The Northern Spy: questions, questions, questions
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The Northern Spy: questions, questions, questions

By Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy thinks he understands a little about a lot of things, and quite a bit about a few things, but he does not understand...

Why are some people's reactions are so ridiculously extreme?

Leaving ordinary politics (if there is such a thing) aside for the moment, and as detailed here last month, the Spamhaus reaction to spam emanating from a handful of servers at the NewTek/Deerfield/Atjeu facility was to ban an entire range of 65536 IP addresses. Despite NewTek's and the Spy's efforts, nothing can persuade the Spamhaus boffins to be more reasonable and ameliorate this. The Spy has now dropped Spamhaus from his server's mail scanning RBLs. Given their policies are this arbitrary, they cannot be relied upon to accurately detect spammers. Remove them from your Exim preferences.

But immediately taking politics and society up again, he has reconsidered last month's comments on technologically-induced fragmentation creating the contra global village. Perhaps his comments were too...mild. He now sees the Internet itself fragmenting, for as Twitter and Facebook try to root out extremists, haters and abusers, competing (even cloned) services spring up that welcome, even encourage, sociopathic behaviour. When irrational haters can even accuse people of faking news of mass shootings (secret agenda dontya know) and issue death threats to parents of murdered children as part of their own fake news conspiracy, and can gain an online audience of believers, things have clearly gone too far.

Yet little can be done about this. The current Internet cannot be censured efficiently (even by totalitarian and xenophobic nations). Such people cannot be educated, will not let go of their extremism and hatred, and will apparently ever be with us--unless our society becomes so fragmented that Western civilization collapses under the weight of its own contradictions. Impossible, you say? The Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greeks, Romans, and others since undoubtedly thought so too. Whatever happened to "The sun never sets on the British Empire"? So, how soon will American hegemony disappear?

What engine drives conspiracies and secret agendas?

Playing off these comments, the Spy is invariably astonished at the number of people who hurl the accusation "secret agenda" at those with whom they disagree (and more astonished at the number who take them seriously). If a secret agenda supposedly exists, how do the accusers know about it? Ditto conspiracy theories, with the added caveat that he often sees groups accused of mounting conspiracies that are so flakily diverse they seem incapable of agreeing on anything remotely resembling a conspiracy, and would be even more incapable of keeping it secret. There is something logically wrong with many (nearly all?) such accusations.

Why no universal high speed Wi-Fi?

Parts of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia are still, after a full week, coming to grips with the ice storm of the century. (This is, for instance, one reason this column is late.) For days the air was punctuated every few seconds with the rifle-shot-like sound of branches breaking or whole trees exploding under the mass of three or more centimetres of ice. There still has been no thaw and many trees are now bent into umbrella-like phantasms of white and crystal. Beautiful in the sun or moon light, but deadly to be near. The Spy had seen ice storms before, and was careful to plant trees at a distance when he built the current family abode. But one Sunset Maple is shredded, a plum tree fell over under the sheer mass of ice, the garden is covered by trees and branches, and many others have lost tops or major branches.

It took several hours to remove sufficient hanging branches to get his car out of the garage. He dare not enter his woods for the still-extreme danger, but expects to find all the trails blocked with thousands of branches and trees. The chainsaw will get a several-days-long workout once the snow and ice is gone, likely producing sufficient firewood for two or three years.

The wireless technology angle? Two power failures totaling forty-nine hours, and a separate cable outage ran the total time without phone or internet up to about sixty hours. (apologies to customers posted on site.) There has got to be a better way, and it isn't to be found in the current (primitive) cell phone technology, which is a great money maker for providers, but too slow, too easily compromised, and far too expensive for the consumer. There has to be a better way. Countless billions could be at stake for the first company that does wide-area high-speed wireless right, but near limitless cash will be required to implement it. One wonders when Apple will move into this sphere.

Why is growth one of the modern Gods?

In the long run population growth is unsustainable. Yes, the early predictions of disaster if population growth continued unchecked were off on the details in the short run because of the development of better food production, storage, and transportation, and because as the Western nations grew more affluent people used birth control and have fewer children. That does not materially affect the long run. "Sustainable growth" is an oxymoron, and has the potential to collapse our society under the sheer number of people.

