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The Northern Spy
September 2008

Fall Follies

Rick Sutcliffe

Another shoe has dropped

in the iPhone saga. The Spy's loyal reader might recall him mentioning once or twice (ahem) that the typical business model for readers (give away the software, sell the content) is broken with respect to Apple's distribution system. Well, OliveTree software (Bible readers) has brought out an iPhone version of their reader, and their interim attempt to make something, (anything) work merely demonstrates how badly flawed Apple's control freak setup is.

To start with, OliveTree was selling the reader bundled with content. Fair enough, but what if you wanted to: (a) buy more content? or (b) move your already purchased content from, say, your Treo to your iPhone? Nyet to both. Content worked only with the reader in the same bundle, and you could buy only bundles or upgrades thereof (which, to be fair, were promised). Books sold for another platform could not be moved to the iPhone.

The Spy's advice: If you use your smart phone for a reader even an appreciable fraction of the time, don't move to an iPhone until Apple comes up with a better system for selling content-dependent software. The current one simply won't do.

On the brighter side,

the Spy notes that Apple's market capitalization has now exceeded Google's. To spin perspective on this, Apple's $157B market cap is triple that of Dell (hello Michael), a mere $12B behind IBM, and less than $100B behind the dysfunctional MS. How the world does turn.

And, speaking of the Treo,

the Spy sees that Palm recently brought out two new models. Perhaps there's life yet in the once-darling purveyor of smart phones. All that's needed now are a few contracts with phone companies to do bundling at reasonable cost, and a tad (OK, lots) more interest-generating buzz among software developers and customers. Oh, the Pro version is W*nd*ws Mobile only for now, with no sight on a PalmOS version. Big mistake in the Spy's view. If a company doesn't trust its own flagship software, who will believe they're in it for the long haul?


Design Science recently brought out MathType6, the latest version of its mathematical equation editor on Mac OS X and now Leopard compatible. Cost for new customers is $97. Upgrades are $49. W*nd*ws versions are also available. MathType allows word processor users to enter complex equations right into their documents. The Spy uses it constantly for exams in Calculus, one of the first subjects most students encounter that must be understood to be done (such a radical concept).

Perhaps out of place in an upgrade section, but an alternative is the FreeWare LaTeXIt, at version 1.15, and that allows one to edit equations in LaTeX. In the case of NisusWriter and other LinkBack-enabled applications, this ability could be especially convenient, though the install is complex and takes a long time.

Andrew Trevorrow now has an Intel version of OzTeX, his Mac implementation of Knuth's typesetting system, commonly used by academics for journal papers. Additional item here: The software is written in Modula-2 (Albert Wiedemann's p1 compiler), still one of the best notations ever devised, despite its lack of popularity these days. For information on the language, see the Spy's own text, or the language FAQ he sporadically maintains.

Meanwhile, on the hardware front, Canon is apparently poised to upgrade the 5D and 40D cameras to 5D (Mark ii) and 50D, respectively. Look for up to 12.2 MPix in the 50D, but the Spy has no regrets he bought the 40D this year, instead of waiting for more goodies. Such a camera!

Likewise, Apple appears ready to refresh the laptop line with newer Intel chips, refurbish the iPod line, bump the iPhone OS to 2.1, and (finally) include BluRay support with 10.5.6. iSlate/iTablet may be prototypically slouching toward Cupertino waiting to be born, but no one there is in a prophetic mood, even if all the rumour mills are.

An upgrade of sorts was announced by the FireFox folk, who've launched TraceMonkey, a JIT (Just-In-Time) compiler for ECMAScript (JavaScript) on the upcoming FireFox 3.1. Purportedly, performance can be boosted in some cases by an order of magnitude. Likewise, the late-August developer release of OS X 10.5.5 comes with a new preview of Safari 4.0 incorporating some HTML 5, and the latest SquirrelFish technology, also intended to provide dramatic ECMAScript speed ups.

Who cares about ECMAScript? Good question, Nellie. With the rush to Ajaxify web applications, the once nearly moribund scripting language has become a critically important, and these moves could give it a further big boost. Even without JIT, the Spy has been able to make his WebNameHost site much faster using Ajax and other ECMAScript techniques. Watch this one closely.

