The Northern Spy – Sharp Knives for Coming Cuts

The Northern Spy

The Spy was working

in his woods a few months back, trying to rehabilitate a trail that had been washed out when his little creek became a raging torrent this time last year as the mother of all atmospheric rivers struck the area, causing Sumas Lake, which had been drained for farmland a century earlier, filled back up again, destroying roads, killing 630 000 chickens 12 000 hogs, and 420 cattle, and displacing thousand of people from that quarter of Abbotsford. Though the manse itself is on high ground and was not threatened, deep in the ravine there was much damage, and one bridge nearly floated away.

The trick at the moment was to move a boulder 60cm in radius and about 20cm in depth that was blocking the path. The high tech solution: dig a deep hole beside the rock, use a fence post to lever the miscreant into the hole, and cover up with dirt and gravel mined from the now dry creek bed. But the clay was wet, the bottom of the pole slipped in the goop, and the Spy found himself on his back staring up at stars even though it was broad daylight. The initial inventory was one bruised shoulder and torn ear, several bruised ribs, and a badly damaged ring finger.

The first three would of course eventually heal, the ring of 52+ years came off with great difficulty (and cannot be re-installed across the still damaged and swollen joint). However, a few days’ passage revealed an ominous abdominal budge, which the Spy scarcely required the doctor to diagnose a hernia, one that has slowly but inexorably been getting worse despite wearing one of those uncomfortable belts that are supposed to help keep things inside where they belong.

Courtesy a friendly scheduler and the paucity of willing operands, surgery is in a narrow Christmas window on December fifteenth just after Fall semester exams, and hopefully after all his marking is complete. Let’s hope and pray this technological fix goes well. At least the blood test for heart issues came back with only a trace of stress markers, apparently suggesting to the surgeon that his subject is somewhat unlikely to inconveniently die on the table (statistically speaking only; his life’s in Other hands than the surgeon’s). Oh, and did he mention that he has very nasty reactions to general anesthetics, narcotics, and barbiturates (he’d make a lousy drug addict) so the surgery will be done with a local anesthetic? Goody. He gets to watch. Should be interesting, but he’ll refrain from dispensing advice–experience dismembering turkeys (the birds) doesn’t qualify him to comment on doing something similar to this human one.

‘Course, others will have to buy and decorate his tree, cook the turkey, (both too heavy) and install the house lights (too risky) on top of babysitting him for at least 24 hours after the surgeon makes the cut. Heavy activities after that must also be cut for two weeks.

Elon Musk

is both the wielder of knives and a potential target for same. On the one hand, he’s already reportedly cut a large percentage of Twitter employees. On the other, what may be a similar percentage of his advertisers have cut his shiny new toy off their Christmas nice list because of his (on the gripping hand) apparent decision to cease curating most hate speech on the platform, under which policy he has already reinstated a certain former president who likes to whistle racists to his dinner table, then deny he knows them.

Addressing his own claim that Apple has dropped most of its advertising on Twitter and his own frequent claims to promote it, Musk asked, “Do they hate free speech in America?”

Pssst. Doesn’t everybody know? Isn’t it Obvious? Speech that targets others with hatred because they aren’t just like oneself is not only unfree, it’s exorbitantly costly. It destroys freedom, respect, democracy, human dignity, any semblance of a social fabric, and puts at risk the very existence of the targeted minority groups and sometimes even whole nations. Look what Putin the genocider is doing to a country whose people in his eyes have no right to exist. Consider what China does to its minority ethnic groups who worship someone other then the “glorious leader”–what any and every dictator history has known does to dissenters, or those sufficiently and conveniently different enough to be selected as the obligatory minority demonized scapegoats all despots seem to need to demonstrate the extent of their absolute power.

No, Elon. Your monetary success is not license to enable and promote the most constricting and costly type of speech in existence. And, as for the Spy’s reader–do you really want to buy a car from such a man?

Now about those windows

of which the Spy spoke a few weeks ago. In what may have been an unguarded moment where he perhaps failed to look at his call display and realize it was the pest again, an Ecoline service rep actually answered his call. It took a while for the poor forgetful fellow to get back up to speed (though we twain had spoken a few times before) but the Spy finally elicited the information that the missing parts would be shipped from Toronto on November 30, and could be available for installation as soon as December 10. Another stall, or a ray of light cutting through the gloom? We shall soon see.

Cutting through the snow

…in a ten horse open snowblower, the Spy managed to clear his driveway and a hundred metres of road up the hill beside it in a couple of hours yesterday morning (side roads are not plowed). Interestingly, because of the very late warm weather preceding this cold snap (wind chills now down to -20C), the frozen, desiccated leaves that clung so long to their sustaining branches, are only now dumping on the otherwise pristine silent white.

Averaged out, the temperature probably hasn’t changed all that much in the last decade or so, though the Fraser River hasn’t for many decades frozen over as it once regularly did. So, not so much a dramatic average global warming here as a climate redistribution, both in the geographical and temporal senses–more violent weather swings and extreme weather events, the seasons all scrambled up, the finding of ways and means to mitigate against a repetition of last year’s killer floods still a work in the political non-process of finger pointing and passing the buck, and major highway and bridge washout repairs at least one year from completion.

The old saying that “everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it” has never been more true. Decisions, if they make it to serious contemplation, are made by politicians, not by those who actually know anything about the scientific data describing the problems, but by those whose only real agenda is offending as few people as possible while giving the appearance of caring about everyone, so they can get re-elected for another few years at the public trough. Their optimal climate strategy is to give lip service to the idea it is real, yet say nothing to put off the deniers–in other words treat the problem as they do, say, racism–decry it in public to please some voters, but ignore it in private so as not to alienate others. Pity there are almost no scientists in elected positions who could dispel some of the ignorance. Guess we’re all too busy working for a living.

The unkindest cut of all

to a techie is no doubt the software that crashes and takes your day’s work with it. Yup, one of the Spy’s students who was building the presentation of her capstone project and paper, twice had MS Word crash and delete the entire file from her PC’s disk. The eventual solution–delete all MS apps from the computer, re-install them from scratch, and try a third time. Good job well done in the end.

An auto-save-plus-backup regimen could have salvaged something. Excel has a nasty bug too (at least in the Mac version; the bug lists across platforms are asynchronous). Work long enough entering data, and eventually Excel will crash, likely from a memory leak. Anything entered since the last save is of course lost. Solution: every half hour or so, save and close your work, quit Excel altogether, re-start the program, and re-open the file. Repeat until done. The Spy makes automatic backups with two different background programs in four places as he works, and doesn’t lose his data–very often.

Speaking of Excel, Vena, a humungous macro package layered over the MS product for enabling enterprise planning, accounting, and controlling access to corporate data displayed therein, has come up with a whole new system of operating. Instead of installing the macros as an add-in, files accessed on a system using the program can now bootstrap the necessary code on being accessed. Old Vena’s lived at the top in the menu bar; new Vena is controlled from a side sub-window opened in the spreadsheet. This takes longer to load, but seems to work faster, and one need not install a new plug-in every time Vena produces an upgrade; the latest version will be automatically pulled.

It remains to be seen whether Vena is still a four-letter word to anyone who isn’t a skilled accountant. Oh, BTW, if one wants access to historical data, one still needs the old Vena plug-in installed to read files not prepared with new Vena in mind.

Now, having cut to the chase once again,

the Spy says “so long, farewell, adieu, goodby” and though he does hope, DV, to be back in another month, it’s time to cut out for the nonce.

–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.

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