The Northern Spy — Freezing in the Dark

The Northern Spy


to our impatient reader for the extreme lateness of this column. The Spy is attempting two full time jobs at once (his own and that of his boss, who has a concussion) plus handle the fiscal year end and budget for his church, and that of the Science faculty, all at once. Moreover, he spent the last weekend (Thurs-Sat) at the Murdock College Research Conference in Vancouver WA (5+ hour drive).  Things got a little hairy. 

Climate change is real,

for Earth supports a delicate climate system that needs little nudging to produce dramatic change effects. Our reader might recall the level four atmospheric river that inundated the Fraser Valley last winter, flooding much of the area, killing tens of thousands of animals, covering what had been productive farmland with silt and debris, wiping out crops, and displacing the residents of nearly a quarter of Abbotsford, many of whom still must build homes and barns if they want to re-start their former livelihood and live on their land.

The following spring was late, wet and cold, the summer and early fall now just ended hot and dry with some areas in level five drought condition (the highest level used). Now we soak under multiple level two atmospheric rivers one after another, and the Spy writes this column a few days late for as long as his old 2015 MacBook Pro’s battery lasts, for the power is out due to the latest wind storm, and Hydro has no estimated time to restoration even after ten hours.

By all accounts, just down the road in a place called California (ever heard of it?) a multi-year drought with its resultant dried up rivers, emptying reservoirs to the point of many irrigated crops being abandoned and even a shortage of drinking water, has many people contemplating a move from what is rapidly becoming an uninhabitable desert to more temperate climes. Not much point in coming here for the weather isn’t our friend either. Indeed it has now turned cold, the ski hills are opening, and snow could also fall down here near sea level any day now.

Hey, people out there have become thoroughly enamoured with conspiracy theories. Maybe we can start a rumour that its all caused by sycophants of the Deompublicans and it’s time to vote for the Aardvark Party–you know, the ones promising a utopia where no one has to work, the robots do everything, there are no corporate taxes either, and everyone gets a government salary of $200K for doing…well…nothing. Asked by this reporter how the government could afford to pay for its platform when no one had any other income, so there were no taxpayers, the response from slightly inebriated party spokesperson Joe-Don McBidump was “guvermench doan need taxshes, dey got lotsha money.”(Apologies for quoting verbatim a fondly remembered candidate for local government, but the Spy declines to provide an attribution–it was decades ago.) 

Or, how about this for a conspiracy by the sentient weather itself out for revenge. Once the Arctic is free of ice all year, large scale evaporation and winds shifting southward will carry all that moisture into the Rockies and other western ranges, inundating them with so much snow that they vanish under multi-kilometre high glaciers within a handful of decades, even while Antarctica melts, Greenland recovers the climate of its namesake, the mid-continent cropland boundary shifts hundreds of kilometres northward, and parts of Central America and the southern U.S. become uninhabitable wasteland.

Pssst. Didn’t you know? Climate change is real after all, but deliberately engineered as part of a secret conspiracy by a gang of computer nerds looking to take advantage of the crisis to take us all over and turn us into obedient cyborgs. However there is a tonic you can take to prevent being taken over–$100 for a months supply of Joe-Don’s elixir to be taken daily for ten years or until the singularity wipes us all out.

Hey, in the Spy’s defence, such a weather scenario is at least plausible, and since people already believe in far less realistic conspiracies, why not in yet another made up story? After all, there is a North American political party with its own fictional stories and fantastic lawsuits that was prepared to contest any election losses they might experience weeks before the event. Had they won sufficiently to take over the election apparatus, would democracy have died in that land? Ah, but alas for the once and would be again Glorious Leader, the most extreme of candidates apparently went down to inglorious defeat. Now, for good measure, one wonders if a continuing Canadian democracy would yet be seen as a threat to some autocrat to our South, so that Putin’s admirers and imitators  invaded on the pretext of deNazifing us, but actually to seize our (newly expanded) farmland, plus any factories, and resources they don’t bomb into rubble in the process?

Makes no sense? Neither does the other one. But Canada does have a very large Ukrainian population, and it is growing rapidly. So why not? Or will Vlad the invader find a pretext first?

