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The Northern Spy
November 2014

iScream for iScreens

Rick Sutcliffe

The new iPhone six plus

is just about everything Apple has touted--sufficient screen real estate, speed, snazzy design, plus runnable iOS enhancements to last for...well, the next year or two for some folk, though the Spy will make his serve far longer. Delivery took over a month from the order date, and except for a last minute glitch where the truck returned it to the depot (quitting time apparently arrived before the UPS driver did) was near the beginning of the initially forecast range.

Setup took much of an afternoon. The Spy was partially prepared. He'd backed up his old iPod Touch (second generation: comments to be taken in said context) whose inability to run modern software was the driving force for an upgrade, and had obtained a nano SIM card (essential for initial setup). But he forgot the ivory basement is behind an Internet policy restriction that requires each device to be locally web-browser validated once per semester, and wasted some initial time being told his iCloud and AppleID password were invalid when the real problem was that he had no connection as yet. Ahem. Poor error messaging here. Fix needed.

Solution: hard wire connect to iTunes. After handing in the passwords and doing the initial setup, a restore was in order, followed by an update of some sixty apps, then a search and destroy for old apps whose names had been changed and so weren't auto-updated. The latter had to have new settings applied as the old were not transferred. The old then had to be deleted from iTunes. In a few instances, even upgraded apps did not get their settings entirely carried over. After that, he got Safari up, validated with the WI-FI and continued in a more normal mode. 'Course, the first time he went to use apps like Olive Tree, all the books in his account had to be re-downloaded, some with updates. Took a while.

The Spy remains paranoid about security in the cloud, and allowed it to store only contacts and calendars, not passwords. (He uses Thunderbird, not Apple Mail. Indeed his only Apple App is Safari, and that merely part-time.) Files get backups from iOS to Mac, and from Mac to a portable physical drive, restored at home in the evening, backed up to a different drive partition in the morning, then restored at work--with rotation among three portable units for this task, two Time Machine backups at either end, and periodic dumps to glass disks and/or his server in Arizona. (Why the latter? Because the frozen North has the typical RO factor for both server and bandwidth. Cross that bump on the forty-ninth parallel, and many prices double, or the goods become entirely unavailable because of exclusive territorial agreements. See Amazon for some of the worst examples. It's the Canadian way, apparently.) Data loss is rare, but not impossible under this regimen. But hey, when you deal in 300K-word books and detailed student records, lost data is far more serious even than lost time.

Once running, the extra real estate on the screen is the biggest Plus plus. The Olive Tree Bible reader has twenty-five percent more text on half the screen when in split English-Greek mode now than the old iTouch could manage on a full screen (not as much difference from an iPhone 4 or 5, but still substantial). The typical pictorial news reader program now displays two items per screen rather than one.

The OS has new modes of operation that may be old hat to the reader who's kept it more up-to date than the Spy's old Touch allowed. Chief among these is the way of handling "parked" apps--ones that have been run and whose icons are available with a double tap on the go button. These now have a miniaturized touchable representation of the last screen above the icon, but more important, retain their state far better than before, so no longer behave as if just starting up when the user switches in. This is important for apps with large data sets. For instance, starting Olive Tree either cold or from park mode (after some unspecified delay) could take nearly a minute before, but is now instantaneous. Starting iBooks has a comparable improvement--three or four seconds instead of over forty. [The latter two are a product of both OS and hardware improvements, but are not true multitasking as yet.] There are also navigational and operational changes, including the deployment of gestures in ways that take some getting used to.

Apps such as Yahoo Sports have been upgraded so much they no longer have either the dame name or recognizable behaviour, and have to be re-learned. Other, such as banking apps that take advantage of new iOS features can be loaded and run in iOS8 (some could in 7) but not earlier. After looking over the iOS8 underbelly at WWDC, the Spy anticipates many more apps will soon become non-backward compatible, making 8 a true watershed in Apple's ecosystem.

Finally, having a camera facing each way is nice, but not likely to replace the Spy's Canon SLR for real, though amateur photography. As note on this though--the Spy and wife were given a photo-shoot by our kids for a forty-fifth anniversary, and the spectacular results produced by a truly skilled professional photographer remind the Spy of his amateur status. Phone photos are another step down, though they are improving. If you live in or near the lower mainland of B.C., and need family or baby photos, contact Michelle at With Heart Photography. You won't regret it.

The only downsides to the iPhone six plus are high cost, slow delivery, and lack of peripheral availability, the latter two of which will gradually be solved. Non-plus machines were delivered to acquaintances in half the time. The supply of cases is limited to a few online stores, and screen protection film was not yet available even in Apple stores. The Spy would have preferred a full six-inch screen, though. Plenty of room still in his pocket.

The Spy has seen claims that the plus is not a one-hand machine, but in all but the bottom opposite corner (he has no hand preference) his big mitts have no trouble navigating alone. He regards the case-bending affair as fraudulent. Even tighter-than-skin pants wouldn't bend one of these puppies unless you sat on it, and if you did that to such a skinny-expensive device you're not bright enough to be allowed to own one anyway. Dropping it in the bathtub is still in the same bad idea category, by the way.

The iPhone plus, even at 5.5 inches, is a tablet as much as it is a phone. The Spy needs a large desktop with at least two good-sized screens for his work, so has no conceivable use for anything in the larger iPad line, though he recognizes that for more casual users such a device could replace a laptop, which in turn could replace a run-of-the-mill desktop (why that business continues to decline). So, the market changes once again. Don't be too surprised if the iPod line vanishes altogether, and the next unit announced as a Touch replacement is called the iPod micro. Next time, if not this one.