Yet those same Western nations that have their internal growth more or less in voluntary check import some fraction of the surplus population from other parts of the world. Yes, there are humanitarian reasons for welcoming refugees--our ancestors (even the first nations) were all refugees from somewhere, and the Spy is not anti-immigration in general principle. But population growth is cash-driven policy urged upon governments by businesses that want to continually grow their customer base. We see this at the federal, provincial/state and municipal levels.

Vancouver is an interesting case in point. A magnet city, it attracts wealthy people from abroad who send their children here for a Western education in English, buy them a home, and plan to establish a base here for a possible escape from their current country. In addition, many (directly or indirectly) foreign- owned properties are investments and stand vacant. Consequence: housing prices have long made it impossible for locals to finance a home purchase within seventy kilometres of the city, which forces population growth in rural areas, destroying much-needed farm land.

Growth-by-migration is also unsustainable. No population, no economy, no money supply, no housing price can grow indefinitely without a degradation of living conditions, food availability, and general quality of life. Since we are in the early stages of the second industrial revolution (robotics) which will cancel at least seventy percent of all existing jobs, even our current population levels are unsustainable. Poverty and want are on the horizon for many. Doesn't anyone think about the consequences of their decisions any more? Can governments continue to act at the behest of businesses whose only consideration is shareholder value, and are therefore not productive and caring members of any social compact? We cannot continue to live this way. The only conceivable outcome is chaos. Yet all this is being ignored. Why?

Why do people still make/read dead-tree books?

The modern dead-tree book publishing industry is badly broken when a slender textbook for an upper-level math or computing course an cost from $225 - $385, and even old editions being supplied from warehoused printings of years past increase dramatically in price every year. Novels have been best written, edited, published, and read electronically for two decades now, yet no one has yet perfected a textbook reader.

Why not? Novels are read in a linear fashion, and the small-screen reader accommodates this well in a fairly simple fashion. Texts may initially be read linearly chapter-by-chapter, but subsequent accesses are, from the programmers' point of view, random. One wants to check a topic, a section, a word, an idea. For this to work, a section index by topic and number has to be readily available (a single touch away). Is that so hard to design? Whoever gets it right first will put the entire current paper textbook industry out of business in a matter of five years or less.

Why was WHO so tardy recognizing video game addiction?

Notwithstanding some theatrical outrage from the gaming community, it has been obvious to anyone who works with the 12 to 25-year-old crowd that video game addiction has been a serious social problem for decades. Back in the 80s the Spy jokingly predicted that we about to raise a generation with eyes shaped like video screens. Yes, video game addiction is real, and a significant percentage of young adults--mostly, but not all male--are hooked. As in all such industries, the suppliers--pushers-- have a vested interest in keeping it that way.

Yes, and many naive young would-be programmers aspire to be game programmers, not realizing the length of the road to get there rivals that for any advanced profession, and worse, not at all understanding the social effects of such games. If one is prepared to pay the price… But the Spy would prefer more useful ends for those who take his courses--ones that actually enhance society rather than fragmenting it into cells, each occupied only by the players of a specific game instance. So, at least kudos to the World Health Organization for having the courage to state openly the obvious--not that it will be easy to do anything about it, though the Spy rather faintly hopes the attraction may wear off eventually.

Oh, and to reprise yet another old comment on the matter: The Spy does not know or care whether the Lord of all has created other intelligent (word used cautiously) races in this wide universe. But should such a race appear above us, he does note that two whole generations have been conditioned by video game programming to a first reaction of "blow them out of the sky".

More food for thought, eh?

--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, Associate Dean of Science and Chair of the University Senate at Canada's Trinity Western University. 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 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 B.C. since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns or Rick's SF? Check out the Arjay blog at

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:

The Northern Spy Home Page: http: //www. TheNorthernSpy. com
opundo : http: //opundo. com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http: //sheaves. org
WebNameHost : http: //www. WebNameHost. net
WebNameSource : http: //www. WebNameSource. net
nameman : http: //nameman. net

General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:

Author Site: http: //www. arjay. ca
Publisher's Site: http: //www. writers-exchange. com/Richard-Sutcliffe. html
The Fourth Civilization--Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http: //www. arjay. bc. ca/EthTech/Text/index. html


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