By Rick Sutcliffe

The usual bunch of idiots will be no longer. Mad magazine, which gored everyone’s ox in ways that ranged from hilarious to despicable (depending on whose ox) but were always in exquisitely wretched taste will cease publishing new material. One supposes that after a few retrospective collections, the whole thing will fold up like a deck of jokers. 

“What has this to do with a technology column?”, you ask. Nothing, but an indicator that the more things change the more different things become, even though in this case, the future is likely little more than a reprise of the past. But the Spy wonders whether parodies of politicians and other elites have become redundant in an age when many of the most prominent are their own parody. Whence the future from here? More below.

Change is certainly true of Apple where the service sector is now contributing more to Cupertino’s income than say, iPhones, and the long history of doing hardware assembly in China may well soon become a casualty of the U.S-initiated trade wars. (The latter could, BTW, also finally provide the self-destruct trigger for the long overdue collapse of a seriously overbought fantasy stock market.)

The coming year will see Apple’s usual introduction of new hardware, including multiple iPhones, tablet, and computers. But as the Spy noted decades ago, the chief commodity of the Fourth Civilization is information, not manufactured goods, and its employee minions are/will be chained to a desk (which may be at home) rather than to an assembly line. They will receive information from multiple sources, making (possibly micro) payments to its originators, add value to it to become (or their employers will become) part owners of the modified information, and pass it to others. Hard goods will be increasingly commoditized, and assembled in factories bereft of human workers. 

As in the transitions from hunter gatherer to agricultural to industrial civilizations (the first three), the activities of the previous one will continue but with a minuscule percentage of the population directly involved, and with a much smaller and shrinking share of the economy. So perhaps this is Apple with a handle on the future after all.

That said, pocket computing and communications devices are much farther from maturity than are desktop and laptop devices. This is reflected in the relative rates at which these Apple products are declared obsolete. But, the Spy thinks, perhaps the company is a tad too enthusiastic about that process, especially when it comes to the iPhone. Word now is that the iPhone 6 line will not run the next iteration of iOS. 

This means support for the current iOS will cease a year or two later, and with no more security updates, and developers moving on, the phone will gradually become unusable, as have many other iPhones, tablets, and Macs over the years. Given that the 6 was introduced in September of 2014, we’re talking full functionality for a measly five years and a bit. Not enough for a device that started at US$649. 

Besides one of those toys, the Spy has a couple of MacPro towers that he recently dropped money on to buy new graphics cards so as to run Mojave. Failing someone coming up with a hack, they too will be obsoleted on the next annual system upgrade. Besides that, even for his 2015 MacBook Pro, no 32-bit apps will run under the next MacOS. Is there a good reason for this other than to generate a cash cow for upgrades? 

These older Pros (both towers and laptops) are actually in many respects better than the current Apple offerings (though the Spy did spring for a keyboard membrane cover for the MacBook as soon as he saw that keyboard and long before its predictable crumb and dust-prone failures became news). C’mon. Give it a few more years of support. What’s it cost to leave some lines of code in for a while?

Speaking of obsoleting old produces, take his Epson Perfection V700 Photo scanner as a for instance–a perfectly good, and rather expensive peripherals that he uses extensively, but for which Epson has not upgraded its scanning software to 64-bits. Will they? They do provide a 64-bit driver for this machine (though not for many earlier ones) but not in the app. 

Fortunately, Silverfast does have such an app, and in testing it, the Spy has discovered it does seem to work well enough in demo mode (leaves multiple watermarks on the files). He’ll spring for a license. A warning to others, though: not only must all the Epson files be completely removed (their uninstall app leaves some), but it is necessary to reboot after installing the Silverfast package and to ensure the scanner is directly connected (not through a hub) or it cannot be found. Further comment: Silverfast has the look and feel of a Java app–apparently robustly functional, but very plain.

Still on Epson for a moment, the Spy notes that most retail outlets no longer carry the 157 inks for the model R3000 photo printer he purchased a few years ago for its large format and very high quality colour output. The ink is now only available by special order and each cartridge (there are nine in a set) is over $CDN40. He is considering one of the third party refillable ink systems with the resettable chips as an alternate to the ridiculously overpriced and apparently about-to-be-obsoleted R3000 OEM ink supply. A very noisy raspberry to all the OEMs flogging expensive ink cartridges. A profit could be made at ten percent of the ink price. 

