Charles Moore's Mailbag

Microsoft Office Sluggish with Snow Leopard, Creator Codes in Mac OS X, SETI Futility, and More

Charles Moore - 2010.05.05 - Tip Jar

Office Sluggish on Mac OS X 10.6

From Troy after reading Speeding Up Office 2004 on 10.6:

I am finding Office 2008 slow as a dog on both my Late 2009 Intel iMac on 10.6.3 and on my MacBook Pro running the same version.

I have not really seen any improvement between 2004 and 2008 versions of Office. That is really unfortunate, as I need it and hate sitting there and waiting for Excel or Word to load. We won't even talk about Entourage.

I know they are both running in Rosetta. But you would think by now Microsoft would be able to "speed up" Office 2008.

Unfortunately, Numbers cannot come close to what Excel does, so that is not an option. Same goes for Pages.


Hi Troy,

I don't use Microsoft Office - any version - but I'm finding that anything running under Rosetta in Snow Leopard is exceedingly sluggish - startup in particular - and the Carbon programs I use tend to be small and inherently lively - or at least they were under OS X 10.5 Leopard Rosetta and previous versions.

A Carbon behemoth like Office, no speedster at the best of times, must be really lazy in Snow Leopard.

I expect it will take Microsoft getting around to developing Cocoa-based Office apps to speed things up.


Editor's note: Office 2004 was the second version of Office for OS X and compiled for PowerPC Macs (Intel-based Macs didn't come to market until 2006). Office 2008 was the first universal binary version of Office, and Office 2011 is expected by the end of 2010. dk

Apple and Microsoft Drop the Ball on Old OS Versions

From Mark following up on Unreasonable Expectations:


It appears that Microsoft is allowing some sales of XP, but you have to get it bundled with a new computer, which is not what Jim wanted, since he just wanted to buy the upgrade to OS X to be able to run certain software programs or be compatible with a HP printer. And your investigation indicates that you cannot buy it directly from Microsoft, which is also what Jim was so disappointed in . . . not being able to go into an Apple Store and get Tiger or Leopard. So I think it is a pretty close tie in the two OS super powers being a tad unfriendly toward purchasing older versions of their operating systems directly, without investing in a complete new computer.

I am glad to see you can presumably get to a legit copy of Leopard, though Apple has made that 'fact' difficult to find for the casual Mac user. Maybe Jim will consider getting a legit copy of Leopard, but he does have to be willing to make a phone call and use a credit card over the phone.

Netscape has been very nice to continue keep so many versions available for download, for the old OS such as 8 and 9, etc. Amazing. Even GraphicConverter [venerable Mr. Lemke] still has an OS 9 version the last time I checked his website.

Small aside: Leopard is still my main boot, with Snow Leopard as an experimental hard drive on my Mac Pro. The lack of a true QuickTime Pro version in Snow Leopard keeps me from using that as my primary boot, similar to some of your issues about WindowShade. I have Snow Leopard ready, as I know there will be increasing numbers of 10.6 only software, and I do want the option of at least trying them.

Take care,

Hi Mark,

I've been using Snow Leopard for production for 2-1/2 weeks now, but I'm not by any means a happy camper, as I laid out in my column on Tuesday. The instability and bugginess is hair-tearingly frustrating. If not for the interest of research, I would switch back to Leopard in an eyeblink and miss nothing other than access to running programs that require Snow Leopard.

A footnote: Jim with the old iMac (see iMac G5 System Support Dilemma) informs me that he's now got Mac OS X 10.4.11 installed, thanks to a Mac-user friend who gave him a Tiger install disk, which has enabled him to connect and use his new HP PhotoSmart printer, the issue that ignited his discontent when he was stuck in OS X 10.3.9, and he says he thinks he'll also go ahead and try to purchase the 10.5 upgrade from Apple.


Creator Codes in OS X

From John:

Hi Charles,

In fact, Creator Codes were deprecated in the APIs for at least the entire life of Leopard if not much, much longer (possibly since 10.3 Panther, if memory serves correctly).

In Snow Leopard they were finally cut off.

The focus was a move to UTIs (Uniform Type Identifiers), which look something like a backward URL or URI.

Property List files found in the Preferences folder are named as UTIs in fact. This is one of the many places in the Mac OS where you will see UTIs.

Developers have been encouraged for a long time (in a software development time sense) to use UTIs instead. Some were slow to do so.

Sometimes upgrading is painful when you find out your favorite app hasn't been updated as well. That said, you can usually "Get Info" on a file of a given type and in the info window set which app opens it. Just below that, you can also tell the system to always use that app for that file type. This is set on a per-user basis.

