TV-PGOctober 24, 2003: The key to your past lives lies in your Apple Store delivery dates. Meanwhile, one analyst thinks Apple might be upgrading Mac OS X too darned often, and the G5-based Big Mac supercomputer claws its way up to 8.7 teraflops and into third place...
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Payback By Shipping Delay (10/24/03)

Who needs fancy psychics, Shirley MacLaine, or expensive past-life regression hypnosis? If you want to know what kind of person you were in your previous lives, just look at what kind of luck you have with delivery times for Apple Store preorders. It's true! One side effect of Steve's Reality Distortion Field is that the constant bombardment by existence-bending zeta rays has made Apple far more attuned to the karmic forces of the universe than any other computer manufacturer out there, and shipping dates for Apple Store orders serve as a startlingly accurate barometer of past-lives behavior. Or misbehavior.

For example, you've seen this scenario a gazillion times before: one guy orders his Power Mac G5 at the height of a backorder drought and mysteriously receives his gear a mere two days later, with free overnight shipping and maybe a complimentary basket of mini-muffins. Meanwhile, another guy who preordered his G5 three seconds after Steve unveiled them last June is still waiting, and his Order Status now says "will ship on or before March (maybe, if we feel like it)."

Well, guess why? In their previous lives, Guy A obviously spent most of his time donating food and clothing to orphanages, whereas Guy B invented telemarketing. Karma takes care of the rest. Which is why we were seriously starting to think that in our last incarnation, we really did sic the hounds on innocent young 'uns just to watch 'em run; our Panther preorder was supposed to arrive today, but as of 2 AM, our Order Status was still "Open" and no shipping confirmation had yet graced our inbox.

But then, deliverance! Apple finally upgraded our Order Status to "Shipped" at 3 AM, and FedEx left a box at the front door of the AtAT compound at 10:40 this morning. (Incidentally, the shipping box looked like it had been taped shut by a monkey going through heroin withdrawal; apparently Apple had a lot of orders to fill at the last minute.) There was, indeed, a shiny new copy of Panther inside, and since we received it over nine hours before it officially goes on sale in retail, we can only conclude that we did something at least marginally good the last time we walked this earth. Like maybe we bought a lot of Girl Scout Cookies and always changed our oil every three thousand miles.

But what about those of you who never preordered Panther in the first place-- how can you find out what kind of a person your life force previously inhabited? Well, it turns out that waiting to buy it at Apple retail store tonight during Night of the Panther may bring some karmic rewards, too; MacRumors reports that anyone buying a copy of Panther during tonight's shindig may qualify for 10% off anything else they happen to grab off the shelves. (Reportedly the same unadvertised promotion ran during last year's Jaguar launch parties.) So whereas we got Panther nine hours early, you get the chance to toss in, say, a 40 GB iPod for $50 off. Well, well, well... sounds to us like somebody practiced impeccable dental hygiene in a previous life!

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"Too Many"? No Such Thing (10/24/03)

So Panther is officially here (or it will be, in just a few hours), and after much hand-wringing and Order Status-checking, we've finally got our own Family Pack in our hot little hands. The goods have been delivered, the credit card has been charged, and there's no way to cancel the order anymore. In short, this transaction is done, done, done.

So this is a good time to weigh the pros and cons of whether or not Panther is worth the price, right?

First? What do you mean we were supposed to do that first?

Huh. You learn something new every day. Today we learned that it's best to consider the cost-benefit factors of a product before you actually buy it; yesterday we learned that Close-Up gel on saltines makes for a refreshing and cavity-fighting mid-afternoon snack; the day before that we learned that jamming a fork into an electrical outlet makes you see a dark tunnel ending in a serene white light of endless purity and peace. Life sure would be easier if they'd put all this stuff into new Schoolhouse Rock! segments.

