TV-PGNovember 27, 2002: Apple releases a firmware update to make "Wind-tunnel" Power Macs slightly less deafening. Meanwhile, the company's employees face layoffs and salary freezes, even as Apple tries to steal a Department of Energy contract to build a 197-ton supercomputer away from IBM...
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Keeping Tinnitus At Bay (11/27/02)

As Thanksgiving comes hurtling at our heads like a twenty-pound Butterball shot out of a cannon, Apple is just in time to give those of you lucky enough to own its most recent Power Macs still more reasons for which to be grateful. Provided you aren't an incorrigible ingrate oblivious to the nature of the wondrous power at your fingertips, you were presumably already prepared to drop to your knees and give thanks to Jobs Above that you're blessed with one of the fastest Macs ever to grace this plane of existence. You may also have been counting your Mac's mirrored drive doors among your many blessings, as they provide a handy way to ensure that pickpockets, axe murderers, and Steve Ballmer aren't sneaking up behind you while you work.

What you may not have been as grateful for, however, is the jet-engine-like quality of the ambient noise issuing forth from your "wind-tunnel" Power Mac. Somehow, despite Steve Jobs's well-known intolerance for computer noise, the latest Power Macs wound up packing something like forty-seven internal cooling fans whose combined decibel output rivals that of a runaway jackhammer being torn apart by a pack of ravening wolves with running 1600-watt hair dryers strapped to their heads.

But like we said, there's some good news to report: according to MacFixIt, Apple has posted a firmware update intended to bring you a little peace and quiet-- or at least muffle things enough that your eardrums won't bleed quite so profusely. If you own a "wind-tunnel" Power Mac and you fire up Software Update, you should see the Power Mac G4 Firmware Update 4.4.8 appear, which "improves fan control behavior and reduces high speed fan cycling when running in Mac OS 9." (Remember, as we mentioned last month, fan noise on these models running Mac OS X is apparently merely obnoxious and distracting, whereas under Mac OS 9 it's roughly the equivalent of sitting in front of an amp at a mid-'70s Who concert.)

Of course, your other option for reducing fan noise (short of doing dodgy things to your motherboard with a soldering iron or wrapping your entire Mac in three feet of foam rubber) is to boot only into Mac OS X, which we're paranoid enough to believe was the whole reason for the Mac OS 9 earache syndrome in the first place. We should definitely be thankful that, starting next year, Apple is simply going to make new Macs unable to boot Mac OS 9, because we shudder to think of what other "discouragements" the company might have added to the old-school OS instead. Excessive fan noise is one thing; imagine if booting into Mac OS 9 instead gave you two broken legs and a bad credit rating...

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The Slow Economy Blues (11/27/02)

It looks like Apple's latest Switch ads may in fact be accurate representations of a certain mythical chimney-crawling gift-giver, at least mood-wise: Santa seems to be a little on the surly side this year. That's what we gather from a report at Mac OS Rumors which states that Apple employees who were hoping for a year-end raise this holiday season are instead once again getting lumps of coal in their stockings. Apparently Santa's little helper Steve Jobs just issued a memo informing all the Whos in Whoville that a salary freeze is in effect once again this year, and therefore raises are a no-no.

Then again, in this economy, it seems to us that news of a salary freeze is actually a good thing, for a couple of important reasons. First of all, while your pay isn't going up, it's also not going down. And secondly, if your salary's been frozen, that means you actually have a salary in the first place, which is becoming something of a rarity these days. In fact, the way things are going, if you're still drawing a paycheck of any kind by this time next year, don't be surprised if the Smithsonian contacts you about the possibility of adding one of your pay stubs to its "Stuff People Hardly Ever See Anymore" collection.

Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone at Apple was lucky enough to have his or her salary zapped by the Freeze Ray; some had their paychecks blasted by a phaser set on "kill" instead. While we still haven't found anything that clinches the recent rumor of as many as a thousand pink slips from the mothership, Mac OS Rumors does mention "significant recent layoffs in certain sectors of Apple." To any former Applefolk out there now seeking gainful employment, our thoughts are with you as you pound the pavement. We'd hire you ourselves, but our own budget is running on fumes these days, and something tells us you're unlikely to accept payment strictly in leftover Halloween candy.

Meanwhile, we've heard nothing regarding another ease-the-pain initiative like last year's half-price iPods for employees, but we're confident that those in the Cupertino trenches will receive some sort of comfort measure from their employers. Note to Steve Jobs: baked goods can cure all ills. Show us a company with low morale and we'll show you a company that never offered oven-fresh corn muffins to its troops. Mmmmmm, corn muffins.

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All About The Innovation (11/27/02)

We're going to kick off the long holiday weekend the very bestest way we know how: with another fascinating, edge-of-your-seat round of unconfirmed reports! Some of you may have heard last week that IBM is gearing up to build a couple of massive new supercomputers for the Department of Energy, as reported by The Mercury News, and perhaps you wondered just where the heck Apple is during this whole spiel. Well, if any of you are starting to waver in your conviction that Apple is absolute leader of technological innovation bar none, prepare yourselves for a big, fat dose of reassurance.

Big Blue is indeed poised to build the "world's first 197 ton computer," and we hear that Apple isn't planning on sitting still while IBM basks in all the glory. The article indicates that IBM's 197-ton behemoth will house a jaw-dropping 130,000 processors and will consume as much power as four thousand homes. According to unnamed sources close to the company, Apple, realizing that the Department of Energy probably isn't thrilled with bankrolling a project that's so hideously wasteful from a power perspective, is already in talks with the DoE to swipe the account from IBM on the grounds that our heroes in Cupertino can build an equivalent supercomputer that's far more energy-efficient.

Indeed, Apple has told the DoE that if it's a 197-ton computer it wants, then Apple can build one-- and using just one processor as opposed to IBM's ridiculously inefficient 130,000. Whereas IBM's design achieves the target weight of 197 tons by adding more and more processors (and therefore a higher and higher energy consumption), Apple's designers are proposing that a single PowerBook G4 be grafted to about 130 junked cars, thus forming a 197-ton computer system that still complies to Energy Star guidelines.

Apple's design also has the added benefits of requiring no more than a single AC electrical outlet for power, taking up significantly less space (while reclaiming used landfill), and coming in a few hundred million dollars under budget. The only drawback is that Apple's solution runs at up to 7.5 gigaflops, while IBM's proposed Blue Gene/L will reportedly pack 48,000 times more computational oomph; however, this isn't seen as a deal-breaker.

"We want a 197-ton computer," says an unnamed DoE source, "and we don't much care how fast it runs. IBM's was going to be so fast we figured we'd let it chew on stuff like weather prediction and DNA research algorithms. But Apple's implementation, while less computationally capable, would save us a ton of money on our electric bill, so we're definitely leaning towards going with that. We'll probably use it for Quicken, maybe a little Jedi Knight 2 now that that's out. Whatever.

"Just as long as the computer is 197 tons. That's key."

Once the company wins the DoE contract away from IBM, unnamed sources report that Apple's next project will be to outdo Bill Gates's eight-foot condom.

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