By Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy is late again with this column. His reason is the first encounter.

Some time back a tree trunk some seventy-five centimetres thick broke off a big leaf maple some 10 metres up and fell across his neighbour’s barbed wire fence. Fortunately cattle no longer graze there, so nothing escaped. His tree, his responsibility, so after recovering from painkillers following dental surgery (another encounter with technology), he cranked up his Stihl 261 chain saw (yet another) and bucked the part that was over the fence.

Over the August long weekend he was moving some of that wood in preparation for stocking his woodshed when he had a close encounter with a band of hornets, several of which got into his hardhat and pin cushioned his scalp. Others chased him until out of the woods, the orchard and nearly back to the house, where he opened the door, asked wife Joyce (of 47 years) for Advil and water, fetched a chair to the driveway, sat, and promptly passed out.

Next think he knew she was informing him she’d called 911 and an ambulance was on the way (apparently after asking and getting his assent, though he has no recollection). By the time they and the fire department arrived, his vision was nearly normal, and he imagined coherence of mind and voice. But Kudos to the paramedics, and the nurses and doctors at the well-equipped Abbotsford Hospital Emergency ward for fast, efficient, high-tech treatment. Gotta get a heart monitor just in case passing out was due to anything other than shock, but a first ambulance ride was…interesting. Over most of the pain today, buy hey, a little pain never hurt anybody.

Son Joel came by the hospital and to our home with us afterward, helped retrieve the chainsaw from the scene of the crime, and, being a lifeguard and knowledgeable about such things, filled us in on why ambulance plus fire department–six responders total and and two vehicles stuffed with high-tech gear and expertise. Seems the Province hires the few paramedics and the city the more numerous firefighters.

The latter have all medical calls copied to them and respond–usually faster than an ambulance can (more stations), though this particular race was a dead heat, and the fire people left. Apparently the higher-paid firefighters want more members and with sufficient medical training and equipment to take over the paramedic function, the lower-paid paramedics want more units and members to be able to respond faster.

Different unions, one supposes. Thus hornet and technology encounters mix with politics.

The xenophobia, isolationism, and protectionism that the Spy commented on last month also have a technology angle. Again, one of his predicates for the Fourth Civilization (Information Age) is that when the main commodity is information delivered by or as technology, national borders become irrelevant. “Location, location, and location” still matter, provided your enterprise is located on every computer in the world.

Thus, anything that hinders free movement of ideas, goods, and people is antithetical to the spread of knowledge and technique and therefore to trade in the technology developed from them. Brexit and other European nationalist resurgences could therefore very well work to stifle technology growth. Certainly people on the ground and familiar with the situation there tell the Spy that the European economy is so far down the tube already that technology firms, even in telecommunications, are not only no longer hiring, but massive layoffs have become the daily news diet, particularly in post rereferendum Britain.

When Europe breaks back into isolated nationalistic parts and resumes its centuries old squabbles (wars?) trade in technology will be hit hard, for both innovation and manufacturing will move to better climes or die. Banking, investment, prosperity, and any remaining jobs will move with them.

Now North America seems headed for the same kind of trade isolation, for both major party presidential candidates oppose free trade–one even threatening to tear up treaties long in place, contrary to that country’s own constitution, which gives their Chief Executive no such unilateral powers. Their motives are clear enough–appeals to friendly unions on the one hand, and to the unemployed, underemployed, disaffected, and ultra nationalistic on the other. Such speeches make for great election rhetoric, but ignore that shutting the door on imports will provoke retaliation in kind and exports will die in tandem.

The Great Depression of the thirties, which was partly caused by similar forces, may someday look like a picnic in the park. The real solution is higher productivity driven by more automation, training at a higher level of workforce engagement, and engaging the world for customers. The nations that pull that off will be big time winners, those that turtle because they lack will and vision will become second rate backwaters.

We need to hope that whoever is elected in the Excited States to the south of our igloos will come to the usual startling revelation that they must actually govern, and that renders most campaign rhetoric not only irrelevant but contrary to both necessity and duty.

The pitter patter of little feats

On a smaller scale, the Spy has often handed out bouquets in this space for excellent products and service–Nisus, Scrivener, WHMCS, ConfigServer, KMS Tools, NCIX, and the former Atjeu come to mind.

This time, however, brickbats are in order, though for a somewhat low-technology product. Given his large (2 Ha) property, the Spy needs a variety of maintenance equipment. Once upon a time he bought a Ryobi/Troy weed whacker–the kind with the interchangeable tools. This served well until it wore out, and was replaced by a Craftsman, which offered the advantage of a 4-cycle engine (no oil mixing). But last year, that engine burned out rather spectacularly (bad gas–contained ethanol, which destroys small engines–never use it), so he bought another Ryobi–same engine as the Craftsman, slightly different cosmetics. (These are all either made in the same factory or at least under the same license.)

It had a new style bump head (though the old tools of course still fit) that worked well for a while, but became jammed this summer. But, getting it off the machine was an adventure, for the head turned on the spindle with a sickly clicking sound. A narrow bicycle wrench jammed between the head and the bottom of the unit was required to hold the spindle steady while the bump knob/retainer was removed.
Once it was free, it turned out that the plastic moulding that accepts the hex nut on the spool spindle has its hex recess profile stripped out, and so of course was not properly engaging when any force was applied-likely leading to the jamming, certainly causing the removal difficulties, and could in the end have led to a running engine failing to turn the spindle at all.

A trip to the store where the unit was purchased a year ago yielded a reminder that the unit had a two-year warranty. A trip to the website yielded the email address of Ryobi Canada, so shortly off went a message with model, serial number, date and place of purchase, and the exact part number of the failed shell. The answer back was a brief not that the store had a ninety day return policy, so deal with them. Excuse? So another note was fired to them, requesting them to read the first one–the unit was just over a year old and under their warranty, not that of the store. No response. A later visit to my chain saw dealer yielded information that this is a common Ryobi practice–slough off warranty requirements to the store, then ignore customers further queries. Badly done. We are not amused.

–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 at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member 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 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.

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