable time (say, a month) or delete the program from their drives. Authors of Mac/Linux/Palm freeware and shareware can contact Nellie-at-thenorthernspy.com for an FTP accoun t on the system. Sorry, we don't do games or W*nd*ws. Y'er welcome.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, 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 Bowker's Booksurge.


The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com

The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm

The Spy's Shareware download site: http://downloads.thenorthernspy.com/

WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net

WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net

nameman : http://nameman.net

opundo : http://opundo.com

Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org

Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com

Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com

Fictionwise: http://www.fictionwise.com

LemkeSoft: http://www.lemkesoft.com/en/index.htm

TLA*Systems: http://tla-systems.co.uk/

This Arjay Enterprises page is Copyright 1983-2006.
The Northern Spy is registered at WebNameSource.com and is hosted by WebnameHost.net.
Last Updated: 2006 12 01