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The Northern Spy
July 2008

Summer Miscellany


by
Rick Sutcliffe

Recently back from Ireland,

that land noted for highways as wide as a bed, down the centre of which some jokester has often painted a line, and where there is invariably a bus coming the other way when you are a kilometre from the last lay-by or driveway, the Spy notes with interest the ubiquity of the .ie brand (in the Republic). Perhaps businesses and individuals also had the .com version of their domain, but advertising focused on .ie--this despite the high price and higher hurdles to getting the cc domain (one has to document a legitimate connection with Ireland.) Northern Ireland is a different story, but that's part of the same tapestry. Despite the effective erasure of a border for travellers, the peoples of the Emerald Isles live in two solitudes--the once prosperous north, and the up-and-coming south.

The Spy has misgivings about any and all forms of nationalism and tribalism, including those fostered by church denominations, but perhaps there are marketing lessons in this observation for CIRA (the Canadian Internet Registration Authority). First the success of IEDR suggests that it is possible to better market any cc domain, even apart from strong nationalist sentiment. Second, CIRA could excise a page from the Quebec nationalists' futile attempts to get their own cc domain by getting permission from ICANN to offer .que as a synonym for the secondary .qc.ca (similar to .cat for Catalan sites). Hey, it's a potential marketing opportunity. Disclaimer: The Spy is a member of the CIRA board, but is not expressing official CIRA policy on this matter.


Lethe Revisited

After the Spy mentioning his own and Apple's sleeping disorders her a couple of times back, he's pleased to report both have improved. More tests needed on his own internal infections, but the pain is down and sleep time up. Similarly Mac OS X, whose latest bug fix seems to have greatly improved the MacBook Pro's sleeping patterns. There are still issues when switching from one dock to another, particularly with Time Capsule, but.... Second disclaimer: Both these problems have standing of so many years that any suggestion of a final resolution seems ridiculously premature.


iTablet

or, perhaps iSlate, was not unveiled at WWDC. Two remaining launch windows this year are school opening (August) and Christmas (November). Third disclaimer: This comment is based solely on rumours. The Spy has no inside knowledge relating to which Apple lawyers might sue for sources.


New Version of Note

is Firefox 3, which now actually looks like a Mac application, rather than a clunky port. The Spy hasn't used the new product extensively, as he prefers Camino and Safari for actual browsing, but the Fox's debugging tools and plug-ins make it invaluable for site development.


Pratfall of the month department

Honours get shared here between the Spy himself, who on his first night in Ireland fell out of an unfamiliar bed and injured his arm, and the MS nobbins currently falling over their own words explaining why the move to excise VBA from Excel 2008 was really only temporary. Weren't they lauding it as the greatest thing since the internal combustion engine just a few months ago? Mind, the Spy regards VBA as the worst excuse for a language ever invented, but killing cross-platform compatibility to replace it with ill-implemented AppleScript was just plain dense. Fourth disclaimer: In his TWU day job, the Spy teaches programming languages and is alleged to know what he's talking about in this respect--sometimes.


Speaking of the half-baked,

is it just the Spy, or does Leopard have a semifinished air to the rest of hoi poloi, too? Somehow, the Finder behaviour, icon appearance, awkwardness of views, dock, and a dozen other little irritants seem to add up to steps backward toward a less polished version rather than forward to some bright new future. Yes, there are advances, but spit and polish it ain't. Let's hope the recently announced “no-new-features-just-fixes and-speed-enhancements” Snow Leopard lives up to its billing. Leopard needs a nice shine, not more bells and whistles.

Oh, by the way. The major means of reducing OS footprint, as Apple promises, is to dump support for the PowerPC chips from Snow Leopard forward. Don't say you weren't warned.


iTelephony 2G3G

took us another leap away from the POTS last month, with the new 2G iPhone (using 3G networks) being announced for delivery in over sixty countries this month (July 11 in some, later in others). The revenue sharing plan that characterized the 1G iPhones seems to be deprecated, replaced with a more conventional discounted-phone-for-multiple-year-contract model. Unfortunately for Canadian customers, the $30 unlimited data plan turned out top be a wishful rumour. Actual pricing is two to three times that for limited data plans--an outrageous ripoff, even in the context of ridiculously costly frozen north bandwidth.

