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The Northern Spy
September 2005

Songs, Stories, and Software

Rick Sutcliffe

iPod Nano

is the latest addition to Apple Computer's runaway success in portable music products. This isn't a new Shuffle, but a miniaturized iPod with a screen and click wheel in 500 (2G) and 1000 (4G) song versions. To make room in the market, Apple discontinued the iPod mini. The nano model has photo capabilities like its big brothers, and is available in either black or white, but in a possible harbinger, has only USB (no FireWire). Thin as a pencil and starting at $US 199, this latest Pod ought to add millions more units to the quarterly sales figure, extending Apple's dominance of the music player market. Note to competitors: It ain't over 'till the thin lady sings.

iTunes Phone

By contrast the new iTunes-enabled Motorola ROKR cell phones (Cingular network) that Apple announced at the same time seem pedestrian by comparison. Perhaps it's just that these were rumoured for so long their actual advent seems anticlimactic. The new phones hold 100 tunes, and ought to make good novelty Christmas gifts.

The Spy thinks of this one as a testing of the waters. If it is well received, the company could still make its own phone (with a more striking design) launch its own branded network, and/or pop cell phone circuits into one or more iPods. Stay tuned. This is probably only the beginning..

Taking Stock (Apple's, that is)

seems to be what a lot of investors are up to these days, as they drive once maligned AAPL to new record highs, and prompt investment houses to set ever higher target prices. The Spy is NOT an investment advisor, but thinks it's a little late to be buying for value.

In other releases,

Nisus Software this week released version 2.5 of its flagship product, Nisus Writer Express. Not to be confused with the old Nisus Writer (Classic) this product is the still not quite full featured version that runs in OS X. Improvement for this release include right to left text entry (attention Hebrew scholars) bullets, numbering, better style sheets, better compatibility with the classic version, and faster file opening. Thanks to a little interaction with the Spy, NWE 2.5 also now saves correct .rtf files, that is, ones that W*rd will open without losing most of the formatting.

There's no doubt Express is improving. It's come a long way from the lame product it was at the beginning. However, it still lacks numerous features from the classic version. Most important to the Spy are mail merge, invisible text, and the ability to compare two files. Although NWE is now much faster than its competition, it cannot hold a candle to the Classic version in this respect. The Spy must continue to work on chapter files of his novels and textbooks in Classic, merge them there, open the merged file in NWE, and then apply final styles and minor editing for final publication. Files that contain HTML markup in invisible text will have to stay in Classic for now. What seems worrisome is that the new Intel-based versions of OS X are not currently slated to run classic at all.

Nisus Writer Express is also one of a group of applications employing a new "Link Back" technology that is supposed to duplicate the old "Publish and Subscribe" of OS 9 (something Apple has yet to get around to putting into OS X, and here supported by a public domain library). You build a document from pieces pasted in from a variety of other applications. Clicking on one of the pieces pulls up the original document in its application, and editing it there is reflected in the merged version. Unfortunately, the Spy doesn't own any other Link Back enabled applications, and NWE does not seem to be able to work this trick among its own documents, so he cannot test this potentially useful feature. Still, there's light at the end of the tunnel. Soon, NWE will be a worthy book writer's tool. If only the iPod were equally worthy for book reading.

In further news from Redmond,

The good news appeared at one point to be that September's patches for that other OS would contain only one critical repair. However, the monthly patch has now been cancelled. No word on whether the critical problem turned out not to be, or the patch itself was found to be transparent to hackers and had to be retooled. Meantime, users over there must live with yet another crack in the pain.

Language wars

have been fought from time to time by computer programmers boosting their favourite notation for writing the programs everyone else uses. We've gone through periods when hundreds of such notations were available, each with their enthusiastic proponents, though in recent years, the choices have narrowed considerably as many companies have elected to use some version of C++, despite there being far more readable and far less bug-prone options available. However, the existing notations all have their flaws, and there is never any shortage of language designers determined to improve on the genre by writing the greatest means ever devised for communication with computers.

A new option opened up this last month with the start of a project to produce an Objective Modula-2. Modelled on the same marriage of Smalltalk and C that yielded Objective C, the new notation would extend base Modula-2 with similar Smalltalk-like extensions, and add a small number of other features to improve the marriage. One goal is to allow programming in the OS X Cocoa environment using the more readable Modula-2 notation. Objective Modula-2 would be built atop the GNU Modula-2 compiler, one that is already compatible with Niklaus Wirth's "PIM3" revised definition of that language, and that will eventually also be ISO standard compatible as well.

This project ought to be of great interest to the many diehard Pascal programmers from the early Macintosh days who've never been comfortable with the cryptic and nearly unreadable (by comparison) C-like notations that have proliferated in recent years. It certainly interests the Spy, who participated as Canada's representative in the ISO Modula-2 standardization for over a decade, edited the entire standard twice, and composed the Generic Modula-2 supplement. True, the new effort would mean extending base Modula-2 for object orientation in a different way than the ISO committee did, but it might breathe new life into an old favourite notation from the eighties. Watch for information at objective-m2.org. Meanwhile, there is also a Wikki article available. (Links below)

--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 of which was named best in the science fiction genre 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.


The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com

WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net

WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net

nameman : http://nameman.net

Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com

Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com

Fictionwise: http://www.fictionwise.com

The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm

Modula-2: http://www.modula-2.com

Objective Modula-2: http://www.objective-m2.org

Wikki on Objective Modula-2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objective_Modula-2

GNU Modula-2: http://floppsie.comp.glam.ac.uk/Glamorgan/gaius/web/GNUModula2.html

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Last Updated: 2006 11 08