The user does have control over this!

Hi John,

Yes, that's what I finally recalled and what I've been doing. Thanks for the information.


SETI May Have Nothing to Listen To

From Alan in response to Why Do Aliens Ignore Us? Because They May Not Exist:

I don't know whether there is extraterrestrial intelligence or not. As a long-time sci-fi reader, I sort of hope so. At the same time, SETI's quest may be a difficult one even if intelligent ETs exist. When the search commenced, humans were radiating a large amount of radio and TV signals into space; we assumed that any other intelligent life-form with at least our level of technology would be doing the same - and that these signals would reach the Earth.

But since then, we've moved from broadcast technologies, increasingly using cables for transmission; these transmissions aren't broadcast into space in the same way. Similarly, the move to the Internet makes more and more of our shared content increasingly inaccessible to distant listeners. Contrary to the assumptions of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, it is very possible that advanced civilizations would not be broadcasting anything that we could pick up.

- Alan

Hi Alan,

I agree that aliens of the sort (some of them anyway) fantasized in Star Trek, Star Wars, ET, and countless works of SF literature could be fun, but as I noted in the column, imagining that they would be recognizably similar to Earthly life forms amounts to anthropomorphic narcissism. Most science fiction portrays alien races, whether they be malevolent or benevolent, as analogical in form and intellect to human beings, sharing roughly our size and physiognomy with e.g.: limbs, eyes, and mouths more or less where ours are, and able to learn and speak at least pidgin English.

Should extraterrestrial life exist, the odds that it would have developed under similar enough conditions to ours here on earth for this planet to be of any use or interest to them are infinitesimally small, especially when you consider how uninhabitable by humans even the closest planets to Earth are. The aliens' home planet could be twice as big or twice as hot, with gravity 10 times stronger, could have two suns with never any nightfall, and so forth ad infinitum.

You mention the improbability of compatible technologies, and when you consider the delicate and fragile balance of narrowly constrained conditions that make human and animal life sustainable on Earth, the notion of life forms developed on other planets in other solar systems finding Earth livable beggars credibility, even if it weren't for the vast distances involved in interstellar exploration.


ET and the If Factor

From Andrew:


Great article, as always. As an atheist, I find myself in total agreement with the authors you cite and applaud their wisdom (especially Dr. Davies and Father Funes) in the use of the word "if".

If is a magical word that allows us to rationally discuss things in which we do not believe, as you do so well when discussing the secular and Davies does in discussing the theological. I wish I could have such an open mind.

Alas, I do not. I believe, as Bertra[nd] Russell wrote, that the likelihood of a creator god is about the same as the likelihood that a tiny teapot orbit the Earth, too small to detect. I can't disprove either statement, but I don't believe that either warrants the effort necessary to try.

Of course, what was wonderful about Funes' point was that there was not absolute "god", but more of an implied "If god created us, why not ET as well?"

What amuses me the most, however, is that like Hawking, I too believe that contact with ET would likely be fatal, and not because of phasers and death rays, but whatever uninvited microscopic guests they were carrying along. Of course, our tiny stowaways would likely be just as devastating to them, resulting in not one decimated population, but two.

Sadly, the failure of SETI, again in my opinion, is not as you suggest that nobody is out there, but simply that the distances are far too great. If life existed on a planet 100 light-years away, we would not be detecting optical signals until those signals were 100 years old. Timing is everything. We've been listening for 50 years. What if those signals went out a million years ago? They would have long since past us by. What if they were sent yesterday? We would have a century to wait. That also assumes they are of a nature and technology we are capable of detecting, come from a direction we were looking, at a time (counting travel time) that we were listening. That's a whole lot of ifs.

I honestly believe that there is intelligent life out there. Of course, I don't believe for a second that they look like us, communicate like us, or are even detectable by us. If they are out there, the chance of them existing close enough to reach us and existing at roughly the same time as us are also highly unlikely. We've been here a few hundred thousand years in something similar to our present form. ET may have existed a billion years ago on a planet near or far. With such vast amounts of time and even a short distance, we would never know.


Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the kind comment. It's always great to be reassured that Christians and atheists can have civil and mutually respectful dialogue on subjects of controversy.

As a Christian, I don't categorically dismiss the possibility that God could have created other life forms in other parts of this vast universe, but I'm skeptical about "intelligent life" in the sense that we perceive human intelligence, since I believe that the primary factor distinguishing humans from other animals - and that enables us to be clever, inventive, creative, and scientifically inquisitive - is our unique quality of self-consciousness and introspection - and the ability to anticipate our inevitable physical death - which I believe is spiritual rather than material and not in any way a product of the evolutionary process under which our mortal element developed. I'm convinced that this was a distinct act of divine creation, most likely unique to the human species on this particular planet, and that God the Creator Himself was incarnated as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ, which, while I place no limits on what God can do, I'm extremely doubtful that He would do likewise elsewhere.