Hey, once one gets going on conspiracy theory fiction, there are no limits. Who better than an AH-SF writer to know? He’s invented whole worlds, including one where the Irish rule everything–with checks and balances, that of course do not always. This bottom line? Everybody knows and complains about the changing weather, but no one is doing much about it. Voters enamoured with ridiculous conspiracy theories and lost in the worship of their purveyors don’t care enough for it to matter to politicians, and not enough of the latter know enough about science to do anything even if they were dragged screaming for votes in the direction of concern. Thus the world is not even at the design stage of the technology cycle for effective solutions to what has been an existential threat for some time now. 

Then there is government…, fill it in)

as politicians scramble to contain the inflation they caused by deficit spending during the pandemic. Hello? If you wave your magic printing press do it spews spew money that has no currency in the blood sweat and tears of we workers to exist, it will chase the same number of goods, bidding up their price. This isn’t computer science, and it is indiscriminate, not caring why the imaginary money was sprinkled like fairy dust in the first place. (Apologies to rocket scientists, but it has become evident that profession is easier.)

So much for windows on the world, now for

ones looking out on his own front and back yards. This a tale of twenty-one of them. Are windows really a socio-technology issue? You Betcha. Any successful technology application, just like a sound political or social one, requires thorough design, sound engineering, careful installation and deployment, before proper use. Miss on one step and your reputation is in the toilet and already swirling around ready to drop down the tube. 

The backstory: In the old old days of 1992, before the Spy was himself old, or his current students were even born, when their own boys were barely teenagers, he and his wife constructed a new house to replace the twenty-year old one he’d once, when they were both much younger, built for his bride on a peaceful semi-rural .4Ha lot in Aldergrove. Unfortunately, that neighbourhood had become a haven for rapacious developers turning each property into six mini-lots now boasting maxi houses, where even looking out a window had become painful and the cat hid in the basement, paws over her ears trying not to hear the sounds of construction. Ah, but the new place was/is on 2Ha (5 acres if you live in a country that has such things) with two creeks in deep ravines, but on high ground around the house. The cat happily killed three mice her first otherwise peaceful day there.

This time, he did less of the work with his own hands, which turned out not well in a few matters. The windows the foreman bought for him were double glazed, but cheaply made and poorly installed, so they leaked warm air out and insects in. By the time their defects became obvious, the manufacturer had first moved, then gone out of business. Surprise! Moreover, one day during construction, the Spy arrived at the site, found that the vinyl siding was already installed two-thirds of the way up the house. He asked in utter astonishment “Where’s the Tyvek?” The response: “What’s that?” So, once the septic system was installed, Spy and wife parted company with said foreman and the family finished the job together. One other shortcoming: The electrical contractor must have used beginner apprentices to do the rough wiring because in doing the finish work, the Spy found numerous shortcuts, code violations, and one dead short. He has reverted to doing all his own electrical ever since.  

The electrical problems were fixable under his own permit, but the windows and siding issues always gnawed at the Spy. By 2000, he had managed to save the (now very large sum) needed to junk and replace it all. But COVID hit, then cancer, so the project got put off. Then, when he went away for a brief trip after his wife’s memorial service, thieves broke a window next to the front door, unlatched and opened it, set off the alarm of course, but entered the bedroom and took her jewel boxes containing a lifetime of memories and gifts, including her rings and my own best watches, and fled. Astonishingly, they left behind the fresh flowers from the service with which they could have really impressed their girlfriends.  

Alerted by daughter-in-law while on the road home, he arrived thirty minutes later, and the police showed forty-five more minutes later. They took statements, opened a file, and apart from their trauma counsellor, never contacted him again. Pictures sent to every pawn ship in a fifty kilometre radius got no action, he boarded up the window, and began taking quotes to do a complete window and siding replacement. 

