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The Northern Spy
July 2007

Summer Madness

Rick Sutcliffe

Is it just the Spy's Imagination

or are Apple and Google getting cosier all the time? Of all the possible blockbuster mergers out there, this one would seem a good fit. Corporate culture, cooperative working record, cutting edge technology, and marketing savvy all seem to line up.

Perhaps this has something to do with iSteve's foray into the application world with the recent big hit release of Safari for Windows. Searches from the browser bar pull in a small chunk of change, but cross platform web applications may be the way of the future, and it would be hard to imagine a better big mac combo for the role than Apoogle. Question is, would iSteve end up as the head cheese or a side garnish?

The laugh of the month

comes at the expense of all the W*nd*ws apologists who've seen the handwriting on the wall and decided to review Leopard, only to sneer at Apple for having copied from Vista. They should have looked at Apple's OS from a few years ago, the slate from whence creativity-challenged Vista borrowed its look and feel in the first place. Apple ain't copying Vista, folks. It's being faithful to itself.

Further thoughts on the Spy's fourth law

in which, for the new readers this month, the Spy opines:

Marketshare lags mindshare by two to five years

include the thought that it applies to more than just the marketing of computers. The economic boom in Western Canada is now at such peaks that many smaller and especially newer employers cannot find workers. It's not just about wages. Everybody wants to work for companies that have already established mindshare with them. The same goes for universities, which would best market to students in grade ten or eleven, and reap the benefits two years later, than sell to seniors who've already decided--this in particular if they are small and need to establish mindshare (big ones already have it).

Ditto churches, where the trend to ever larger megachurches continues unabated, as those who build a reputation for being the "happening place" end up with all the people. For that matter, in his own church treasurer role, a version of the Spy's fourth law comes out as: "The last thing the Lord gets hold of is a person's pocketbook", which is a mere rephrasing of "where the heart goes, so does the billfold, but not right away". Let's not get into the question of whether any of this is a good thing; the Spy's Laws aren't moral absolutes, just proverbs on the human condition.

But there's an obvious negative aspect of the fourth law that's had too little attention here. If on the one hand, a company does not learn for a couple of years or more of bottom lines that it has successfully generated mindshare by seeing an increased marketshare (and by then it could be a landslide), it follows that disaster may strike without economic warning on the downside. In other words, an organization or a commercial operation that loses mindshare becomes a zombie for two to five years--dead without knowing it, and going on inertia alone. (Small ones tend to get the news faster, but that's another matter.) By the time income slows, it's already far too late.

Does anyone in Redmond understand this? If so, perhaps it partially explains why MS is busy using threats and incentives to knuckle under every Linux distributor in sight--handling the goonery itself this time instead of by proxy. (If you can't re-establish mindshare on your own, go out and muscle it away from others.) So far Ubuntu and Red Hat haven't passed through the dealmaking gates to avoid the implicit threat of patent litigation over vague claims of infringement, but others have. What have we here? Maniacal cleverness, or death spasms? Wait five years to be sure, but the Spy is already thinking of a subsidiary law that goes something like:

You can't buy or steal others' mindshare; you have to earn your own.

Oh, and by way of an illustration,

that is less obvious than Apple's doubled marketshare in the last three years (double again in the next three?) Sony appears to be winning the format wars this time around after having lost the earlier (Beta vs VHS) one. Perhaps it's their turn. Blockbuster Video's recent decision to concentrate on only Blu-ray video disks and drop retail support for the rival HD DVD format may turn out to be the market breaker. Of course, the mindshare battle was already won by the PlayStation 3, which uses Blu-ray, so why be surprised?

This month's upgrades noted in passing include,

- premiere OS X system utility Cocktail, now up to version 3.8 and sporting a new interface on a boatload of new features. Highly recommended for those nasty cleanup jobs that don't have an easy interface otherwise. Tweak system settings, manage caches, the Spotlight index, recalcitrant trashes, and log files, tune network settings, alter interface variables and assorted hidden settings, and automate system maintenance. Cocktail is $15 to unlock the demo. When you need it, little else will do.

- the "type what I mean" utility Typinator from Ergonis software is now at version 2.0. When this puppy is running it will replace an "abbreviation" the user types with a specified text. This can be used to auto correct common typos on the fly, or to expand things like "dt" into a correctly formatted current date such as 2007 07 03 or "myrl" into, say "http://www.webnamehost.net". Of course, case can be preserved. The Spy is just trying this one out for the first time, and its been many years since he's used such a utility, to the jury's still out. Seems interesting though. Oh, unlike PopChar, Ergonis' other indispensable utility, it doesn't work in System 9 apps.

- Newsgator's NetNewsWire is now up to Version3.0.1b13. Version 3 brought a much nicer user interface, higher speed, and better integration with the Newsgator system. One reason the Spy likes it: If you use this nice little RSS reader on two different machines to the same account, it will remember what you've read in each newsgroup, as the preferences are stored on their site--another wave of the future, as this makes the product a front end to a web application. Indeed, you can access the same data via their web site if you wish. The product is $29.95, but upgrades for recent purchasers are free.