Anyway, the San Francisco Chronicle cites IDC's Roger Kay as one analyst questioning whether Apple is "asking too much of its small but loyal base of customers to buy four upgrades in three years." (Four? Were there people who actually paid for 10.1 instead of grabbing a free CD-ROM at retail?) Says Roger, "there may not be that many people who take every upgrade; not everybody is going to want to take something like Jaguar and turn it into Panther. Jaguar is pretty good. Just a few months ago, they were saying it's the best thing in the world."

Well, uh, yeah, Roger... that's because Panther wasn't out yet. A few months ago, Jaguar was the best thing in the world; now Panther is. This isn't rocket science. Or do we need to commission Bob Dorough to explain it in a catchy kid's song set to primitive animation?

That said, Roger's got a point. Heck, we're certain there are plenty of people out there still running 10.1; even we're still running it on one Mac. But we think the Panther sales will go something like this: nine out of ten people who shelled out for Jaguar will also shell out for Panther, because hey, that's just the kind of people we are. Then the question just becomes, who else will buy a copy? What about people with newish Macs that came with Jaguar preinstalled? Or folks who have been stubbornly sticking with Mac OS 9 for whatever reason-- will Panther finally get them to make the jump?

Meanwhile, Mac users who were counting on Panther to deliver a serious boost of speed to their systems may be disappointed. We know we were skeptical about AppleInsider's report of "sluggish" Panther performance on older supported Macs, but now Bare Feats reports that, short of a 15% speed gain in Unreal Tournament 2003, "after running all our real world tests on the Dual G5, we measured no speed gain over Jaguar." That's a little disillusioning, since we really expected at least the G5s to score a little extra pep.

In the end, though, we don't think Apple has to worry much about winding up with warehouses full of unsold copies of Panther. The depth of the feature set is scads more impressive than any Mac OS X upgrade to date; Apple's director of Mac OS X marketing Ken Bereskin says, "for a small amount of money, it's like having a new Mac all over again"-- and unlike when Steve tried to pull that "like getting a new Mac for $99" crap with Mac OS 8.5, this time it's actually kind of true. Given that Panther has topped the Apple Store sales charts for ages now, customers seem willing to believe it.

And we haven't even mentioned the biggest reason why Panther is worth the $129: the box. C'mon, the X is shiny, fer Pete's sake! Ooooooooooo!

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All About The Bronze, Baby (10/24/03)

Oh, for crying out loud; when Virginia Tech said that it thought it might be able to improve its G5-based supercomputer's performance of 7.41 teraflops before next month's official list of the top 500 supercomputers is finalized, we didn't think they meant every frickin' day. As you already know, the 7.41 score was reported by the New York Times on Tuesday; on Wednesday the same guy who told the Times about the 7.41 score had already published a paper stating that Big Mac had climbed to 8.164 teraflops. Well, guess what? Yup.

Faithful viewer mrmgraphics pointed us towards an Information Week article reporting that Big Mac is now zipping along at a fairly staggering 8.7 teraflops-- which, unless other scores have changed in the past two days, bests the 8.633 teraflops achieved by the highest-ranking Intel-based supercomputer: a new Itanium 2 cluster that, as of two days ago, was beating Big Mac down into fourth place. Now, however, it looks like the two have traded places, which, if true, means that the world's first and only Mac-based supercomputer has beaten out everything Intel has yet slapped together, and for a mere $5.2 million or so. Spiffy.

So let's see... at this rate, by the time we get back after the weekend, Big Mac ought to be up to a solid 10 teraflops by Monday. Give it another week and a half and it'll be 14 teraflops or so, vaulting it from third place into second (sorry, ASCI Q AlphaServer EV-68 with 8,160 1.25 GHz processors and a Quadrics interconnect subsystem; enjoy the stay in Threeville), and by the time the final numbers are in later in November, we assume that Big Mac will have more than doubled its theoretical peak to rest at 36 terabytes, finally eclipsing even Japan's mighty $350 million Earth Simulator.

Hey, it could happen.

Well, okay, no, it couldn't. But third place is nothing to sneeze at, and even if Big Mac has no shot at the silver or gold, the higher its score, the better-- for Virginia Tech, for Apple, and for Mac lovers everywhere. The whole world is watching...

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