He’s a techie guy and prudent, so…

he soon discovered that government rebates to encourage energy efficiency favoured the multiply coated and gas filled triple glazed vinyl windows made by window giant Ecoline, and despite other companies bad mouthing that as overkill (even though theirs were no cheaper and the refunds on those would be much less down to nothing), he went for what seemed the best window technology at the best price. The salesman/overseer also owned a siding company so he gave him the contract to properly clad the house and install ocean blue Hardie Board as well. BTW, Anderson, a continent-wide window colossus, bid nearly four times as much for much lesser quality windows and their high pressure salesman twisted his arm hard, offering a sign-today discount of a portion of the rip-off. Not exactly transparent. Not exactly honest.

Contract on the shelf, he waited what seemed forever for the windows to come from the centre of the universe (Toronto, don’tya know), but was only about five months. The full remaining balance beyond the deposit had to be paid on delivery, so he checked what was stacked in the garage, noting the jam and casing pieces attached to the ones he could see in the two piles. All appeared to be OK, so he paid. Huge huge huge mistake.

One of the kitchen windows was missing. Moreover, the two sliding doors had no jam or casing and what they installed on the two front windows by the door was so sloppily done it looks pitiful. One sliding door lock was broken, another was missing, and some damage to the upper deck coating was not repaired. A couple of months later, someone poking through the warehouse found a window of the correct size and type for the kitchen and that was installed so the siding job could be completed (the latter with only minor imperfections, so OK.) Alas that final window also lacked jamb and casing, leaving five window installs incomplete and wretched eyesores. To top it all off, after the last install, the Spy realized that the two kitchen windows opened the same way rather than the opposite as the contract specified. The missing window had really been the other one. The first of the two had been installed in the wrong opening.

Calls to the original salesman and the Ecoline service desk elicited promises to do something from the latter, and after several contacts, with some twenty picture of the mess sent to them, their head installer came to inspect. He tut-tutted and took a few minimal notes (bad sign, few details recorded), gave assurances something would happen, and a deafening silence fell upon any further communication, as the service department stopped answering emails and calls. Finally after leaving a rather pointed phone message and waiting another couple of weeks, an ostensible supervisor called, listened to the tale of woe, assured the Spy that he had all the pictures and emails, and said he was trying to contact the inspector to verify the story. Moreover, he observed (surprise, surprise) that company records stated the job was complete and nothing needed still to be done doing save the install of one missing lock (not two, you will note). The “supervisor” then abruptly hung up, citing an incoming call. Nearly yet another month passed and nothing further happened.

Venting here to the Spy’s listener is no doubt insufficient. It’s not too likely she needs windows. But if she does, she should run fast, not walk, as far away as possible from Ecoline (or Anderson). He’ll try again to escalate to the next level supervisor, but perhaps the next stage is to contact one of those TV consumer shows that document such wretched mistreatment of consumers. After that, perhaps a lawyer will be in order. The Spy is friends with a couple of really good ones.

The bottom line: good technology badly done isn’t. The other bottom line: It’s been over twelve hours now with no electricity. The gas stove and the wood stove ensure cooking can be done and the house heated but the fridge contents will soon spoil. Yet another bottom line: The Spy is also getting old. He goes to few weddings these days, but needs to head out to yet another funeral, this time for a friend and customer of his Web business. One more thing (not really scary, for we both knew/know where we go next) is that he was several years younger. Sic transit.

Added in revision that night: The power is back on here, though still out for tens of thousands of other households. The memorial was gospel filled (as one can only hope all would be ) and other friends disputed  the departed’s actual age. He may have been a few months older than the Spy after all.

(Added much later when this piece was really, really overdue) A further phone call to the same supposed Ecoline supervisor after more weeks had passed elicited the information that the missing items were scheduled to be shipped on November 30, possibly installed as early as December 10. Who knew? We shall see. The history here is not exactly stellar. More news: the Spy’s hernia (suffered in a fall in the woods) is scheduled to be repaired in mid December. Since he has bad reactions to anesthetic, it will be done with a local. Should be interesting watching it. 

But it’s time to back this up to his main machine and post to the syndication list and web site….finally (the two parts of that sentence are about ten days apart). TTFN.

–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-second year as a high school and university teacher in 2022. 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 other conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and lived in the Langley/Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. from 1969 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:

Please follow and like us:

About the Author

Rick Sutcliffe

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 at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and 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 nine alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.