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The Northern Spy
July 2013

Opening The Wallet

Rick Sutcliffe

In the aftermath

of WWDC, the Spy notes his reader saw it here first--a modular multi-core MacPro, that is, a closed box with all expandability through external ports. He thought an all-in-one design possible, and didn't foresee the cylinder, but rightly saw the demise of the tower more than a year ago. Doubled Thunderbolt speed will be nice, and it will be great to get the desktop machine back on the desk from the floor. With that kind of connection, the internal expansion bus is redundant, but peripheral manufacturers will have to do a little better with the interface than the weak offerings so far. Perhaps this is one reason the machine has been announced, but not released. Another may be that the first shipping chip may not be what was shown at WWDC, for the Pro may get a processor and speed bump before the first units can even be ordered. The Spy wants one, and anticipates matching cylindrical expansion units on the market by the time the new Pro hits the stores.

He greets IOS7 with a yawn, however, for his computing needs are all about work, and little about play. It's nice to carry pictures around, have a few apps for news and sports reading and checking auctions on eBay, but real work still needs to be done in a comfortable chair with a good well-positioned keyboard and large screens driven by a CPU with some horsepower to compile and run his programs. His iPod Touch is a still-working and adequate mere second generation, and his bad experiences with cell provider Rogers have him soured on that technology--likely for a very long time, if not permanently. Who outside the instant generation (until they are twenty-something with responsibilities) wants to sacrifice peace for instant always-on connectivity? Not him, and many people he knows are returning to land lines for their primary phones. An iPad is a possibility, perhaps in a mini, but he's got other technology needs of higher priority--such as a new tractor to replace his aging John Deere.

Purchase of the month-1

The Spy isn't exactly a global warming skeptic, but does consider the case still open in some respects, for it appears to him more of a global climate redistribution issue. Where he lives (on the left coast) the weather has certainly changed over the last few decades, but the alterations seem to average out--less extreme cold in the winter, but more uniformly cool, dreary, rainy winter days, so that the average temperature is little changed (excepting three years ago when he shovelled more snow in one month than in the previous thirty years combined). The number of hot summer days is lower, and the extremes of high temperature absent as well. That is, the law of averages, far from being repealed, is alive, well, and operating with a vengeance. Mind, these are but anecdotal observations from a single station, and no basis for general conclusions. Moreover, the Spy grew up in Calgary, whose centre last week was under water from unprecedented floods. There was a time when twenty-five centimetres of rain was the year's precipitation there, and half that might arrive in a single fifteen minute June thunderstorm. But that centre is built in a flood valley for two rivers, and flood valleys periodically do...er...flood. Otherwise they'd be called something else. Calgary will be years recovering, and the Saddledome's electronics in particular are wasted, though the Stampede will go on.

The Spy's private theory (with nothing to back it whatsoever, so take this as less than an unsubstantiated Apple rumour) is that if the Arctic melts, leaving Alaska and Yukon temperate, cooler moist air moving south could increase precipitation in the Rocky Mountains, rebuilding some of the glaciers there with a vengeance in very short order. We may live in interesting times. Stop the earth and let a few people get off?

But all this is preface to his decision to install a heat pump to allow indoor comfort whenever the outdoors is in a different temperature mood than deemed satisfactory--whatever the direction. When he designed his current house twenty-one years ago, he allowed for a furnace room space that would permit later installation of an air conditioner. Now, the furnace, never more than 75% efficient when new, was getting long in duct, and even a philtre, as Mr. Rochester termed it, could not revive its weary feats. It was time.

Interestingly, every major brand of high efficiency furnace and heat pump combo boasts a plethora of online nattering nabobs of negativity. (Two brownie points for naming the originator of that expression.) In the end, he bought the brand with the least such (secondary reason: on sale for a not-too-bad price). So, today he and wife are the owners of an Amana/Goodman 96.1% efficiency furnace and 15 SEER heat pump controlled by a Honeywell RedLink wireless thermostat system. The latter has an internet gateway the Spy well may eventually add, allowing him to control the system from his iPod or Mac, wherever accessing the net.

All works well, and the install by Campbellcare (a BC lower mainland company) was fast, clean, efficient, and highly professional--except he had to call to their attention a modest underbilling error. Their quote (on a special sale) was $2500CDN below direct competitors for the same equipment, and more than that against other brands. The Spy did of course take out his own electrical permit and do that part of the work, saving an estimated $400 over a professional, with the added peace of mind that comes from knowing the wiring is correct and safe. This has not always been his experience with licensed electricians, sorry to say. That men of such ilk these many years ago having rough wired a few dead shorts into his new house was disconcerting to say the least. (Can you say ker-bang!! loudly enough, with sparks?) Apprentice work should be more carefully supervised and inspected, says he. He finished the job back then on his own permit. (He did the whole job in the previous house, but didn't have time that second go-round. The early seventies' rule for split three-wire kitchen receptacles was his idea, and the new rule on GFI outlets next to sinks will, he predicts, last only until such technology can also be produced in splits, and then we will return to his method, suitably modified.)

The genius of a heat pump is that the Physics of moving heat from one place to another renders the process far more efficient than that of generating heart from some other form of energy. The current arrangement allows the Spy to balance off heating with gas or electricity according to the weather and energy prices, while still having the advantage of cooling availability on the fewer-than-ever hot summer days that climate change currently inflicts upon us. Time will tell whether the money saved on heating offsets that spent on air conditioning, but the latter is generally only needed a few days a year her in the frozen north. After all, when one lives in an igloo...

