By Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy described himself last month as “still breathing.” In view of the worst cold to afflict him in many years, that is not a quality statement, just a bare fact. Good thing he isn’t trying to dictate this column.

VCON-41 was this past weekend (why he delayed writing this) and the Spy was scheduled for four panels and a reading. After struggling through Friday afternoon and evening, he awoke Saturday with no voice at all, and had to cancel out of two panels plus a reading of his work on Saturday.

Too bad, because Friday night’s panel on Minions (that he moderated) had a large and vigorously opinionated audience and provoked extensive discussions back-and-forth with the panel–the ideal outcome for such a venue. Some panelists and audience members were convinced that the very word “minion” is pejorative, so only applies to the flunkies of the Big Bad. The Spy differs–the protagonist may have minions too, not just sidekicks as others claimed. In an early book of The Interregnum series, Mara undertook a renovation of Old Town and employed Roger Hanlon’s Corps of Royal Army Engineers for the task. He got a bare mention.

But when a fellow SF writer challenged the Spy to create a sympathetic protagonist who was not and did not become a Christian, Roger proved up to the task (for he resolutely believes strictly in what he can see and handle), and in The Builder, he became one of the main characters. Was this not the promotion of a mere minion?

Why even mention Science Fiction in a technology column? Because SF writers have for decades been anticipating major technology developments in their work. In many cases, being able to imagine it has meant someone tried, and often succeeded) to build it. The Spy himself claims little prescience for his 1980s idea of the Metalibrary–a universal library accessible 24-7 by everyone and containing renderings of all available knowledge, dynamically and automatically cross-hylerlinked so as to credit the accounts of creators for every view and new link generated. After all, others had thought of something like, and the World Wide Web needed only an inventor to become instantiated.

We are not, of course, there yet, as the library is incomplete and still has no accounting mechanism to reimburse authors for their work, because the paradigm has become “free”. It ought not be. Don’t get him wrong. The corporate control of news and academic information via large holding companies owning the media and publishing houses must and will soon pass. Indeed the paper publishing industry is as broken as it can possibly be and cannot go too soon (see open source textbooks). Authors get very little for their work under such a top heavy system. We need an automated system for monetizing creative works so authors are reimbursed for their efforts, and this has yet to happen.

Neither does his PIEA (Personal Intelligence Enhancement Appliance) seem altogether unattainable, as smartphones and tablets edge closer to his vision all the time. Implants are still needed, connectivity is fragmented, and communications options are limited, but many of the old ideas have been implemented.

The works of Heinlein (and may others) are rife with forecasts of new technology set in a fictional world. Indeed, the Spy’s own fiction came about from a desire to explore the interplay among ethics, technology, and society in a context other than his philosophy textbook (only read as part of a required course). So, long live SF, and may it spawn many more interesting ideas that make life better for more people. May it also, like the lessons of history, teach us that (some?) dystopias are avoidable.

Another reprise from last month consists of a follow-up on the Spy’s remarks about the tendency of OS X to forget it has ever heard of Bluetooth, for which the only remedy is to delete the preference file located in root/Library/Preferences (not in the user preferences). One must then reboot and re-pair. This does work but has to be repeated frequently. This is a known El Capitan issue and the latest update to 10.11.6 has not fixed the problem.

The Spy has, after a manner of speaking. One must shut down the MacBook Pro before moving it from the home to the office, and let it discover the Bluetooth appliances when it reboots from scratch. If one instead just puts the machine to sleep, Bluetooth goes nuts about half the time on such a transfer to a new environment, only rarely in other scenarios. C’mon, Apple. How hard can this be to fix?

And, he took one more run at the bug where Apple’s 64 bit code fails to display PICTs generated by MathType–a great nuisance considering all his files of math exams. The bug turns out not to be in OS X at all, but in MathType, because a fresh install of the OS makes the bug go away, until one does the fresh install of Math Type, when it returns. So, despite the Design Science claim that the bug is Apple’s (which may be partially true) it is triggered by their installer making some modification to the system, libraries, or services that prevents the display of PICTs, and SDesign Science has no apparent interest in either fixing this or providing a means to mass convert those PICTs.

Solution #1: After an OS re-install, use a previously installed version of MathType (but don’t actually re-run the installer). One has to re-enter one’s name and serial number every time the program starts in order to use it in full mode, but the bug does not rear its head.

Solution #2: Switch to InfoLogic’s very similar MathMagic, which can edit the MathType images and saves .jpg ones, or to the less intuitive (but fairly powerful and shareware) Visual Math Editor, which runs in a browser window (web or local), and also permits editing directly in Latex.

There’s always one more bug and this one’s pretty obscure. It seems that if one runs a thunderbolt cable to an external thunderbolt dock, such as the one from OWC (to save cable tangle attaching directly to the MacBook Pro) and thence through the dock’s HDMI port to a monitor, OS X becomes confused. After several sleep-wake cycles as one trucks in and out of the office in pursuit of administrivia, the OS gives up, decides there aren’t any external monitors, and they go dark. A reboot is usually needed to restore order. The solution: attach that second external monitor directly to the MacBook’s HDMI port and live with the extra cable. Sigh. Sometimes what are meant to be solutions just generate new problems.

The month of October should yet see new Apple offerings, possibly in home automation and health (wave of the future), and surely in new models of the MacBook Pro, the iMac, and even of the Mac Pro, as all are due for a refresh. The latter presents a pretty difficulty for Apple, as many graphics professionals rely on its superior processing power, yet for the marketplace in general, desktops are seen as old hat, and portables as having sufficient power for most people for most things. So does Apple abandon the desktop and its shiny newish North American factory for same, or does it cater to its most loyal and and demanding long time customers?

The Spy guesses Cupertino will go for one more iteration of the MacPro in the current form factor, but with updated processors, faster speed, and more installed capability and with a sufficiently significant price break to broaden the market and boost sales. But don’t count on it. iCook may see an iMac Pro as a more attractive alternative. Who knows but that the one the Spy saw at the Guildford Apple store (others have been too small to carry it, he supposes) might be both the first and the last to come to his eye. Very elegant design–too bad if it doesn’t survive.

–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

URLs for resources mentioned in this column

Design Science (Math Type):
Math Magic:
Visual Math Editor:
OWC (MacSales):