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The Northern Spy
October 2008

Hot News, Cool Views

Rick Sutcliffe

The heat of summer has passed

for most of us, but Apple has a few heat problems of their own not yet resolved. Seems iSteve's lads and lassies have been going for small and quiet lately--a welcome change from the aircraft engine fans some machines needed a few short years ago. However, quiet skates a thin red line next to hot, and system/environmental variability may result in crossing that line unbeknownst to designers who cheat on the three hundred percent engineers' safety factor.

Thus the Spy has reports of undue numbers of AirBooks expiring of heat stroke. These cannot be personally confirmed, as an AirBook is a tad too light for his taste or needs. However, personal experience (shared by numerous others complaining on the usual boards) indicates that Apple may have been a trifle ambitious when packing components into the TimeVault.

He bought his own TimeVault in the early spring of 2008, set it up to replace the dead Hawking G router, and configured TimeMachine to do its magic--though only as a tertiary backup, mind. One should never trust technology. Five months later, in mid September, his MacBookPro rang down the RCOD (Rolling Curtain of Death) while trying to mount the Vault's drive. Understand that though he'd seen the RCOD before on other Apple machines, this was a first for this unit in the months he's owned it. Moreover, it happened on every connect attempt. Further investigation showed that the AirPort (wireless) was dead as well, though the wired router continued to function. Noting that the unit was very hot, he unplugged it to cool a while. Nada. Double checking with alternate wiring, a direct connection, and another router eliminated all other possibilities for the fault.

Tentative probable cause: heat death from too many components packed into a small volume. Subsequent Internet investigation indicated that others have had this same problem, usually after using the wireless for a large data transfer such as a backup. Though that was not the case in this instance, it is instructive that the wireless did die with the drive. Apple needs to install either a spin-down in the firmware or a fan.

Anyway, back in the crate with manuals and disks went the shiny white box for a trip back to London Drugs Computer Department from whence it had come. The nice young man at the counter (they get younger every year) was at a loss to know what to do (store 30-day warranty expired, manufacturer one-year still in effect, boss gone home), and the duty manager he called appeared to have been working in cosmetics. However, true to good training, they decided to be customer centric and exchange the unit for a new one rather than send it to Apple on the Spy's behalf and leave him without for a few weeks. Well done, London Drugs, and a happy customer.

Not until the incident was over did the Spy realize why he felt a bit of a klutz throughout his time at the counter--he'd never before had occasion to return an Apple product. Oh, his university had done so once or twice, but there were technicians to handle the grotty details in those cases. Yes this was his first failure of a personally owned Apple branded product since 1978. Hmmm. Oh, the new unit also seems very warm. How long will it last?

John Demco,

father of the Canadian Internet for running the .cdn (later .ca) ccTLD off his desk at UBC for more than a decade, was honoured as an industry pioneer last month by having a learning centre in the UBC computing science building named after him. It was a fine affair, with lots of kind speeches, a plaque to unveil, and plenty of food for the students to stuff into their mouths and knapsacks.

Good on UBC. Good on gentleman John. The whole ccTLD operation was of course turned over to CIRA (the Canadian Internet Registration Authority) when the government created its as a non-profit Corporation around the turn of the millennium. CIRA had to pay UBC for the IP rights and database, and got John as a permanent ex officio board member in return. With the last payment now made, it was time to acknowledge a true visionary.

Concurrent with the unveiling, CIRA had its AGM in nearby Vancouver. Some one-hundred-forty members attended, passed a few motions, and got to question the board, president, and CIRA officials. Democracy in action. Would that all TLDs ran with at least this much opportunity for domain holders to have their say. Next CIRA event is the October ninth board meeting in Ottawa, by which time there could be as many as five new elected board members. Disclaimer on this story: The Spy serves on the CIRA board as an elected member.

The Case of the Errant Ad Agency

haunts Microsoft as we drift into the month for such activities. After producing three (but apparently only airing two) Jerry Seinfeld ads to scathing reviews, the company has changed tacks and tried to roll with Apple's punches by adopting and trying to redeem the wimpy "I'm a PC" label in a new ad series. It didn't take the real geeks long to discover that the hired ad agency hadn't read the party line before they went ahead and produced the work on a Mac. Whoops a daisy.

Under one of his other hats,

the Spy does a little web hosting to help pay the bills and keep him up to date. This is all very straightforward with the amazing cPanel hosting software. A few months ago, he decided to bite the bullet and put in an automated billing and support package that could communicate with box and customers, provision accounts, suspend non-payers, and so forth. After extensive research to locate the best such package, he purchased WHMCS (Web Hosting Manager Complete Solution) but at a slightly reduced rate from reseller LicensePal. At the time he did his own install and customization, but when it came time to upgrade this week to 3.7.1 from 3.6, he decided to pay LicensePal the $10 they wanted to do the job for him. If only there were more than just the thirty hours in a day.

Might be the best ten loonies he's ever laid down (well, plus exchange). The job was done quickly, efficiently, and correctly. More, a support question about WHMCS (probably unrelated to the install) was answered immediately and politely for no additional charge. Jay, owner and techie for LicensePal, rates support and retail hero of the week. If you're a web host looking for billing automation, buy lotsa your stuff from him.

Yes, and the WHMCS 3.7.1 upgrade itself is well worth it. With nicer layouts for some information, new functionality, and more modules, WHMCS continues to blow the competition away. Now, if only they would write a module to communicate directly to CIRA, registrars (not just resellers) of .ca domains could integrate WHMCS into their online business models.

Book of the month

goes to XSLT by Doug Tidwell, and published (of course) by O'Reilly. This is an updated edition, now covering XSLT 2.0, but without removing information specific to XSLT 1.0.

Understand that this is neither a textbook nor a beginners' book for "dummies", but a professional manual and reference (964 pages complete with examples). XML transformations are covered in exhaustive detail, top to bottom, but the reader is assumed to be familiar with XML and with the basic idea behind XSLT--that of writing XML sheets that provide the framework for the transformation of a syntactically correct XML document into...well, just about any other kind of structured document, such as, but certainly not limited to, an HTML page. Data in an XML document can be spat out as part of a site in a variety of formats on different pages, for instance.

It's pretty common these days for web hosts to compile Apache with XSLT turned on by default, so a large percentage of sites can benefit from these techniques.

As usual when reviewing an O'Reilly offering, the Spy highly recommends this manual to those who can make use of it. You don't exactly read a book like this, and not everyone wants to to do things this way, but if you need to know how to use XSLT, this book had better be on your shelf.

--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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Last Updated: 2008 09 29