By Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy has become one (a technology driver that is) for as reported in his March column, he and wife Joyce recently purchased their first new car in over two decades–a Subaru Forester–and it is technology rich.

Typical of mind-range SUV crossovers, it has a rear camera with dash display for same, multiple information screens, steerable fog lights, smart air bags, blind spot detectors in the mirrors, keyless entry with secure fob, always on all wheel drive, adaptive cruise control, latched gas access lid, rear side obstacle detectors, lane departure detection and correction, heated front seats, a media centre with more options than they will ever use (or even want). OTOH, plenty of safety and anti-theft features, but of course OTOH, lots of potential for technology to go south.

Odd omissions include no tire pressure monitoring–required in the US of A, but left out here in the frozen north. Subtract a couple of marks. Also, no roof rack crossbars (now added at ridiculous cost). Subtract a couple more. He will add mud flaps, given the road spray patterns he sees near the wheel wells, and the amount of sand in said spray. Perhaps there are places where this isn’t necessary, but…

Likewise weather related, he’s added rubber floor mats. Carpet doesn’t cut it in this Province of pathetically perpetual precipitation. Some chuckled at his buying four rims equipped with true winter tires. “Where are you going? The Coquihalla?” My answer: “You haven’t seen our street. It’s worse, and never gets cleared.” Also, the dealer added wheel locks and treaded plastic rear bumper protector–apparently the most requested accessories. The Spy also bought cargo nets for the “trunk”.

Big plusses include the many safety features. Mind, one cannot just fall asleep at the wheel, for this car, though it can stay in the lane, needs to be able to see the lane markers, and in British Columbia’s wet weather this is only sometimes possible. Also great is the adaptive cruise control, which slows the car down when the driver ahead does. But in some low visibility conditions, this system turns itself off, so it too cannot be mindlessly relied upon. (These latter two features are factory-installable options as the “eye-sight” package, and are not on all models.)

The Forester would be a hard car to steal, because without that keyless entry fob, there’s no way to start the thing–another potential point of failure one supposes, but it does seem reliable. One does not want to lose that fob, however, because replacing it is a major undertaking, requiring the order of a factory cut mechanical key for the glove compartment and to open the door when the fob battery croaks (tricky to replace BTW), plus the “introduction” of the fob to the car in the presence of an already working fob. If you lost your only one, the car would then require a brain transplant, costing even more money. Nor can a used fob be adapted, for the dealer service department says a fob can only be introduced to one car, and this programming cannot be erased or replaced. (Nellie bets she could hack that.)

Cars of this small SUV crossover class have low towing capacity (680 kg), but the Spy will add a hitch and wiring for a utility trailer. He may well add the auto dimming mirror and compass. He did add a cushion to the driver’s seat, for the upholstery is a little hard given his lack of personal padding, but this cannot be done in the front passenger seat, for the air bag system then does not detect the passenger and turns itself off. Not as intelligent as it thinks.

Adaptive cruise control is great for flat highway driving, but its programming for hills is too aggressive, slowing the car too much on negative grades, and over-accelerating on positive ones (up to 5 km/hr beyond the setting.) Such parameters should be user-reprogrammable.

But the car offers a great driving experience, especially compared to his now-traded 2002 Buick, for the windows are larger, the mirrors and backup camera offer a better view behind, the blind spot detectors in the outside mirrors and the obstacle radar really work, and the road is altogether more visible from the higher perch.

Options he did not consider included the 2 litre (note the spelling) turbo engine rather then the 2.4 litre standard one. The smaller engine has a higher power rating, but an engine so small must work much harder, and the Spy was concerned it wouldn’t last the twenty years he likes to keep cars. ‘Course, this car does have a steering wheel, which he believes could be illegal in another decade, so…

The car came equipped with satellite radio and a free trial of Sirius but the Spy, having checked out its offerings, wonders why bother, given that most users will stream music from their iDevice to the car. Besides, compared to other and cheaper radio station streamers, the offerings are very limited, and none of much interest to him.

The bottom line after eight weeks? This car is a dream to drive, the high-tech safety and security features work well, and the Forester’s reputation with testing and rating organizations and by word of mouth is sterling. So far, strongly recommended.

Our faithful readers may remember that the Spy once likewise highly praised the Synology line of NAS, of which he purchased for home use the 4-bay 1815+.

The unit worked well for over a year, but lately became flakey, with Time Machine repeatedly having to create a new backup. Finally it started to beep at us, and when the Spy entered the control panel, he discovered the volume had crashed. He turned off the beep, tried and failed to get the volume back, then put in a trouble ticket with the manufacturer. While waiting the two days it took to reply, the machine rebooted itself and the beep beep beep started once again, so he turned off the power, awaiting clarification.

When the Synology people did reply, they offered to go in and see if the data could be recovered, so the Spy pressed the power button, and…nothing happened. Change the power cord and outlet…same result. Dead as a bag of hammers. So Synology issued an RMA an a promise to replace the unit if it couldn’t be repaired, plus still attempt to recover the data once the drives were moved into the new unit.

Used to Internet support in minutes or hours at the most, this seemed slow service, but it is apparently robust (high marks so far). The unit has been returned to mama for now on mama’s UPS dime, and the online tracker sys it is even now out for delivery in Redmond. Isn’t technology wonderful?–sometimes.

Apple took a strange turn and proved the Spy wrong once again, when select reporters were given a pre-concept briefing on a new Mac Pro and display–but for next year, not 2017. Seems the trash can version has proven too clever and impractical a design by half. (“Must have been designed by academics,” Nellie comments.)

The Spy had thought this was a binary decision–either upgrade the Pro this year or kill it. Perhaps iCook reads this column, for he’s taken a third road along with what amounts to a rare mea culpa. Apple’s most faithful professional users will have some hope, but one could argue that after far too much neglect, this could prove too little and too late–unless the new design is both insanely and practically compelling.

And to be so, it must at least be totally expandable. No closed box, cylinder, or pyramid, please. Just make it wicked fast, and endlessly upgradable in CPU, graphics, memory, and storage–all within the box, and at a much lower price point than the last model. No all-in-one unit either. By all means offer us a separate ultra hi-def monitor, provided you can match industry price points for the performance, but let us decide what to add to the unit you produce.

The Spy’s preferred design might look like the chassis of a miniature roller-style tool chest, with two largish drawers for (multiple) CPU units, two for graphics drivers, six for storage devices, one with slots for up to sixteen memory sticks, one for the power supply, and four for other peripherals, with specs available free of charge to anyone. The chassis itself would only be a bus, and come with one CPU unit (minimum four cores), two storage devices, one graphics unit, modest memory, and power supply in their respective (most hot pluggable) drawers. Everything else is up to the user, and let not mama Cupertino mind who she buys it from as long as their own products are compelling.

Finally, if Apple is, as the same press conference indicated) really going to get back into offering monitors, make it a wide lineup. After all even laptop owners buy monitors for desktop purposes. (The Spy has four–two at home and two at the office.) Oh and more free advice while the Spy’s at it–how about a quality high definition printer in both monochrome and colour, both single and multi purpose models. The Spy is unimpressed with the current el-cheapo lineup other manufacturers are offering. Professionals could use better.

–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 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 BC since 1972.

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The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http: //www. arjay. bc. ca/EthTech/Text/index. html

URLs for resources and products mentioned in this column
Mac Pro:
Mac Pro: