The Northern Spy — Content – A State of Mind or of Matter

The Northern Spy

It used to be that

the three most important things to business success were location, location, and location. Today they are the content of your inventory, the content of your web site that permits access to ordering said inventory, and how content you make your customers (you don’t want your reputation slagged on social media do you?)

Apple seems to consistently navigate all this in a manner that leaves many of its competitors in the dust. Yes, there have been missteps over the years, products that went awry (Apple ///, the Cube) and “features” that missed the mark (touchbar, only one kind of port) but the company has the most loyal customers of any in the technology industry, despite charging premium prices. Why? Quality, attention to design details, a reputation for listening (eventually) innovation, and when second or third to the market, just doing it that much better. 

Those are some of the reasons Apple’s stock held up this past week when many were taking a beating due to concerns over the omicron COVID variant, and ongoing supply chain issues. Indeed, the shortening and automation of the supply chain was one of the features in the Spy’s prognostications back in the 1980s, and iTim iCook cut his teeth on that aspect of the business. But a short, optimized, high efficiency, low or no inventory type of supply chain without supply guarantees, redundancies, or fallbacks, is also inherently fragile, and easily disrupted. COVID and a variety of supply issues have damaged many supply chains–the automotive industry more than most. Apple’s supply chain may have bent a little, but it didn’t even crack.

These observations prevent the Spy from crediting rumours that Apple has given up on the idea of manufacturing its own Electric Vehicles. Au contraire, he believes this project is not only alive and well, but that Apple has better and more modern resources than most to pull it off, and either is in negotiations for or has already secured both supply chain and manufacturing sites.

A possible left-handed monkey wrench (no offence to monkeys) is the Clinton administrations’ meddling in that industry by promising big rebates for EVs, but only if they are manufactured in the U.S. of A. …Ah… that’s not how the automotive industry works. All vehicles in a specific make and model from a given company may have their final assembly in a single factory in the U.S., with other models assembled in Canada or Mexico but each model contains parts originating from and the final product is then sold in all three countries. Moreover, those parts may cross the borders many times as subassemblies are pieced together for incorporation into the final build. There probably isn’t a car that is exclusively manufactured in its entirety in any one of those three nations. 

Suppose, for instance that Apple were to source a particular model’s battery unit (most massive component of an EV) in Canada (feasible in this case, though the Spy isn’t claiming special knowledge). To cut costs, time, and shipping inconvenience, it might make sense to assemble that car in Canada. OTOH, another model might be assembled in the U.SA., even though most of its production was destined to be sold in Canada because it has been specially winterized. (Up here in the frozen North, we don’t use garages; we just build storage igloos as needed.) The point is that such preferential tariffs would break the whole supply and assembly chain model that has worked so well for decades in North America. It’s a mix of high and low tech these days, but the system ain’t broke, and don’t need fixing.

The fragility of optimized supply chains

is also well-illustrated by what is happening in Southwest British Columbia the last few weeks. Freak storms (perhaps no longer “freak”) called “atmospheric rivers” (an oceanic-sourced supply chain of water) have repeatedly pounded the coastal region, each dumping up to a full month’s rain in hours, causing massive floods and landslides. At one point all highways, rail lines, and the main pipeline into the area were closed, cutting off land access to greater Vancouver from the rest of Canada. The highways are now closed again.

Since the flooded area, once a lake bottom that is normally kept dry by canals and enormous pumps set up in the 1920s, is also mostly agricultural land, producing milk, eggs, chickens, fruit, and vegetables, and when no highways are functional, the entire grocery supply chain is cut off. Gasoline remains rationed (no pipeline), and as this writing, yet another storm is dumping more rain. At least one highway is likely to be closed for months, and it’s not clear whether another in the interior can be repaired at all.

The crisis initially led to crowding in grocery stores, some hoarding, people going from one gas station to another to fill up, but also to spectacular heroism and acts of human kindness in saving drivers from mudslides, and rescuing farmers and endangered dairy cows from underwater properties, plus providing accommodations and food from scant resources for the many thousands of evacuees from the Abbotsford, Merritt, and Princeton communities. Thus far only a handful of people have died (all in highway washouts), but thousands have their homes and livelihood destroyed.

BTW, in case you wondered, yes, the Spy indeed does live in Abbotsford–and in the country, not in the relatively untouched urban centre. However, his manse is on 2 Ha of rolling land that is kitty corner across the entire township from the flooded quarter, and on far higher ground. Moreover, though the creeks in his deep ravines are roaring torrents these days, they are a long way below the manor house, and no threat.

But, like COVID, much of the current destruction was/is preventable. One study after another had highlighted the dangers from too-low and too-fragile dykes, the poorly protected and ancient pumps at Barrowtown, and the resulting risks to the whole Sumas Prairie. But the science was ignored by powers that be. So, yup, the Nooksack river south of the 49th flooded and crossed the border into Canada (again), a key dyke failed, and the pumps themselves would have been destroyed if not for hundreds of volunteers who over a single night, constructed a two metre high sandbag wall surrounding the pump building. The whole thing ought to make people think about what many now low-lying areas will look like when (we are likely past “if”) the Antarctic and Greenland glaciers melt and the sea level rises several metres. The Spy built high for a reason.