However, I think there are plenty of non-metaphysical reasons to be skeptical about the potential and wisdom of making contact with intelligent ET, if for argument's sake, it does exist somewhere out there.

You make an excellent point about the potential microbial threat (which even within the human context ravaged the aboriginal peoples of the New World when the European explorers arrived) associated with alien visitation. As Steve Jobs remarked in a different context last week, "life is fragile."

Also, the factor of distance really defies adequate conceptualization for most of us. The rules of physics still apply.


The Odds Are Against SETI

From Mike:


I can't help but point out that the "silence" is not so deafening when you consider how negligibly small a fraction of the universe humans have probed. And the number of assumptions that SETI makes about the nature of alien radio also severely limits our capacity to detect signals not intended to be discovered. (Stephen Hawking has recently commented publicly that it may be a very bad idea for an emerging civilization to broadcast its presence to the cosmos, citing how horribly we treat other less intelligent life on this planet. Or how "developed" humans treated the hunter-gatherer societies they discovered. [Think Captain Cook meets the Hawaiians.])

There are something like 1024 stars in the observable universe. Recent advances in astronomy have made it possible to detect planets in other solar systems and it appears that planets are quite common: hundreds have been found. Also, consider that we have only been dabbling in radio for about a century. That means that our signals have only reached a distance of 100 light years from us. Just one galaxy spans tens of thousands of light years in diameter, and we can see something like 1012 galaxies, the nearest of which is 2 million light years away. Even if life is common, a little bubble of 100 light-years is a negligible fraction of a cosmos of 10+ billion light-years. It's not even a big fraction of our own galaxy. (I don't think it is at all likely that we will continue to transmit for any length of time of cosmic significance; most likely we will revert to a pre-renaissance civilization once all the easy energy sources [sc. things you can burn] are used up or we bomb ourselves into dark ages over disagreements about who has the right magic jujus. Or a sufficiently large rock strikes the Earth while we are still horsing around in low Earth orbit instead of colonizing the solar system.)

The distance- and time-scales of the cosmos are inhumanly vast. Consider that nothing much happened on Earth, intelligence-wise, in 4 billion years (4 gigayears). The observable universe is at least 10 billion years old. Almost half the lifetime of the cosmos for Earth life to develop radio! And SETI has only been looking in earnest these last 10 years! And only for pulses, Gaussians, and triplets . . . what if other civilizations think spread spectrum (a cell phone kludge) is the most obvious way to communicate? Considering the variety of human cultures, I wouldn't be surprised if aliens were this weird.

So let's say that we are typical: it takes most life 4 billion years to invent radio and the lifetime of a radio-capable civilization is in the ballpark of 100 years before they destroy themselves with atomic weapons or revert to pre-industrial societies, having burnt everything you can burn. The probability of finding Earth transmitting is 100/ (4 x 109) = 2.5 x 10-8. Suppose only one in a thousand stars have life. Seems pretty small....

Worlds whose life invented radio: (2.5 x 10-8) (10-3) (1024) = 2.5 x 1013

Twenty-five million million worlds might have radio now. Now, I know this computation is crude and grossly oversimplified. It's nuts to assume that all those worlds were born at the same time ours was. But the only number that matters is the 1024. All I mean to say is that it is really too soon to draw any conclusions in a cosmos of 1024 stars which is at least 10 billion years old.

Also, why does life need a planet at all? Even Earth's most hostile - to humans that is - environments host all kinds of life. Perhaps strange beings who live in the cold, dark interstellar void are at this moment speculating about whether or not it is possible for bizarre animals to live in the hot, steep gravity wells surrounding stars.

PS: Since most computers spend most of their processor time doing absolutely nothing, seti@home seems a harmless enough pursuit. (I mean, compared to just heating the room slightly.) And seti@home lead to BOINC, which allows idle computers to work on more applied problems such as protein folding and epidemiological simulations of malaria.

Hi Mike,

I pretty much agree with your analysis, including the relative harmlessness of the Quixotic SETI project and prognostication that we will likely eventually blunder ourselves back to pre-industrial conditions. A major humanitarian problem with that, of course, is the impossibility of supporting a population of nearly seven billion without technological crutches, let alone the fact that traditional knowledge and expertise in that sort of system has been forgotten and we won't have the luxury of time to relearn it.

