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The Northern Spy
August 2005

The Lazy Days of Summer

Rick Sutcliffe

The R/O factor

we talked about back in early 1980s columns is alive and well, and living in Canada. Here's how it works: Suppose a product costs US$100 in the United States. Given the current Canadian exchange rate of about 1.20, the price ought to be about CDN$120. More typical: from $150 to $200, that is a R/O factor ranging from 25% to 67%. The culprits are greed, extra cost associated with having a Canadian subsidiary, and Canadians willingness to play the patsy in the pricing game.

For instance, the Spy was interested in changing from his old Miranda 35mm film camera to digital, and after much research settled on the Canon EOS Rebel XT or 20D. However, after comparing prices in the excited states with those in the frozen north, and finding an R/O factor of about 20%, he decided to go for a repair job instead. Perhaps Canon will change its policies.

Oh, by the way, if you find an online camera store offering prices too good to be true, they are (and aren't counted in the calculation above). The "store" will take your order for a ridiculously low price, then call you to "confirm your address". At that point you will be informed the camera doesn't come with a lens, battery, charger, manual, or box, all of which cost hundreds more, (plus expensive shipping) and driving the price far higher than the legitimate competition. Balk, and your salesperson will become nasty, threatening, and try to keep the money you've already paid. Become insistent, and the advertised product will suddenly become unavailable, and you only may get most of your money back. Check camera store review sites before entering an order, and never bite at more than 20% lower than average retain unless the unit is a factory demo from an otherwise reputable vendor.

MS Vista for multimedia PCs

has barely become available to developers and already is reported to have viruses, many broken applications, and fresh delays for delivery. The bad news just never seems to end at Redmond..

The demise of SCO?

Of course, one company's bad news may be good for the whole industry. That's certainly the case with litigation empire SCO, which bought rights to UNIX from Novell and is now trying to make money in the lawcourts by suing all and sundry over Linux, the open source alternative to commercial UNIXes. Despite the SCO claim that Linux was built in whole or part with code stolen by IBM and others from UNIX, SCO has thus far failed to demonstrate a single line of lifted programming.

Now comes a new suit by Novell. Apparently SCO bought UNIX without much money, and most of the royalties from the product had to be paid to Novell. Current indebtedness runs to $20M+ but SCO has only about $11M in the bank. If would be ironic if a company that has founded its pseudo-business plan on contract litigation were to be liquidated by the courts for its own contract failures. Those who live parasitically....

Mighty Mouse is on the way,

or so hopes Steve Jobs, who has released a new mouse that breaks company tradition and policy by having more than one button---sort of. You get the multiple button effect by pressing the front of the mouse in different places, a way of having your tradition by discarding it I suppose. The Spy isn't too interested. He's always felt that a mouse took far too much desktop real estate and has used a Kensington trackball for lo these many years. Logitech also makes trackballs, including ones that the ball won't fall out of.

In other news affecting Cupertino comes word this week that hackers have bypassed the DRM (Digital Rights Management) on the Apple Tiger 10.1.4 developer's kit for Intel-based computers. This means that the Mac OS can be run on stock Intel-based computers not manufactured by Apple. Ho hum, yet another copy protection scheme bites the dust. What else is new? The Spy once amused himself by removing copy protection from commercial disks and mailing unprotected copies back to the manufacturer, to illustrate the foolishness of wasting money on such notions. If software can be read by a computer, it can be copied. Since unreadable software isn't, his maxim then, now reformulated as the Spy's Sixth Law:

All data and code can eventually be copied.

Solid marketshare numbers (now 4.5% and climbing rapidly) and rumours of a Google-Apple partnership to help sell iTunes drove Apple's stock 4% higher the week ending August 13, despite selloffs and lower prices across the broad market. Some analysts thought the detected movement from PC stocks like Dell (disappointing earnings) into Apple (higher earnings).

Of more interest to the Spy are surveys purporting to show that Apple has up to a 40% marketshare among new college and university students. He'd noticed this in his own classes, but wasn't bold enough to call it a trend. Should this hold up, even at lesser numbers, the Spy's Fourth Law (marketshare lags mindshare by two to five years) will kick into second stage overdrive when this student cohort gets into the workplace, because they'll want the best OS on their desktops, and by then there will be no obstacles to prevent them from having it.

Another rather persistent rumour, to which the Spy gives full credit, is that Apple will speed bump the PowerBook line to 2GHz in September, and that this will be the last iteration of this model ahead of Intel portables next year. There may be some slippage on this one, but try near the end of September, say the nineteenth. Nothing definite on 3GHz desktop machines, but if Apple decides to do this speedbump, it will be late in 2005 or very early 2006. Miss that window, and there is no point. They'll go straight to the Intel boxes.

Most likely new Apple product in the foreseeable future: the portable media centre, and an Apple branded iTunes-enabled cell phone. We're getting somewhere near the Spy's PIEA, the all in one PDA, computer, phone, reader, media centre he's featured in his science fiction for years.

--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.


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Last Updated: 2006 11 08