The Northern Spy — Of Kudos and Cranks

The Northern Spy
Technology News and Views Since 1983

A couple of recent purchases 

are worth a mention here. First up is Apple’s second generation TV+ Siri remote –product A2540 with the aluminum case, now sold with the Apple TV. 4K, but also available for standalone purchase. This is the replacement for earlier iterations of the Siri remote in the black case–a rather poorly designed piece of work in the Spy’s view. Its touch pad was far too sensitive, making cursor control difficult, even haphazard. Moreover, it had no on/off switch. The new remote remedies the latter, and improves on the former via a touch-enabled clickpad encircled by an incremental navigation wheel. The Siri button is on the side. As with the previous model, connectivity is via bluetooth to the Apple TV boxes, and by IR to other devices. This means the power switch can activate or deactivate the entire entertainment centre, something the old one could not. 

However, the new touch clickpad is still overly sensitive, often leading to a misplaced destination because of some slight brush of a hair or fingernail tip against it. Only one remote can be paired to the AppleTV box at a time, so the old one has retired to remote pasture. One thing that has not changed, however, is that the battery on the new model is as non-replaceable as the old. If it gives up its ionic ghost, the whole remote goes. Still, the overall improvement in design and functionality means the purchase of the standalone product at $69CDN seems worth it. The Spy assigns a C- to the old remote and a B+ to the new one.

Portable storage

is one of the Spy’s must haves. To reiterate, he has uses two desktops and two portables–one of each at home and in the office at the university. For the record, the desktops are old 2010-2012 MacPro towers, currently running Catalina(!). The Spy wasn’t thrilled enough with Big Sur to hack them again, and will wait another two iterations before installing Monteray on them, and perhaps even on the 2008 tower (also running Catalina) that was his wife’s, should he find a new use for that box. Both his 2015 and 2019 portables run Monteray, the former used for travel out of the home, the latter for classroom tasks.

Work done at both sites is backed up by Time Machine and by automatic tasks run by Carbon Copy Cloner to a NAS and an external drive. CCC is also used to make portable backups, the early morning one at home being restored to the work machine, and the late afternoon one made at work restored to the home machine. The portables get updated as needed. A 17 inch portable has High Sierra installed and is used to run some legacy software that may never be updated.

For transporting the backups between locations over the years, he has used USB sticks, then more recently portable platter or SSD drives, purchasing larger capacity and faster devices as time progressed. More current sticks and drives contain one backup partition for each of the four machines, and the 17 incher has its own backups. A slightly larger form factor case holds a 5T platter drive used to archive old lecture recordings. The SSDs fit in a pocket, but are a little bulky there. They seemed adequate for the task, though. 

But this past week, the Spy spotted Western Digital’s SanDisk Extreme portable 1T SSD at Costco and it seemed a decent buy at $169CDN, so he sprung for one. It has yet to be beaten upon extensively, but managed to do a complete backup of his 23G files partition in just over three minutes. A USB stick had just required 20 minutes to do an incremental backup of the same partition. The SDE later did a similar incremental backup in 31 seconds.

The form factor for these devices is larger than a USB stick, but much smaller than a standard SSD drive, so is barely noticeable in a pocket. A 500G and a 2T model are available in the same form factor. If Costco is out of stock, try BestBuy or Amazon. This one looks and feels like a winner–at least for his workflow purposes.

But its USB-C connection highlights 

our never ending cable proliferation. The SanDisk came with a short C-C male cable, plus a C female to A male adapter connector for machines boasting the latter, the reverse of several A to C adapters he already had on hand. And, with the newer portables and docks also having C connectors, the need arises for C to B, mini-B, and micro B to go along with all the A to everything else in both 2.0, and 3-superspeed, plus more for assorted Display port connectors and TB 1,2,3, and 4 dongles, cables and adaptors. Toss in assorted other dongles and cables leading from x-something to various video formats, ethernet, docks of assorted generations, USB to assorted barrel power connectors, and the number of such items runs into the hundreds.