Critical new feature for some people is the support for MS Exchange. Though the Spy personally wouldn't use this, the enterprise world is said to have demanded it.

And, quite apart from piratical pricing, the Spy won't be chucking out his Treo 600 for a while yet. He needs Olive Tree's Bible Reader, Adobe's PDF reader, and the Mobipocket reader ported first. All three present difficulties, for they use a “give away the reader and charge for content” business plan. It's not clear how that can fit Apple's marketing system. Content files for all three should work on any version (i.e. platform) of the reader, and in the latter two cases are widely available from many vendors. Only Olive Tree sells (and sometimes gives away) Bibles and reference material for its own system, but the point is content is distributed on a platform-agnostic basis for free readers. Apple wants everything sold through their store. Hmmmm. The Spy isn't giving up his accumulated eBooks (mostly from Fictionwise and Mobi) or pocket Bibles (KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB+lex, GNT, Gramcord, Darby, Douay, LITV, NET, NLT, Vulgate, Young) just to put OS X in his pocket--not even for the iconic iPhone, thank you very much. You thought there were a lot of telephony acronyms.


The Book of the Month

is Design Accessible Web Sites by Jeremy J. Sydik, from The Pragmatic Bookshelf imprint of O'Reilly Media. Given the growing emphasis on opening up the Internet to persons with disabilities, this is a timely tome. DAWS is best read by managers or senior programmers, for it is largely an extended argument for constructing web sites from the get go with accessibility in mind.

Some of the ideas and techniques mentioned could as easily be included in a polemic on good planning. More specifically, practical issue discussion abounds, particularly with respect to visual impairment. Techniques are discussed to order data flow for readers, for checking colour blindness issues with the chosen palate, for ensuring keyboard accessibility to links, for using style sheets and scripts appropriately, and for complying with various accessibility standards (some of which are legislated, by the way.)

For someone like the Spy, who likes to experiment with the more esoteric aspects of element placement and scripting (including AJAX) that underpin the more complex Web 2.0 pages, this is a troubling book. CSS tags that affect layout, graphical content incorporating text for security reasons, DOM manipulation to achieve placement effects, any use of PDF, and AJAX techniques for incorporating dynamic content incorporation without reloading a page are all problematic for accessibility. Sydik mentions but does not address these in detail, and the drift of the book is that designers should avoid techniques that render sites via visually-oriented methods that trump the linear HTML flow. This would not be easy for someone who employs such CSS tags, for instance, to eliminate tables as a layout technique, or calls dynamic content into cells. Resolving such issues may require a new look at HTML, JavaScript, and related standards.

These are huge issues for sites generated or funded by government agencies, institutions, or large corporations, which often are bound by specific accessibility codes. Sydik has done project managers a big favour by bringing accessibility matters together under one cover, even if he doesn't provide as many detailed answers as he does general ones. Highly recommended and very thought provoking reading. Your sites may benefit more than you think.


Seen in the wild

are several versions of a new Trojan aimed at OS X systems. AppleScript.THT exploits a vulnerability in Apple remote desktop Agent and can take over a machine as root. The trojan is distributed as a compiled AppleScript called ASthtv05 or an application bundle called AStht. It moves itself into the /Library/Caches folder, and adds itself to the System Login items.

Of course, being a trojan, it has to be downloaded and run before anything happens. Following good sanitary habits with web sites and the downloads they offer should be sufficient to protect most people. The more adventuresome need to keep their malware scanning software up to date. What else is new?


--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.


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Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com

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Rogers iPhone Pricing: http://www.rogers.com/web/content/wireless-products/iphone_voice_data_packages

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Last Updated: 2008 07 02