The Northern Spy — Forecasting a Year in Technology and …

January 2021

The Northern Spy

The Technology Industry

did well in the otherwise annus horribilis of 2020. Remote teaching, learning, business and personal teleconferencing, combined with the need to outfit and/or upgrade home offices meant that sales of computing equipment finished well after a short-lived COVID-induced slowdown. Preliminary indications to the third quarter show that Lenovo, GP, and Dell still dominate the Windows-compatible market; Apple is increasing market share, and Chrome books are now dominating the bargain basement ultramobile market. Indeed, if the latter are included with desktops, they now account for more than ten percent of that total market. 

Likewise the services businesses such as teleconferencing (Zoom), retail sales (EBay and Amazon), and social networking (Facebook and imitators) suffered no pain, and financial services (banks, credit unions, PayPal, Bitcoin) all prospered. The latter reached over the $36 000 mark, and appeared to still have up a head of steam.

By contrast, universities, churches, and some medical services (visits to a GP) were forced into online modes, but experienced a world of hurt because the community or experience they could deliver was markedly inferior (and that includes the Spy’s own courses which could not match his classroom delivery even with far more work). In many areas K-12 schools remained open, and suffered even more hurt by becoming spread centres. The latter was also the experience of brick-and-mortar retail, dine-in restaurants, and the vast army of their employees, who suddenly weren’t. Many endeavours that cannot effectively deliver their services or products online are going to be permanent casualties, and the unemployment rate will remain historically high , possibly for years. 

Perhaps what suffered the most was the credibility of politicians, whose responses ranged from bold and successful (New Zealand) to weak, denying, and catastrophic (the good ol’ U.S. of A.) Some managed both, first gaining credibility by projecting an aura of reasoned response, but later becoming inconsistent and caving either to monied interests, or worst of all, to conspiracy theorists and deniers.

There is also no denying the deficit implications. Whether all the spending was truly necessary or not is a question our descendants will have to answer as they pay for the largest governmental spending spree in history. Why is it that both governments and the governed live only in the now, spending money that does not exist, and never running surpluses against the kind of terrible rainy day we are now experiencing. Too bad common sense isn’t very. History will not be kind to most governments of our day.

So, whither 2021?

Innovative high-end people in several countries have developed novel vaccines for the novel coronavirus, and these have the potential to both tame the threat and greatly enrich the pharmaceutical industry. Only the potential? Ah but there are those who perversely conspire to invent conspiracy fables, and others who circulate long-since-discredited falsehoods about vaccines (for instance that they cause autism–NOT). 

Others denigrate the threat because the majority of deaths are among the aged, callously writing off millions of people because the dead are not of their tribe. They will sing a different tune when they are the aged and a next time occurs (count on it.) Since Spy and wife between them check every risk box for a fatal episode, and well remember the first smallpox vaccine and like lifesavers, they will get in line as soon as their demographic qualifies. Personally,  the Spy has zero time or respect for the people who say things like: “the death rate is only a couple of percent, and the median age of those is over 80. Do the math.” Such an uncaring and vicious dismissal of the millions of lives already lost (and more to come) is inhuman. And, hey, he is a mathematician. Go figure!

But, will vaccines be enough? Some estimates suggest that a 70% vaccination rate will confer “herd immunity”. Perhaps, but that seems a shaky assumption to the Spy. First, 30% of the population not immune sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, second, getting to that level may be problematic in the face of many people’s obvious preference for lies or indifference, and third, the first four to six months will see millions more die before the vaccine can potentially halt the carnage. Yes, the first part of 2021 is more likely to be worse than the last part of 2020, not better–though there is at least hope for a technological fix–until the next pandemic.

And, what of the hard tech boom?

Since we will be continuing in the remote meeting and teaching mode for at least the next semester and likely beyond, demand for upgraded desk top and laptop computers is likely to remain strong, as is that for audio-visual equipment. Churches, schools, and businesses that have not yet embraced remote delivery will either do so or vanish from the scene, and those that already have will upgrade their game or likewise fail–requiring more equipment, more customizable delivery systems. There is demand here to be fulfilled.

If… the Spy repeats “if” the COVID threat ameliorates so things substantially normalize by September, many workers (but by no means all) will return to long-neglected offices, and want the same upgrades they have had at home, so the technology buying binge will get its second wind–for a few months. Expect a sharp drop-off after that, because the next upgrade buying spree will have to contend with seriously depleted budgets. Government services will suffer the most, as their already antiquated computing systems will fall further behind do to the sheer lack of funds.

