The Northern Spy — The Time has come…

The Northern Spy

To talk of many things

but rather than ‘shoes and ships, and sealing-wax, Of cabbages and Kings, And why the sea is boiling hot, And whether pigs have wings,’ and also with apologies to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Spy will instead speak of windows, wackiness, and the weather, Of controllers and cameras, Of furnaces and hernias, And what else is really hot, And whether digital assistants, new MacPros and EVs have wings.

Windows, wackiness, and the weather

The Spy has spoken in this space of his windows onto the yard, of how Ecoline messed up his order, some of the install they did do, and his subsequent service tickets. Nice windows, but a Z minus for service so far. Well, he finally has a date when all will supposedly be made right. Yes, if one can believe the scheduling department,  the installers shall return(!) on January 4 (that’s 2023 BTW) to fix their errors and damage, install a long list of items missing from the first delivery, and make everything honkey-dory. But given the history of this thing, if you believe all will be well at the end of that day, I know of a really busy bridge I can sell you. But if at least the five windows missing parts or only partially installed are completed, he can install the rest of the blinds he purchased, perhaps automating a few more of them (second thoughts about the kitchen).

It’s nice to see that the American electorate turned away from the weird and wonderful world of wackiness, and in most states rejected most of the worst reality deniers and racist Trumpettes. U.S. Democracy gets to live another day, it would appear, and with Congress split between two thin majorities, its members must face the reality that to achieve anything, the parties must cooperate and negotiate. Sounds like a positive thing. It would be nice to return to the days (if they ever were real) when elected representatives at least said they would serve the people rather than some extremest political agenda (left wing or right wing all the same in the end.)

The weather has been almost as crazy as the politics–switching from the long hot dry tree-killing summer to a wild, wet, winter complete with a king tide, heavy snowstorms, and flood warnings. ‘Course, growing up in Calgary, we would have called -13C a heat wave, but humid cold is more penetrating, and two snowstorms totalling 50cm with an inch of freezing rain following–all in a span of a week–seems a little much. The Spy wonders if wunderkind Musk could fix the weather.

Controllers and cameras

Years ago the Spy invested substantially in X-10 security devices and lamp/appliance modules and controllers. (They were being liquidated at the time, and he bought most of the stock on hand.) As a security system, this seemed adequate until the break-in just after his wife succumbed to cancer sixteen months and four days ago. Perils of living in the country–the police took a very long time to arrive to what was by the time they arrived a cold case. Nor has anything ever surfaced in local pawn ships, though likely it all has in the bars, brothels, and shady back streets of far away places. Now, if he had pictures…

So lately he’s installed a whack of cameras–a Logitech Circle View doorbell, three indoor Eufy Pan-tilt cameras, and several Eufy 2C Pro outdoor cameras. The latter two groups are on the Eufy iOS app, though the pan-tilts use on board storage, and some of the externals, with the Circle View, are on Homekit, while the Spy ponders whether to go to the max iCloud plan at $9.99/month and enter them all into that system.

Is he worried about Anker lying about its cloud storage being encrypted (not) and inaccessible to any but the owner of the cameras (not again)? Well, no, because he is recording locally on the indoor cameras and to iCloud on most of the others. Besides, contrary to what a few would-be scammers have claimed over the years, there are no cameras in the manse’s bedroom wing–not that there would be anything worth recording there anyway.

Meanwhile, his lamp and appliance modules on the X-10 system (still available BTW) are starting to fail of old age and possibly too many competing radio signals. So, he purchased a few smart plugs from Meross through Amazon and added them to Homekit, converting one problematic room to that system for automation purposes. Seems to work reliably, but it’s only been one day. For now he intends to keep using the X-10 door and window sensors with the alarm system, but that may eventually go to the electronic graveyard too. 

Furnaces and hernias

It seems the Spy’s combo heat pump/gas furnace broke something this morning–perhaps in the condenser unit atop the furnace. As a temporary measure, he maxed out the crossover point on the thermostat’s program to 15C, which at this time of year makes it strictly gas burning. Gotta get a tech in to assess the damage. Major repair bill coming.