There is no truth to the rumour

that the $2M mid-August fire on Apple's Cupertino campus was caused by iSteve's lawyer becoming overheated over the latest lawsuit to hit the company--this one for false advertising concerning the iPhone2, which was touted as "twice as fast" and supposedly isn't, at least by some disgruntled customer's greedy reckoning.

The more things change department

Yet another round of domain name scam letters have been making the circuit. Printed on stationery bearing names like "Domain Registry of ", the letters warn the gullible that their domain name registration is about to expire and offer to renew it. What's wrong with this?

1. Part of the conditions of using the registry to determine whois information is that it not be used for solicitations. Repeated violations of this rule are the reason CIRA (.ca TLD operator) recently introduced a privacy policy that hides individual information from scrutiny. Other registries will eventually follow suit, a perfect example of legislation against stupidity.

2. The offered renewal price is usually three to four times as high as the industry standard, even if the letter does tout it as "discounted".

3. Renewal triggers a transfer of administrative control. Do you really want a fly-by-night operating on the fringes of the law controlling your domain?

4. People who uncritically believe anything stated in an unsolicited letter have entered a fantasy land created by the sender. The writer wants belief, support, and/or money from the reader. The idea that there is anything in it for the reader is an illusion.

Lethe Revisited (Once more with feeling)

After putting one cat to sleep at the beginning of July for an excess of savagery, our other gentle old cat died a month later. She'd been off her feed a day or two, but seemed content. However, before we went to bed, we prayed that the Lord of Heaven, who sees every sparrow that falls, would take her quickly, rather than let her suffer--if she was to go. This we did, conscious of the fact that the last time we prayed thus, the cat in question died in my arms precisely on the "Amen". We didn't check before putting our heads down, but next morning this cat was dead too--for many hours. Most people I told the original story to over the years (and now on hearing this one) react with "Don't you pray for me if I get sick".

VCON is coming

to the Compass Point Inn, Surrey BC (Canada). The thirty-third Vancouver Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Gaming Convention is October 3-5, and as usual, the Spy will be there, taking his lumps on various panels. Don't miss it.

The Retro Spy

Ever buy version 1.0 of a device, and have to suffer techno-envy when the next model had more bells and whistles you wish you had waited for? In many cases, such as the Canon EOS 40D mentioned above, "going green" can be handled reasonably well. The 40D is too good a camera to be much upset. Other times, you eventually end up with a tool that doesn't match up well any more but are reluctant to scrap it and buy an expensive new one, so you limp along. Happens in lower tech, too. The Spy has a nice Makita ten-inch compound mitre saw bought the last time he built a house (sixteen years ago). He was an early adopter at the time, but one thing he's lately been wishing he had is a laser guide to throw down that nice line on the wood stock to know exactly where the cut is going. All the newer saws have them, and are far the better tools for it.

Enter Irwin Industrial Tool's retro-fit laser guide. Installation is a snap. Just remove the saw blade's tensioning washer, replace it with the guide, then tighten the bolt again. The beam lights automatically when the blade spins up, and the batteries are supposed to be good for 1.5 running hours or some 5K cuts. Slick. Much better than some bolt-on models with a mechanical switch, and that easily get out of alignment or broken. Makes the saw seem some sixteen years younger. Very nice, and highly recommended. Street cost in the frozen North is about $45, but in the competitive U.S. about half that. (The RO factor extends to all industries.)

Innovations like this one remind the Spy why he thinks computers should be sold in the same stores as cordless drills, table saws, sanders, and air compressors.

--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.


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

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

The Spy's Shareware download site: http://downloads.thenorthernspy.com/

WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net

WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net

nameman : http://nameman.net

opundo : http://opundo.com

Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org

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

Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com

Fictionwise: http://www.fictionwise.com

Olive Tree: http://www.olivetree.com/iphone/

Design Science (MathType): http://www.dessci.com/en/products/mathtype_mac/

OzTeX: http://www.trevorrow.com/oztex/

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

p1: http://www.awiedemann.de/compiler/index.html

VCon: http://www.vcon.ca/

Mozilla (FireFox): http://www.mozilla.com/

LaTeXIt : http://ktd.club.fr/programmation/latexit_en.php

Irwin's Laser Guide: http://www.irwin.com/irwin/consumer/jhtml/detail.jhtml?prodId=IrwinProd100009

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The Northern Spy is registered at WebNameSource.com and is hosted by WebnameHost.net.
Last Updated: 2008 09 01