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The Northern Spy
December 2008

Refried Themes

Rick Sutcliffe

Another month with the new Spell Catcher

has convinced the Spy that it shall remain a denizen of his permanent tool set. The reader will recall from last month that this is an OS X version of a product that was installed as an extension under OS 9. Now it lives, like just about everything, as an application. However, it can be set (application specifically) as the input method and so be interactive in any or all applications. This allows it to look at keyboard input, flag an error, make suggestions, accept a correction, and backtrack on the screen to enter the change.

Since last month's preliminary report, the Spy has configured the program, upgraded it one minor version, and added the (not free) Canadian English module. He's also used the program inside more applications and found it to work flawlessly. No crashes, no conflicts, a terrific suggestion record (the correct spelling is almost always the first item on the list), and easier to use than most spelling checkers. Application specific preferences means it can be turned off for web browsers, Terminal, and other situations that demand one type things that aren't likely to be in the dictionaries currently in use. There are also options to check an entire document (i.e. go non-interactive), to look up words in the dictionary or thesaurus, use speech commands, or ghostwrite all keystrokes to a file on a per application basis. Of course the new words learned in the spell checker are maintained across applications. Well worth the dough and highly recommended. Spend your money; rescue the economy.

With Cocktail in its newer glass,

The Spy's found a new use (for him; it was there all along) for the utility set in taming some of those pesky .DS_Store files that can sometimes cause a backup program to complain all is not well. Cocktail can also run a variety of utilities and/or set preferences that are not readily available otherwise. When you need it you need it.

Recession revisited

The Spy is NOT an investment counsellor, so his advice should be either deprecated or depreciated, as one sees fit. Yet, if he were to read his own speeches, columns, and books, he'd have long ago sold industrial era GM (if he owned any) and bought information age Apple (if he could). There's no future in the past. And now, stock market crash and artificial greed-induced recession notwithstanding, Apple's sales (of high end goods) appear to be increasing. Recent estimates have Apple with 9.5% of the overall market in the third quarter, more than 20% of the retail market for October. (It takes business time to overcome emotional attachments to obsolete ways of doing things.)

iSteve appears almost ready to release Snow Leopard, yet another major upgrade finished even while Redmond counts paralysis time, incapable of a reply. Win7 is a slightly dressed up and even buggier V*st*. The ancient XP is the other side's most reliable product, brand-new telephone notwithstanding. (Fearless prediction: this cheap toy phone will vanish without a trace--another total failure in a long MS line.)

Think what all this is doing to marketshare going forward, as Apple expands while others contract. Think what that ought to mean to stock prices (if times were "normal"--whatever that is.)

'Course, comments like these come easy when you don't travel in the kind of company that makes stock purchase decisions--especially when retirement mutual funds have tanked so (and you didn't sell out at the peak). Still though, it's kind of amazing to consider that Apple's quarterly profits are now more than GM's entire market cap. iSteve could buy the venerable auto maker from chump change. Then again, why would he?

The Spy hesitates to mention a corollary, but with Apple's cash flow, bank account, and comparatively low stock price, its shares may look good enough for a predator to attempt a takeover. Insiders must be in a buying frenzy over low stock prices. It's not clear who would have the cash or credit to take a serious run at control, but if the company is attractive to small investors, it's even more attractive to large ones. All that juicy cash. All that cash flow.

As a further commentary on the general economy, the Spy notes that with inflation falling, even entering deflationary territory in some cases, the way seems clear for further interest rate declines, perhaps to the 1% level (Japan's zero percent?). With credit tight, the net effect is likely to be that the stronger companies, those with lots of money in the bank, a great balance sheet and growing sales (know one of those), have a golden opportunity to expand either by building plant and buying equipment or through acquisitions--this at the expense of competitors who cannot. On all accounts, Apple has a potentially brighter future than nearly every other player in the industry.

By the way--this will appear after the fact, but is written before--the Spy fearlessly predicts (has he ever been wrong?) that the industry will have a great online black Friday (November 28), regardless of what happens in the brick-and-morter world. Notwithstanding mortgage and equity problems, consumers still have plenty of cash burning holes in their electronic pockets. They'll buy iToys even when they won't buy Buicks.

