The Northern Spy
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
iSteve is no Ichabod Crane
and Cupertino no Sleepy Hollow. Neither can he be accused of sleeping on his jobs. Quarter by quarter the little Cupertino outfit he manages for a buck a year and perks continues to introduce and refine products, open stores, persuade us to want, sell everything but the fixtures, and rack up record profits. Given enough quarters, its stash will eventually amount to real money, perhaps enough to buy a surplus satellite network so Apple can hang up on the phone companies.
Neither can the Spy (sleep, that is), though there's many nights he'd like to. This business of taking thousands of dollars worth of antibiotics a year for a painful and stubborn infection needs to stop sometime, but meanwhile the bliss of sleep is often elusive, coming and going at random with the passing of the nights.
The same is true of his (relatively) new MacBookPro. Taking their cue from the ever alert and active Mr. Lively Presentation, Apple's engineers seem, through several hardware and OS generations, never to have made sleep work quite correctly (if that isn't a contrary turn of phrase).
Fer instance, the Spy's old home office machine, a G4 tower tricked out with dual 1.8 GHz processors and 1.5G of memory, a few extra ports, and connected through a KVM switch to a 23-inch Apple monitor (who uses stock computers?), behaves much like son Joel when he was a wee one. It won't go to sleep on its own at all (the airplane engine fan betrays it even when the monitor is in energy save mode), and when you explicitly tell it, the command may have to be repeated three or four times before it obeys. Bad case of Blake--tiger, tiger burning bright.... 'Course, if you plan to switch away to another computer via that KVM switch, you must do so after issuing a specific sleep command, but before it has taken effect. Otherwise, moving the switch disconnects the USB ports, which wakes the box back up again. And, if it were now to go to sleep without a monitor actually connected, it would never properly awaken without a reboot. Bummer.
And the MacBookPro? This one is an 2.6 GHz Intel Core Duo with 4G of RAM and running Leopard (though bought just before the recent minor processor bump). What the Spy likes to do is pop the machine on to a BookEndz cradle at the office, be able to KVM back and forth to a (lots-of-life-left-in-it) G5 Quad (must use above sleep procedure on each switch), back up at the end of the day, and take the machine home to an identical cradle (and KVM) there. Gotta remember to issue a sleep command first, then disconnect from the cradle before the slow flash indicates the command has taken effect. Otherwise, the machine wakes back up in the dark, gets scared, and can't display any monitor, even its own, without rebooting. And, one more thing. When it is awakened on a different cradle, the external trackball won't work until one lifts the Pro's cover and clicks the internal trackpad once. Switching to mobile use (i.e. using the built-in screen) sometimes won't work without rebooting, and Bluetooth often gets the blues under these conditions as well. Don't repeat Apple's line that the machine is supposed to be rebooted every time its environment changes. That's not how mobility should work.
At least the Spy has not had the 10.5.2 problem some have reported with getting closed-cover operation to work at all. Boot in open cover with the cradle disconnected, connect it, wait for the external monitor to light up, test the external trackball, close the lid and wait about a minute. The Pro should do a lid-close sleep than reawaken with the external peripherals still active.
Oh, always buy a spare battery for those longer flights, though take note that you cannot any longer put the machine to sleep, change batteries, then wake it up again unless the external power adapter is attached. Gotta remember to shut down, change, and restart. A backward step. That magnetic power connector is definitely all itÕs cracked up to be, by the way. Seems to take an Apple engineer to think of the obvious.
Speaking of BlueTooth, Kensington has a nice little combo wireless mouse/marble trackball that makes a handy mobile/presentation device. A tiny marble takes some getting used to after a Kensington Expert Mouse Pro, though. (The Spy likes cats, hates mice.)
And that KVM? Well, the Spy used to use a Dr. Bott four-port rotary switch with DVI, but the one at the office croaked, so he replaced it with a push button job from Iogear. Nice, compact, functional little box, though it has USB connectors both front and back, which makes it look a little odd. 'Course, the Spy needs all three ports. This box also switches audio, though he hasn't gotten around to setting that up yet.
The Leopard herself? Well, a month of work convinces the Spy of his initial impression--interesting, but hardly revolutionary (for the user), with two exceptions. Spaces is a nifty concept, but the whole thing has an unfinished air to it, and one sometimes finds oneself being switched from one space to another for no apparent reason than the use of a dialog or search box that is determined to live in another space.
