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The Northern Spy
January 2017

Growing Into A New Year

Rick Sutcliffe

Sierra's problems

as of version 12.2.2 appear to have been ameliorated on most fronts of specific concern to the Spy. The missing system calls that prevented Online Bible from being run have apparently been resolved, and the product is relatively stable on other fronts as well. Your kilometerage may vary, however, so install with caution, having previously cloned a backup of your boot partition.

He is not at this point yet prepared to endorse Safari, however. For several versions now, extended use causes it to freeze or refuse to display some sites. Quitting and re-running the program only may resolve the problem.

It is worth mentioning that Excel has had a similar problem for some time. Extended heavy use, such as the kind necessary to keep a set of books with numerous entries in a session, invariably causes it to crash. The amount of work lost depends on how much time has elapsed since its last automatic or manual save of the open files. The only remedy is to periodically save all files, quit Excel and re-open it. The Spy assumes it is written in C++ (or a variant) and has one or more memory leaks--an endemic fault in programs written in that language, and one of the reasons the Spy got involved in the project to create a safe, secure, and reliable modern programming notation.

This fault, and the VBA macro language, (poster child for how not to design, implement, or document a language) are all that restrain the Spy from promoting Excel from the category "best in the most important class of program, perhaps the most important program of any class" to "perfect, don't touch a thing". It is, after all, indispensable.

The Spy as tool junkie:

See, the Spy is not anti-MS by any means, though he regards W*rd as the second worst program (next only to the pitiful Word Perfect) in the heavily populated class of word and text processors he has used or tested over the years, and he considers Access to be by far the worst database manager he has ever encountered. OTOH, Power Point, though heavily overused by teachers who ought to be adding far more personal value than slides provided by text publishers, is not at all bad, though Keynote does have, to the Spy's taste, a better look, feel, and workflow.

Is he then an Apple apologist? Not by any means. Pages and Numbers may have their uses, though the Spy has not yet discovered any that are critical for him. Ditto Garage Band, though the Spy is no musician and cannot offer informed comment. FileMaker OTOH is a robust and classy data base manager, and for the little he needs one, more than suffices.

For the record, he uses Thunderbird (a preference relic from a day when Apple's Mail lacked robustness. The latter is better now, but not so much as to endure the pain of a switch.

On the wordy side, documents such as this, as well as letters and small works, he creates in Nisus Writer Pro. Coding in the Professor's personal emporium is rendered in BBEdit, Alpha, or Xcode, and books in Scrivener--for the same reason his shop has perhaps twenty different tools called a "saw" and over fifty "screwdriver bits"--not counting exact duplicates or mere length differences. No one tool does everything well. Fit the tool to the job.

Oh, and let us not forget his multiple backup solutions, some manual, some automatic (Time Machine, Carbon Copy Cloner). He only occasionally loses data, and hasn't has a major incident (several hours work plus lost) for many years. One needs to prepare for the time when everything goes horribly terribly wrong. Oddly though, TM today informed him that after checking its backup of his main machine, found it necessary to delete it and lay down a new one. No reason given. Strange.

Anything missing that he'd like to have? A standalone accounting program on the Mac that has fund accounting for charities. The absence of such a tool seems unaccountable to the Spy, who has indulged several fruitless searches for such an item over the years.

A Mature Industry?

This general satisfaction with his workflow leads the Spy to wonder how much change is really necessary in our computing environment. Current machines are fast enough for most purposes, have plenty of memory and storage, and have robust software in most categories. Industry participants who want people to continue buying new or revised products are already meeting with consumer resistance. even iPhone sales are dropping, despite the competition's problems.

iSteve doted upon closed, all-in-one boxes, and if his design philosophy were followed, we'd have a monitor enclosure that contained computer, soldered-on memory and CPU, lots of ports, but zero upgrade capacity.

The Spy takes an opposing view, believing the desktop experience and footprint are essential but could use versatility improvements, perhaps with a re-factoring of component modules--computer in one box with slide-out replacement for memory, and CPU and one kind of IO port, say TB3/USB3.1. A second box contains storage--hot swappable slots for multiple drive/SSD units, and a third a multiplicity of I/O, again perhaps with plug in (rather than dongle) modules for USB, TB, Firewire (still the solid old reliable, even if slower than some) and for multiple video formats.

IOW, there is room for hardware improvements that would gain a good reception among high end users and computer professionals. OTOH, the software experience, though it would benefit greatly in safety, security, and reliability from better programming tools, is on the whole, and most of the time, fairly satisfactory. The industry needs to grow out of its awkward adolescent stage into more responsible adulthood, but it seems like to the Spy, that selling upgraded devices or programs merely for additional features is a mug's game with a now very limited future.

Is there a different future to be grasped in cloud applications? He doubts this. Indeed, the Spy maintains non-mission-critical data in the cloud only for purposes of sharing and collaboration--putting the Church hymns and choruses for the Sunday service into a dropbox accessible to all the musicians and the sound booth operator, for instance, or passing large documents to editors without the concern for an e-mail gateway refusing the attachment.

He assumes anything in the cloud can and will be hacked, so protects sensitive student and institutional information with multiple layers of security, and never clouds a bite of it. Likewise, software operating remotely on local data or running locally on cloud data constitutes an obvious security risk that he declines to take and suspects most enterprises will take a similar view. So for him, locally installed software operating on locally secured data is the only reasonable work environment and workflow. He has difficulty imagining that many people who work professionally could do otherwise. Oh, and this applies to his desire for appropriate accounting software. None of this putting sensitive financial information at risk with remote software and data stored on the vendor site.

Thus the Spy believes that the bottom line answer to the question: "are we there yet" is "no, but it's not far away"--a mature industry that is. So, expect a further shrinking of demand, more expectation for robust quality and lengthy shelf life, thus much smaller revenue streams and a sharp consolidation of the number of players in all aspects of IT supply and service. After all, many, if not most, players in a given industry never survive its maturity. Computing will be no different.

Best Wishes

for a blessed and prosperous new year, and remember after the season of gift giving Who that season was really for, and that the question to the aphorism "he who dies with the most toys wins" is "wins what?"

--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 http://www.arjay.bc.ca/blog/

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: https://www.olivetree.com

Scrivener: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

BBEdit: http://www.barebones.com/products/bbedit/index.html

Alpha: http://alphatcl.sourceforge.net/wiki/pmwiki.php/Software/AlphaX

Thunderbird: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/

Nisus: https://www.olivetree.com

Carbon Copy Cloner: https://bombich.com

File Maker Pro: http://www.filemaker.com

Apple: https://www.apple.com

Microsoft: https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/

This Arjay Enterprises page is Copyright 1983-2017.
The Northern Spy is registered at WebNameSource.com and is hosted by WebnameHost.net.
Last Updated: 2017 01 02