Optimists who are skeptical that we don't have the capacity to destroy the delicate ecological knife-edge we're balanced on would do well to contemplate what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now. Kinda' puts speculating about extraterrestrial life and it's potential to cause us harm into wake-up call perspective. We're quite capable of messing things up spectacularly on our own.

As David Ehrenfeld observed in The Arrogance of Humanism:

"[A] red herring that must be disposed of at the outset is the 'cave and streambank' accusation. 'Surely,' say the advocates of perpetual progress, 'you don't want us to go back to making our soap out of lard and lye and to pounding our clothes on stones at the streambank?' Must we give up our modern medicines, our communications, our fast and safe transportation, and trudge wearily back to the cave?'...

"Obviously few of us want to live in caves. But what we want is often a separate thing from what actually happens . . . So long as there are 'modern' washing machines most of us will who can will no doubt continue to use them; and if it comes to the point where there are only stones by the streambank, then if we want clean clothes and there is a streambank handy, we will use the stones . . . In the meantime, we must live in our century and wait, enduring somehow the unavoidable sadness."

Sorry for drifting into something of a digression and the prolix citation. I'm certainly feeling sad about the catastrophic tragedy unfolding in the Gulf, and your comments about a reversion to pre-industrial society made be think of Ehrenfeld's gloomy but realistic musings.


SETI and Fermi's Paradox

From John:

Hi Charles,

One of the best articles I've come across on the Wikipedia is on the very subject you write about: Fermi's Paradox.

I've no personal religious interest in the subject, but I do come from a background in astronomy so have a few points to add:

  1. The universe is so vast that it's taxing for us to get our minds around.*
  2. Life is so small, based on enormous numbers of microscopic cells, that the Earth itself is a vast laboratory.
  3. Human experience of time is very limited. The universe and even life on our own planet evolves in far longer scales than we are comfortable considering.

The Atlantic ocean widens by a mere centimetre or so per year (Iceland's many active volcanoes being among the consequences along the seam), and yet the continents were together in the age of the dinosaurs. That, in turn, was fairly recent in the history of life on our planet. Every time we find older rock samples to look closer to the Earth's formation, we find the hardy traces of earlier and earlier microbial life. It seems as though the numbers game of giant laboratory + tiny participants + lots and lots of time does add up to good chances so long as the materials and the energy are there. The chemical origin of life, abiogenesis, is another leviathan of a subject on Wikipedia, as I'm sure you'll find no surprise.

With all that said, I am just as skeptical of SETI results as yourself. How do I explain the paradox?

The Fermi Paradox article has a section that is broadly in line with my understanding: Communication is impossible due to problems of scale. This is because in addition to the three points I listed above, Einstein gave us a fourth:

  1. Nothing may move faster than the speed of light.

Setting fictional conveniences like warp drives to one side, it's the speed of light that keeps us so remote within the universe. Light speed may seem fast on terrestrial scales - the Moon is a single second away, and the Sun eight minutes - but beyond our relatively compact little solar system, it takes over as a seriously limiting factor. The closest neighbouring star system, Alpha Centauri, is - as any science fiction fan will know - 4 light-years away. The centre of our galaxy is 25,000 years distant, while the next one, Andromeda, lies the best part of 3 million light-years away. (And there are 100 billion more galaxies, each containing many billions of stars, many quite like our Sun.) Those distances translate directly into one-way communication times. Multiply by two for a single phrase of dialogue, no matter what progress we must first make in order to hear such tiny signals.

So, as far as I'm concerned, there's no advanced extraterrestrial life anywhere we can reach, and vice versa. Which is not the same thing as thinking we are unique and alone in the universe. Rather, it is admitting that the cosmos exceeds us in scale. As does the ultimate cause of its origin.


* Editor's note: I can't help but think of the way the fictional Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (that is, the electronic book within the Hitchhiker's Guide universe, not the Hitchhiker's Guide radio program, television miniseries, or book by Douglas Adams) puts it: "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space." dk

Hi John,

Thanks for bringing the Fermi Paradox to my attention. The Wikipedia article is fascinating.

Your point about the speed of light being a daunting limiting factor is especially well-taken.

My own conviction is that human intelligence is unique because of my faith that what makes us human - intellect over instinct and the capacity for introspection and reflection - is not a product of evolution but rather a divine act of creation that united a spiritual "image and likeness" of the Creator with a physical organism that had developed through an evolutionary process, ultimately taking on the mantle of flesh Himself, and while the Creator might conceivably have done something similar elsewhere, it seems exceedingly unlikely.

If there is life out there somewhere in the cosmos, it's probably very different from earthly life forms, and probably not intelligent in the sense we understand intelligence.

Thanks for the thought-provoking observations.


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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