The other worthwhile addition is Time Machine. The Spy's home router (a Hawking) died an intermittent heat death (the worst electronic kind, because the deceased keeps sitting up and taking a breath or two so you delay measuring it for a coffin). Finally, he went out and got a shiny new Time Vault router-cum-backup gizmo. Turn on Time Machine in Leopard, tell it which partitions/directories you don't want backed up, and it does an incremental archive hourly. Very nice as a secondary backup device, though the Spy will continue to back up at home and office independently.
Meanwhile, Palm continues to slouch
toward the long sleep. Latest to be tossed abed without a pillow is Opera, who were offering an alternative to Palm's simple out-of-the-box browser. Not any more. For reasons perhaps never to be revealed, Palm and its license to distribute IBM's JVM kit have been separated from one another. No JVM, no Opera browser. Too bad.
Perforce, however, the Spy will keep his battered Treo 600 awake and running a little longer, for iSteve has only in the last few days blessed a carrier in the great white north with an iPhone license (to print money). Several rumoured announce dates came and went in tense silence, with some observers expecting major market shuffles. Here's the plot: Rogers/Fido is the only Canadian carrier on GSM (the technology Apple uses), but has no unlimited data plans and charge a firstborn son for what data they do pass through the thousands of unlocked iPhones happily running on their network. (See the Spy's first and sixth laws.) Meanwhile, rivals Bell and Telus employ a CDMA network technology, so aren't in the picture. Yet.
The SpyÕs thinking was that the folk at Rogers dreamt they had iSteve over a barrel on this one because they were the only game in town. They shouldn't, and he wasn't. One scuttle with Rogers as its butt was a scenario that saw Apple doze till Telus switched to EDGE/GSM, then froze the recalcitrant Rogers out of the market. A similar ending had a higher level G3 twist. Either way, the net (sic) result would have seen Bell marginalized, Telus dominant, and Rogers with an even bigger black eye.
But someone woke up and smelled the money in time, because late in April Rogers and Apple announced theyÕd finally formalized a deal to introduce the iPhone on RogerÕs network, and this was accompanied by at least a hint of a major change in the way Rogers charges for data. No definite indication of a timeline, but look for new models with new capabilities first.
By the way, is it just the Spy, or is this market sector awash in acronyms? He spent an hour or so deciphering and diagramming the relationship among GSM, GPRS, EGPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPA, HSUPA, HSDPA, UMTS (rev 8), LTE, SOPA, UMTS-TD, UMB, EVDO, CMDA 2000 3x, CMDA 2000, WCDMA, CDMA 1xRTT, and CDMA (not an exhaustive list). Really, folks.
Doing a wakeup call on all the OS bases
the Spy dons his webhosting hat to mention his recent purchase and installation of the WHMCS system on his commercial CentOS (Linux for the unwashed) server for billing and support. While the name gives away that WHMCS was designed initially to support web hosts in their billing of cPanel-enabled machines (whose root/reseller panel is called WHM), this product is capable of being the management, accounting, and support system for other hosting environments, for domain vending, or indeed for any product a retailer might want to sell or support--hardware, software, eBooks, or services.
Returning to computing in the small, he decided to buy a license for WHMCS Mobile as well--on the Treo for now, but later on the ITC (iPhone-to-come). This latter package installs on the server with a few extra files, has its own server URL and product license, and doesn't offer the full functionality available through the full screen browser URL. However, on balance, this is a great idea, well-implemented, and worth the money. It allows a support or billing tech the ability to handle many issues effectively while away from the main computer.
And, speaking of the ITC, the Spy anticipates that the release of the SDK, even with Apple controlling the product and distribution channel, will result in an explosion of applications. In particular, expect several eBook readers to appear now that it's evident Apple doesn't want to do this themselves. Adobe, MobiPocket and others can fill the gap--assuming iSteve decides to sell the content (which appears to be the only model he will permit.)
Next Month's column
will be shorter, may include a book review, will be written a little earlier, but may not appear on the Spy's own site until after June 5. The reason: He will be in Ireland, land of his ancestors, taking several thousand pictures of sites he uses in his novels, but has never seen with his own eyes. Should be interesting. Until then.
--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.
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