He has gotten out though, as it is now over two weeks since the hernia repair surgery to put things back inside and block them from springing loose again. At the Spy’s request, and to avoid ending up in hospital for a couple of days recovering from the usual (for him) nasty side-effect reactions from general anesthetic, sedatives, and morphine family pain killers, the operation was performed without any of those three–just local freezing. Not a big deal, but he has to go easy on exercise and very easy on lifting for yet another month. Too bad they draped in front of his shoulders, though. It would have been more interesting to be able to watch instead of having to rely on the surgeon’s running commentary. Ah well, perils of getting old.

While on health related issues, the Spy is very much not, it must be said, a fan of Canada’s latest push to expand MAID (Medical Assistance In Dying–an euphemism for getting  a doctor to kill you instead of continuing to treat you.) So much for assurances this would not happen given at the time this was originally put in place. And so much for the assurances that doctors would not be forced to do this–they are now being threatened with expulsion from the profession if they refuse. The biggest problem here is one nobody talks about–anything that a government establishes the authority to do, it can claim the authority to require. There will come a day when seniors deemed a drain on government (or family) resources will be ordered put down to save money. Think not? Wait for it. 

The hot: digital assistants, new MacPros and EVs

Like westerns once were on TV, ROM-Coms still are at Christmas, the latest hemlines, and who’s hot (or not) among fantasyland’s celebrities, technology land has its own fads.

Alexa, Siri, and a host of other voice-activated digital assistants, and related devices–usually in the guise of an “intelligent” (not) speaker on a shelf or in the car are currently hot. But the interesting question about the standalone devices (not so much the software running on some other OS), is what business case can possibly be made for a device that takes your orders. plays music, and tells you where the nearest fast food dive is located? The companies that make these gadgets supply them at a big loss…but for what in return? Orders for stuff that could be typed on a keyboard? As this fad gets big, the losses on these yes-ladies of consumerism-cum-entertainment guides must be in the hundreds of millions. The thing is, they may be too big a thing to get out of that business once in it, but sell sufficient millions of them and the losses could take a company down. The Spy’s advice: find a way to re-position and re-purpose these devices to cut your losses, or better yet, make a profit on them, before it’s too late. There is no such thing as too big to fail.   

Likewise, the Spy methinks that Apple is finding that what it might like to do with a new MacPro will make it too costly for all but a few fanatics to purchase. The last two MacPro versions did not sell well, and rumour has it Apple is collectively re-thinking the idea of a $10 000 base price computer. Good. Do so. Something that expensive will never sell enough units to make back the design and manufacturing costs. Might Apple abandon the Pro line instead? Don’t rule it out.   

…which brings the Spy to EVs–yet another bandwagon that consumers flushed with money and companies willing to manufacture them are jumping on with great abandon. However, likewise in the no-show category for now is the Apple car. Rumour has it that Apple had planned a completely autonomous car sans steering wheel (which the Spy figures will be outlawed on new cars within a decade or so) but the price was looking like $120K, so they’ve settled on a more conventional design and are hoping for $99 999.99 instead. Project an announcement in 2024 and production no sooner than 2025.  

Why is the Spy not an early adopter? In a word…batteries. Lithium Ion battery  technology has probably peaked, and there are many contenders as heirs of the crown. They are also rather dangerous, having to be handled, charged, and especially disposed of very carefully indeed. This is far from mature technology, and one has to ask oneself whether, when it is time to replace that battery pack, how much it will cost, and whether anyone will still be manufacturing for what will by then be obsolete automobile technology. The Spy is very definitely not going to be an early adopter in that market. Indeed by the time enough more years have drifted past that this problem has been reasonably resolved, he will likely either be gone from this world or at least confined somewhere they lock the doors lest patients wander off, and certainly not driving anything bigger than a wheelchair. He has two questions, however. First, if all the gasoline cars were scrapped for electric ones, where would all the necessary electricity come from? Second, if all that scrap metal were turned into artillery shells, could they collectively and definitively decide the outcome of the latest genocidal war in Ukraine?  

See yawl next month yuh hear.

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. Mayhap, as they say in fictional Hibernia, we’ll see y’all round the story circle again next month. Meantime, remember that despite rumours, and sometimes despite even sales, pigs actually don’t have wings.

–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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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.