- And, with the release of the iPhone only two weeks off, Apple announced improvements (upgrades) to its much-anticipated product. They now tout longer battery life than the original specs (though all such claims have to be taken with a block of salt) and a touch-screen made of optical glass rather than plastic, for better scratch resistance. If this trend continues, perhaps corporations will eventually go through the entire product life cycle from planning through multiple upgrades and on to obsolescence before actually releasing the product. Come to think of, some already do. Call it the virtual life cycle of the virtual product--not that this will be Apple's fate. After all, millions are already waiting in line panting for the chance to give iSteve money for this new toy.

Not in Canada, though, where discussions with Rogers seem to be in limbo. Well, perhaps by the time it does happen here, the Canuck buck will be at par with the Yank one, and we'll only be paying a slight premium for the privilege of buying American-made goods instead of double (in some cases). To be fair, Apple is one of the least predatory pricers in this respect; some are even worse at applying the RO factor.

And, speaking of passing,

it appears we can RIP Sony's "connect"--the digital music and video service whose one-time engineers will now be transferred to the Play Station product line-yet another in the long line of information highway road kills attributable to the iPod/iTunes juggernaut. Just goes to show that the old Sony is alive and well, still making misteaks, something the Spy never does, of course.

The heroic service award of the month,

goes to Sarah, on the help desk at ConfigServer, a Chirpy little company that specializes in making, installing, and supporting a set of fabulously useful scripts to enhance the utility of cPanel servers for web hosts. These include a front end to MailScanner, a mail queue manager, a firewall installer and front end, and a disk explorer that can be used from the WHM front end--all such wonderful timesavers you wonder how any server manager could do without them. And, under his other hat of a web host, the Spy uses these scripts daily. So should ever host.

Back to Sarah. It seems there was some confusion a week ago over a cPanel and MailScanner upgrade that weren't quite compatible. Moreover, on "Cork" (WebNameHost's main machine) the /tmp partition filled up in the process, disabling MailScanner and assorted other services altogether, and cosmetically damaging a third application. The problem wasn't immediately obvious to the Spy, so enter the data centre technician to provide cPanel support per contract. The latter reinstalled Exim and MailScanner (without at first saying so, but the Spy watches all), then pronounced everything good. What he'd actually done was killed off the custom settings in Exim, disabled the MailScanner front end and turned MailScanner off without fixing anything, leaving 2500+ messages in the MailScanner queue unprocessed--a not untypical result from a certain genre of tech who throw "fixes" around like roadkill to crows.

When the Spy finally spotted the full /tmp, and cleaned this up, MailScanner was once again functional, though the ConfigServer front end to it was not, due to an inappropriate upgrade of the front end (admittedly the Spy's own fault).

Over to Sarah at ConfigServer, who had the fix (how to downgrade the front end appropriately) and a boatload of other info at her fingertips so the Spy could himself put the now somewhat messed up box completely back into proper working order.

By further contrast, the tech at the other third party supplier's help desk went in, repaired their app's problem, and sent a message saying a directory had been out of sync--no real explanation, and the customer none the wiser if it happens again.

Sarah's approach is how it should always be folks. Don't hand the starving man a fish, teach him how to fish. A big virtual rose thank you to her and ConfigServer. Now, just wait till cPanel 11 goes release and the machine upgrades big time, we install Apache 2.0, and move to higher versions of PHP and MySQL. Interesting times are coming. The Spy wishes sometimes that upgrades were all tested ahead of time and installed just working. Oh wait. That's called a Mac.

In a rather odd move,

the board of CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority) who oversee the .ca TLD, have decided to expire all domain holders' memberships as of 2007 07 31. Until now, if you had a .ca domain, you were a member and could vote for the board. Now, everyone who wishes to remain a member must re-apply per the eMail recently sent out to all registrants, fill in an online form, then go through a telephone interview to confirm the data. Not sure of the reasons behind this, but it's going to be a rather massive pain in the neck.

The Spy also wonders if the change will make it easier or harder for the three incumbent board members who are up or re-election to retain their seats. Indeed, he wonders rather personally, as he has been selected by the CIRA nominating committee as a candidate to contest the upcoming election.

So, hey. If you own a .ca domain, make sure you follow the instructions, get your membership updated, and vote in the upcoming board elections (Sept 6-13), whether you vote for the Spy or not. The names of the candidates selected to appear on the final Nomination Committee slate together with their election statement and qualifications will be posted somewhere on CIRA's website on or before July 5, 2007.

--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

NetNewsWire: http://www.newsgator.com/Individuals/NetNewsWire/

Cocktail: http://www.maintain.se/cocktail/index.php

Typinator: http://www.ergonis.com/products/typinator/

CIRA: http://cira.ca

This Arjay Enterprises page is Copyright 1983-2007.
The Northern Spy is registered at WebNameSource.com and is hosted by WebnameHost.net.
Last Updated: 2007 07 02