Each fixed location needs them all, and both portable briefcases need a (different) selected assortment. Of course, some cable lengths are more suitable for one application, and others for different ones. In addition the Spy still has boxes of power cables, low voltage adapters that powered now forgotten equipment, assorted SCSI format connectors, and who knows what all else. Sometimes he wonders if we were better off in the days when we used breakout boxes to detect signals and made our own custom cables for each individual application. But, at least when a faculty member desperately needs a cable they have forgotten to bring from home, they know where to find one in a pinch.

Last Monday

the Spy taught a class in person in a classroom for the first time in nearly two years (Math/Cmpt 340–Discrete Math II). ‘Course, since everyone is masked, who knows what the students look like? And, because we started on-line three weeks earlier, and the expectation is that some will miss any given class due to COVID, the lectures have to be recorded. For this purpose, the Spy had approved the purchase of six sets of tripod-camera-lapel microphone for classroom use by science faculty on a signout basis. The cameras are AI-enabled Obsbot Tiny PTZ devices that on being given appropriate hand signals will follow the lecturer around or zoom in/out. The tripods are the Amazon basic ones, and the mics are the Bluetooth Sabinetek SmartMike Silver (that are actually black). It’s a good setup. The Spy went back to Amazon and purchased the similar SmartMike+ (with a silver tip; later model?) and a tripod with his own money, and checks out only a camera.

Arrive fifteen minutes early, set up and connect the camera, get it locked on the lecturer, remove the mic from its charger and clip it on the shirt, turn Zoom on and test the video and audio, remember to start recording before beginning to talk, and away you go. This way, a student who is ill can either Zoom into the class time or watch the recording later.

The setup works well, though there are a few glitches. Sometimes when a student arrives late, and has to cross the front of the class to get a seat because the room boasts only a single door, the camera “friends” and then follows the student instead of the teacher. It also tends to follow only faces, and this sometimes means it does not take in the top of the board, so the whole surface cannot be used. The sound quality from this tiny mic is quite good, but the Spy regards the camera technology, though very useful, to be rather immature at this point.

Our reader

in that county (if it still is one) to the south of the great frozen north in which we Canadians have built our igloos must be wondering about the chaos in our own capital city this week. Well, it started as a peaceful parade across the country by a small minority of truckers protesting vaccine mandates on both sides of the boarder being required to cross that bump at the 49th–a perfectly legitimate expression of opinion, however ill-informed and wrong headed. However, their numbers were soon swelled by professional protesters, neo nazis, Confederate flag flaunters, conspiracy theorists, and assorted anti-everything anarchist types.

A war memorial and the Terry Fox statue were desecrated, the homeless had their food stolen, mobs threatened violence storekeepers who request them to wear masks inside, the streets were taken over, and Parliament’s lawn filled with an unruly mob. Perhaps Canadians, even under such circumstances, are somewhat more restrained then their neighbours, for this protest, hijacked by evil as it was, at least has so far lacked a gallows on which to hang government members, any murders of security forces, or a break-in to destroy the Parliament buildings and kill those they label “traitors” for not bowing to their will.

Has our world gone insane? Sure, vaccines and masks cannot be 100% effective at preventing the spread of the virus, but they do work, and those mandates (like speed limits) are made to reduce sickness and save lives–some of them likely those of the very protestors who demand “freedom”. Freedom to do what–spread a deadly virus to everyone they contact? die of it themselves? clog hospitals to the point cancer and other patients cannot get life saving surgery (seen that ourselves)? threaten, steal, damage property, engage in violence, behave worse than wild boars? Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are no doubt laughing at the North Americans who must seem to them bent on destroying the very democracy we once touted as superior to their brutal and genocidal dictatorships. Surely they can now go to war, annex their neighbours (and eventually us) into a totalitarianism that brooks not a whisper of dissent from the glorious leader’s agenda, and expect the west to remain supine as it is swallowed whole. Such events illustrate that there is no fix, technological or otherwise, for human stupidity or depravity.

If we’re all still here, see you 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 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 :

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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:


URLs for products mentioned this month: 

Amazon Basics Tripod:

SabineTek SmartMike+:

Sandisk Extreme:

Obsbot Camera:

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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.