Oh, and though the residential real estate market has done surprisingly well during the pandemic, expect some bargain-basement retail and office space for a while, as much of it is likely to remain vacant.

Apple could hit a sweet spot

and Intel suffer a sharp setback by contrast. Preliminary indications are that Apple’s new processors, so far only deployed at the low end, can indeed well outperform Intel’s chips. If this holds as the new silicon is deployed across the middle and higher parts of the line during the coming year, Apple’s existing loyalists will upgrade in large numbers, and Cupertino’s market share could notch a sharp upward bump from the 8% current range–more if current “PC” users are attracted to higher performance, then stay with the Apple platform because of the superior OS. Done right by Cupertino, and with low-cost consumer accessible options, a 20% market share is achievable–if Apple wants it.

The Spy is no fan of W*nd*ws as an OS, but is forced to use it at times to run programs that have perversely never been deployed on MacOS. Besides, Excel, for instance (on which the Spy heavily depends, even though VBA is the quintessential poster boy for a badly designed language), runs faster and with fewer bugs under Parallels running Windows on a Mac by emulation than does the native Mac version, despite the program having originated under MacOS. OTOH, Excel is poorly documented, and requires much trial-and-error guesswork to do useful things beyond the basics.

So, if the new hardware and software continue to enable the ability to boot and run the MS OS and applications, it could be a big win for Apple, and that may already be being reflected in its soaring stock market evaluation.

Meanwhile, a month with the iPhone 12 Pro Max

has convinced  the Spy that Apple has another big winner in the premium smartphone market. Of course comparisons to late aging iPhone 6+ are not fair (the Spy doesn’t upgrade often) but he notes the following:

– the increased screen real estate is very noticeable, especially when using the Olive Tree Bible reader with an English Bible on the upper screen and the Greek on the lower. Much more usable and stable.

– the battery life is about four times as long as the six, though the Spy notes that line had serious battery issues. Indeed his had already been replaced once, and at the end even the replacement could scarcely make it through a day, let alone three with oomph to go for most of a fourth as now with the twelve. 

– the facial recognition feature is a reliable timesaver, except when wearing a mask, when it can neither be trained nor used.

– the combination of new hardware and upgraded apps has resulted in a bug-free experience and far zippier performance so far, which was not at all the case at all with the six.

– the display quality is quite noticeably improved, and thus much easier to read, especially when using smaller fonts.

– the glass is supposedly much tougher, and the Spy has decided not to use a screen protector.

– the rebranded magsafe charging works like a charm–provided the Spy first removes the phone from the wallet case he purchased.

– the new gestures introduced in more recent versions of iOS and enabled by hardware changes took a little learning, but only a couple of documentation lookups, and already seem a natural experience.

–  the Spy highly recommends this model, if his reader can afford it. But hey, and upgrade every six or more years seems do-able.

– He might have waited for the thirteen, but his six was verging on the useless because of battery and lightning connector wear.

– Thumbs up, though there are units on the market whose performance is at a similar level, and priced much lower. ‘Course, their OS is inferior, but you get what you pay for.

More latest word on the cancer saga

A bad fall on black ice and consequent back injury has induced sciatic pain into Joyce’s mix, and more of the medication interactions are proving problematic. The last of six chemotherapy treatments was put off a week and the chemicals will be changed to ones less threatening (and generally less effective) due to the extensive debilitating side effects (neuropathy, edema, digestive system issues, etc.). Another surgical consult is scheduled for later in the month, but is unlikely to deliver a positive verdict.

Christmas was an odd experience. No big dinner with the extended family and their invited strays, presents opened on opposite sides of the back screen door–family outside around a metal propane fire pit, us inside shivering in the cold air intake through the screen, no tree inside, but one outside well decorated by family, no Christmas service at church, but attending online ones instead. 

Once (if) COVID is over, we plan to buy an enormous turkey, invite the whole gang plus anyone else with whom we want to share, and have a grand celebratory feast to make up for all the isolation.–DV

See you all again next month.

–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 fiftieth year as a high school and university teacher in 2020. 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 is a 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 (paper and online), 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 have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972. 

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises: 

The Northern Spy Home Page:

opundo :

Sheaves Christian Resources :

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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:


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