Something else that’s broken

by the irresponsible spread of utterly false information is public trust in the medical system. (Aha! You thought the end of that sentence was going to end with “the political system.” Well, that too, but not this month.

So we have people touting Ivermectin (a horse de-wormer) and Hydroxycloroquine (a malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus drug) for treating COVID. The former is only sometimes used as an anti-parasitic drug for humans. Both can be dangerous if not closely supervised. One prominent influencer (ahem) even touted injecting bleach. Boosters cite people who have been “cured” by such ridiculous measures, despite that there is zero scientific evidence for their efficacy. The Spy is tempted to suggest an extract of pig manure mixed with salt water, hemlock sap, and dryer lint. Since most people recover from COVID eventually anyway, it would not be hard to collect testimonials to its effectiveness, despite that he selected the hypothetical ingredients at random from among numerous ones that could not possibly have any medical efficacy. 

Proper tests for treatment regimens have to be done by double blind trials on a very large scale, where neither the patients nor the researchers know whether a test subject is receiving the putative treatment or a placebo. Otherwise the study has built-n bias. The skew in favour of the treatment over the nothing needs to be significant, not just 51%-49% with apparent minor symptomatic relief. “Tests” done in other ways, with few subjects, or with ambiguous results, are not valid. Testimonials are not valid. Claims without proof are not valid. Rejecting validated scientifically repeatable tests as false is destructive and broken thinking. Vaccines have been proven safe, reliable, and effective, despite falsehoods and unsubstantiated propaganda to the contrary.

OTOH, we are witnessing a modern “patent medicine” sideshow con game. On the more serious hand, undermining of confidence in legitimate preventatives damages the entire medical system. It’s bad enough that people are unnecessarily dying from COVID, but the sheer number of sick patients has caused other health problems to be neglected, so that more are also dying because of postponed surgeries, drug overdoses, the general lack of hospital beds, inadequate diagnostic facility time and space, and the unavailability of medical personnel. It’s only a matter of time before some believer in and spreader of falsehoods is charged with criminal negligence causing death for spreading lies that kill people. Ignorance of the truth and belief in non-facts may be a self inflicted wound, but spreading lies that cause death when one can and should know better is actionably irresponsible. The Spy has no sympathy for those in multiple-contact public professions such as education and medicine who refuse vaccines, thus creating a serious threat to the lives of the very people they supposedly serve. Of course they cannot be allowed contact with vulnerable clients. They are obviously dangerous.

The Spy made a major low technology change

this month when he traded in both his Subaru Forester and his late wife’s Legacy for yet another Subaru–this time an Ascent. More cargo room and greater towing power were the drawing cards, and a lack of enthusiasm to even look at the Legacy any more was a selling motivation–though as a pure highway car that car was fantastic. It had just seen too much grief and sorrow over hundreds of trips to the hospital. The Spy will say that those were the best two cars he has ever owned, but so far, after only 300Km, the Ascent bids to beat them both. We are a long way past the days when you routinely took every new car beck to the dealer multiple times to get pages-long lists of manufacturing defects corrected. These three have had none. The 60s through 80s North American auto industry was badly broken and in desperate need of a reset–much as is the current textbook publishing system (but he won’t beat on that dead tree industry today) .

OTOH, he remains less than impressed enough to purchase a SiriusXM subscription beyond the free trial with which the car came equipped. This is something he’s looked at twice before without becoming even slightly tempted to pay for it. Perhaps it suits some people, but for the Spy, there doesn’t seem to be any “there” there.

OTTH, he isn’t ready to buy an electric car himself. That technology needs maturing by early adopters. Perhaps in ten years. But by that time, he may not be around any more, and even if he is, would anyone let him drive a car? ‘Course, would one have to drive it?

And a higher tech one

The Spy is working on moving his Arjay Enterprises and its domain name, hosting, and consulting subsidiaries (including to a newer, faster, roomier, better connected and better supported server. Lots of incompatibilities with older sites under newer software, but he’s getting there. 

Meanwhile, QES (quite enough said)

–The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics and Assistant Dean of Science at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He completed his fifty-first year as a high school and university teacher in 2021. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He was co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (dead tree and online formats), since the early 1980s, and he’s been a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. from 1972 to 2021, where he now continues alone, depending heavily on family to manage. 

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises: 

The Northern Spy Home Page:

opundo :

Sheaves Christian Resources :

WebNameHost :

WebNameSource :

nameman :

General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books: 

Author Site:

Publisher’s Site:

The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ):

Other URLs of relevant interest: 

BC Government COVID site:


URLs for products mentioned this month: Subaru:

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About the Author


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