Obscure bug of the month department

Under his web hosting hat, the Spy maintains a nice little LAMP CentOS server running cPanel, WHM, and the usual supporting cast of suspects. Last month, his Apache server stopped dishing pages three times for no obvious reason, distressing customers rather severely. (The server could still be pinged, accessed via WHM, and Apache showed as being up, just would not respond to HTTP requests.) The only clue was a sudden spike in eth0 traffic just before Apache's seizure. Rebooting the whole system (not just Apache) solved the problem, but only for a while, then web serving would choke again. The Spy was buffaloed, so he called in the heavy guns at the Atjeu data centre (except they spell it a "center") for a look-see. Took a little time, but they discovered the culprit was the resolv.conf file, which contained only the IP of the box, but not the two nameserver IPs. Result: after a time, massive confusion about where anything was located. Edit the file, fix the problem.

But the Spy had never changed that file after setting the box up in the first place, which is why he never looked there. What could go wrong if you hadn't touched the file, eh? Bad assumption. Conclusion: some nasty updater, perhaps part of the nightly cPanel upgrades, or possibly an update done with EasyApache, had rewritten the resolv.conf file on its own hook, but with erroneous assumptions. Bad, bad updating algorithm. Slap metaphorical electronic fingers if you can find them, but lease or colocate at Atjeu. They're good guys and gals.

Pull back on the throttle?

Canada's telecommunications governing body CRTC recently ruled that Bell Canada is not breaking the law or engaging in a discriminatory practice by throttling the bandwidth it sells to wholesale customers, saying instead that the carrier has the right to manage its network. The case was widely seen as the opening salvo in an "internet neutrality" battle, though the CRTC cast its decision in a far narrower light, and instead opened a new set of hearings into that broader subject.

The Spy suspects that although the initial decision could be framed as narrowly favouring bandwidth sellers over buyers, subsequent and broader decisions are likely to come down on the side of regulating the wholesaling of bandwidth within parameters the CRTC itself defines. North American business relations with government have changed permanently because of recent events, and the probable consequence is greater government interference in the entire market, not just financials and manufacturing.

Yes, yes, the Spy certainly hears the reader's perspicacious objection quoting from his own words--that one ought not to legislate against stupidity. True as that is, the fact remains that most legislation is indeed in response to stupidity (under which heading the Spy will generously include greed and injustice, both of which only create a temporary illusion of being in the best interests of the perpetrators including purveyors of fatally flawed financial instruments.)

Speaking of stupidity,

the Spy takes note of some fuss about the new Lamzev-A virus that can attack a Mac. "An iTempest in an iTeapot", he responds. After all, one must first visit an infected site (he is told these are usually porn pages), be persuaded to download a disk image, mount the latter, then install and run the program thereon, ignoring all the warnings OS X provides along the way. It seems to the Spy that anyone stupid enough to do all this deserves what happens.

And, from the next dictionary definition down under the same heading, comes yet another act in the log saga of SCO's futile attempt to seize control of UNIX/Linux through litigation, then force the industry to pay ransom. Long ceased to be an actual industry player, and only continuing a noxious existence as a shell for lawsuits, these would be pirates lost another court round to Novell recently when the judge ruled they could not take claims previously abandoned back off the table in case they were to win others at a later date. Sigh. Eventually the SCO lawyers will realize there's no blood left to suck and abandon SCO to its well-deserved oblivion. It can't come too soon.

Back to last month's important upgrade

Elianna Janelle smiled at her grampa on Sunday at church, so one has to suppose the Spy has mellowed enough in his old age so he no longer frightens little children. Check her out at elianna.sutcliffe.ca.

--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

Rainmaker (Spell Catcher) : http://www.spellcatcher.com/

Cocktail : http://www.maintain.se/cocktail/index.php

Atjeu : http://www.atjeu.com/

Elianna Sutcliffe: http://elianna.sutcliffe.ca/

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Last Updated: 2008 12 04