Bottom line: A worthy upgrade, considering how long it's been for him, or for the person who's finally realized how limited and clunky the competition is, but those happy with an iPhone5 running iOS8, might as well wait till their contract expires, for they gain only size, speed, and battery life for their bucks, and that may not be sufficient inducement unless "cool" rules. After all, technology is bought by the heart, not the head. How else can you explain enterprise choices?

"But", you say. "Speaking of contracts, I thought your previous experience with Rogers was so bad you would never sign up with a cell provider again." True, but the Spy hasn't yet, and won't with them. He's got SIM cards for four other carriers (they range from cheap to free) but actually connecting to the cell net is either for summertime away from WI-FI coverage, or awaits negotiating a very low-cost pay-for-use and month-to-month occasional usage deal. OTOH, he doesn't need a phone 99% of the time, and OTOH does not believe in financing a purchase with interest charges hidden away in a locked-in monthly contract where one isn't even informed of the true rate of usury, or sometimes even of material one-sided changes to the terms. Is this an expensive iPad Touch/micro iPod? Yup. But it does enable the Spy to assign OS8 as a programming platform in his Comparative Languages class next semester (Assignment set: ten programs, eight languages, at least three platforms.)


The Spy is less enthusiastic about upgrading MacOS, despite that apps are already appearing without backward compatibility. His bad experience with the beta trial at WWDC may have him spooked a little, but the defining reason is that on his production machine (the iOS one is for news, weather, mobile development, browsing, and monitoring his server) he cannot afford any down time. Yes, this release is likely more solid, given its extended public beta, but he'll play it safe and wait till a few days after the first maintenance release. Only then will he be in a position to test handoff, for instance. Meanwhile, he's cleaning up the old machines by removing obsolete or known incompatible software, getting ready for a better install than last time. Maybe next month. At least no more machines are being left behind. Anything that runs Mavericks will run Yosemite.

Other new Mac-ish items include

a brand new twenty-seven inch Apple Thunderbolt monitor/hub--overpriced for this panel, but does add the hub, reduce the wire clutter, bump down his other monitors and take a decade-old screen off the desk. What about TB drives? Well, not yet, though it seems the wave of the future. Let's hope that as a drive interface it beats eSATA expansion interfaces, which on the Mac are unreliable and unpredictable dogs compared to the ultra-dependable Firewire 800 and USB. The Spy is inclined to buy a combo USB3, FW800, TB drive enclosure, for he has one desktop with TB and the other without. He has also contacted a few standalone hub manufactures for possible review models as fodder for a future column. Let's see if any deign to answer.

The Spy plans to take his twenty three-inch Cinema Display and convert it to VESA-100 (adapter for this size no longer sold by Apple, but CDW Canada still had some) attach a desktop stand mount, then rotate it for editing large documents--all this to sit beside the newer monitor in landscape mode. More on this later when the gear arrives, but Apple should sell rotatable monitors. Not doing so is a big oversight in otherwise sterling products.

He also prefers a trackball to a trackpad. He's tried hard to get used to the latter, and they do have some good points, but a large diameter trackball is still the most comfortable and fastest pointing device made. However, one of his had died a few months ago, the Logitech replacement's small ball never felt right, and the other had an optical sensor starting to go blind, so he sprang for two of the new Kensington Super Mouse (wired) model. These have the large ball, a scrolling wheel around that, and four buttons around the perimeter, but not the six instant navigation buttons older models sported. Still sleek, smooth, and fast, plus the best user experience restored. Highly recommended.

Out with the old

This week also saw him discard an old and now dead G4 he'd been using as a house server/backup machine, and replace it with a spare single-processor G5 he picked up for peanuts. Hey, these still make good servers, even if they do only run Tiger. The future of his old G5 Quad is in doubt however--even when a production machine, it had too may heat issues that ended with the fan in high speed mode and a re-boot required--these the very reasons Apple abandoned the Power chips for Intel, despite the downgrade in architectural design that decision cost. IBM's lack of interest in solving those heat problems was precursor to their now complete exit from the consumer and small server hardware market. Good theoretical engineering, but in the end, poor maintenance of the IP in practical implementations set the state of the art back a generation.

Pity to see the once mighty giant in steep decline, but these days when you discard even the potential for consumer mindshare, overall marketshare inevitably suffers as well--even in the enterprise. That this is true in converse is amply demonstrated at Cupertino, where marketshare continues to ramp up at the expense of sad, tired, old, inadequate, poor-imitation W*nd*ws. R.I.P. Microsoft, which has lost its way sufficiently that even a new CEO won't find it again. Will IBM follow into oblivion?

Another Technological Adventure

has been provided this month by the introduction to the Spy's bedroom of a CPAP machine to control sleep apnea. The idea is to detect when apnea takes place by monitoring breathing, and apply air pressure to re-open the airways and re-start breathing before oxygen levels fall or sleep is interrupted. Too soon to say if it will work, though the first three nights' experiments were not very successful. More on this adventure and the technology involved another time--another maybe for next month.

--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 nine 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

The Fourth Civilization--Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed.): http://www.arjay.bc.ca/EthTech/Text/index.html

URLs for items mentioned in this column

CDW Canada: https://www.cdw.ca

iPhone6: http://www.apple.com/iphone/

Kensington: http://www.kensington.com

With Heart: http://withheart.ca

This Arjay Enterprises page is Copyright 1983-2014.
The Northern Spy is registered at WebNameSource.com and is hosted by WebnameHost.net.
Last Updated: 2014 11 30