Purchase of the month-2

The Spy noted in this space a couple of months ago his search for a (slightly) oversized printing solution. He had also thought it a good idea to be able to print colour photographs. There isn't much in laser printers that can do over the standard paper size without spending big loonies. Neither does that class have a good reputation for photographs. So he considered ink printers, particularly those from Canon and Epson.

In the end, a good deal from London Drugs, a manufacturer's rebate and the eight-plus-one-ink system led him to the Epson Stylus Photo R3000--pretty much the top of the line for this class of printer. This printer uses Epson's Ultra Chrome K3 ink system (#157 cartridges) and will handle up to thirteen by forty-four inch images (the latter via a roll attachment) so can easily manage his nine by twelve jobs (sorry about the inches, but that's the photo industry for you). Combined with the archival quality paper from School Specialty (item 053925; 230 by 305mm, fifty pound weight and all it was promised to be--excellent paper) this makes printing album pages a breeze. The workflow is: scan from Epson perfection V700 Photo; use GraphicConverter to alter contrast, saturation, and brightness, switch to sixteen greys, add margins to nine by twelve, reopen in Preview and print from there, flip and print other side (no duplexing).

The Spy is merely an amateur photographer, but is impressed by the quality of colour photos produced by the R3000. He and wife Joyce prefer matte finish, and the Ilford Galerie Professional Inkjet perl finish paper seems to do the trick. The results in the six by eight and five by seven sizes are stunning, even with JPEG quality files. Note that Epson makes a variety of papers, but their size choices in matte are limited. Note also that in order to output to high gloss paper, the printer mode must be changed from matte black to a photo black ink (both cartridges are installed, but lines have to be flushed, wasting ink). The Spy seems unlikely to use the photo black, however, so that cartridge may sit there indefinitely--opened, but unused.

Unlike other inkjets, there is no screen or card interface on the printer, though it does have wireless, USB and Ethernet. On the other hand, via a special tray it can print on heavy media or printable CD/DVD disks, and it has an attachment for printing on paper or canvass rolls. Time will tell whether or not the machine has workhorse endurance as well as workhorse capacity and capabilities, but the B/W output is nearly indistinguishable from laser, and the photos are as good as anything the Spy has seen a commercial processor produce. All in all, a fine solution to his two problems, even if a little overkill.

The Spy has not done extensive testing, but is advised by those who claim to know that apart from the Ilford brand, other suppliers' papers should only be used with their own brand of printer, else the ink may not bond properly. He also notes that even when printing black-and-white, some colour ink is expended, and that the yellow seems to go down faster than anything else.

As a final note on this technology, the cost per page or print has yet to be determined. The Spy knows from work that very large format ink jets come in at about $1CDN per square foot (commercial printers charge three times that). With the paper he's using twenty cents per print plus the ink plus depreciation on the printer amounts to ??? He notes that at $35CDN per ink cartridge, Epson could probably give away even this high end model and still make money selling their few drops of ink at a time. "Buy by the carload and sell by the pound" has apparently become "buy by the supertankerload and sell by the picolitre." The Spy will consider alternative ink suppliers and resettable/reusable cartridges.

The pitter pater of lesser feats

award of the month goes to previously ultra-reliable Atjeu data centre, who managed to badly mess up a server move for the Spy's WebNameHost. His virtual server (containing the company web site, including the MAS.arjayenterprises.net management, billing and support system) was deemed on an unstable node, so was moved--by installing a fresh cPanel and moving the sites. Why is that so bad? All his custom settings and software (some licensed) vanished into the ether, and had to be re-set/re-installed, consuming some six hours of valuable time better spent writing books. What's worse, this was the second time in just a few months. On the last occasion, they restored the whole VM, but using a six-months' old copy, thus rolling back his billing system, which promptly set about sending out overdue notices for accounts already paid, and suspending a dozen or more sites. This sort of thing didn't happen under Jeff Lord's watch, and the Spy is obviously not a happy camper. Neither is the correct way to move a VM, so put them on watch for a reliability downgrade. Late addition: These comments are mitigated by Atjeu's having added a full month to the VM contract expiry date. This at least is an appropriate response in the aftermath of a total foulup. Thanks, Brandon.

Kudos once again though to Sarah at ConfigServer, who, though understandably not willing to reinstall their server software suite (say that three times, quickly) free of charge, pointed the Spy to their free re-installer (the IP for the license hadn't changed), allowing him to complete the fixup job without cost (except in valuable time.) By the way, their free software is good, their paid software and services superb. Every cPanel server, whether dedicated or VM, should have their suite installed, and Sarah has always done an excellent job. Lots of other companies could learn from them.


from the Spy on Canada's birthday (the first), marking his own (on the third) and oh, yes, for that other the little country to the south of Canada on the fourth.

--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 or consultant with the boards of several community and 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 six+ 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? 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 Amazon's Booksurge.

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

URLs for items mentioned in this column:


Epson R3000: http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/Product.do?BV_UseBVCookie=yes&sku=C11CA86201

School Specialty: https://store.schoolspecialty.com/OA_HTML/ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?minisite=10206&item=456245

Epson R3000: http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/Product.do?BV_UseBVCookie=yes&sku=C11CA86201

Atjeu: http://www.atjeu.com

ConfigServer: http://www.configserver.com/

This Arjay Enterprises page is Copyright 1983-2013.
The Northern Spy is registered at WebNameSource.com and is hosted by WebnameHost.net.
Last Updated: 2013 04 30