The Spy also has a beef about the present of Apple TV. A couple of years ago, he bought and watched using Apple TV an entire season of a one of the few modern TV shows he considers worth screening. This shows as a season purchase in iTunes and he has the receipt. But now, any attempt to again view episode 4 brings up a demand to pay for Netflix, and any attempt to watch episode 9 likewise demands one install a CBC paid app. Hello. Are they part of the season or not? 

Apple support responded by saying the episodes should be deleted from the iTunes and re-downloaded. Hello again. iTunes is not the issue; they never were downloaded there; they were watched once already on an Apple TV3, and now Apple TV4 will not play them, even though it will play all other episodes of that season. Seems the future of both the AppleTV technology and its support could use an intelligence upgrade.

The future of security and privacy reprised

The Capital One data breach, affecting some 106 million customers whose credit applications were hacked is yet another in a long line of incidents illustrating the Spy’s multiply-made point that privacy no longer exists.

So are the revelations that employees at Amazon, Apple, and Google can and do listen to recordings taken from voice activated home devices (“smart” speakers). This is the antithesis of smart, but people have to realize that if they have a device waiting for them to say for “Yo, speaker let the dog out” or “hey thingy get the grocery store to send me four litres of two percent milk” it must be on and listening all the time. Discoverable evidence for money laundering, child abuse, divorce, political dissent, or price fixing cases anyone? Lawyers must be rubbing their hands with glee over the potential for juicy fees in ever more lawsuits.

The future of experts is to some extent that of their past–they are too often has-been drips under pressure (ex-spurts). They still sometimes know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing. The Spy’s own take on the future, BTW, it that it will be the day of the generalist–the person who synthesizes information from many sources in many disciplines to craft creative solutions to old problems.

But sometimes pauses for wry reflections on the prognostications and pronouncements of “experts” are mandatory. For instance, one ought not uncritically believe everything the experts say, especially when one of them is the Spy. That is why our site disclaimer asserts that he is not responsible for his pontifications on the past, present and/or future being right, wrong, or both simultaneously. That includes these paragraphs of course. But sometimes…

A recent local news story headlined an “expert opinion” that the four-lane highway between Abbotsford and Langley might have reached its capacity. Oh really? After years of volume-related traffic stoppages every rush hour, we need an expert to tell us that? Just watch the congestion for a week. It would not have taken a futurist to predict or an expert to now realize that high Vancouver housing prices driven by foreign speculation and criminal money laundering would push people to the Fraser Valley suburb communities where local business-oriented politicians would be eager enough for more resident customers in ever higher densities, but not quick to realize they were responsible for expanding local infrastructure to match. 

Oh, sure, the main highway is a Provincial responsibility, but the overload and local traffic goes on municipal roads, and there are too few of those to handle it. All those people have places to go, and the means of transportation, but no useable route to get there. The Spy thinks municipal planning departments should either actually plan ahead, or be called something else. And there is getting to be a thing about politicians and density…

On to the Democracy Department

Does the Spy’s reader still think representative democracy is working well enough to be the governance mode of the future? It was designed for the horse and buggy age, when one voted for a rep to make the trek to the distant and out-of-touch capitol to present local issues and report back a few times a year on a meagre travel budget.

Times are still changing, and some form of direct participatory democracy seems inevitable. After all, everyone has access to as much or more information on the issues as any representative we could elect, and we want what we want, which is only sometimes (and maybe never) what the representative (MP, senator, councillor, mayor, prime minister, governor, president, etc) SAYS (s)he wants during the election campaign in order to get elected. 

The advantage is obvious: decisions are made by the people, not by the elite of a few political parties. Of course, the disadvantage is also obvious: decisions made by the people could (would) be as capricious and as easily swayed by demagogues as they are now in the process of electing politicians.

How to overcome this? Perhaps one should be required to pass an impartial knowledge test on an issue before being allowed to vote on it. Perhaps at least potential politicians should pass intelligence, emotional stability, background checks and other tests to weed out know-nothings, haters, abusers, and conflicts of interests before electing to cushy sinecures rather than after. Perhaps all political jobs should be term-limited secondments from current jobs sop there is no monetary inducement.

‘Course, the voting systems all need thoroughly audited updates to stop the hacking, and means need to be found to ameliorate the foreign and special interest group interference in elections, but somehow, the future of “democratic” government needs to be better than its past. The alternative is that it may have no future. 

Oh, and the same one more thing.

The Spy noted last month that all ten of his novels are now available in print as well as electronic form. He’s now in possession of hard copies of all eleven (Paladin is two parts in print–too big). The covers look great, and the books read just as well in dead tree format as they do in electronic format (which is still becoming that of the future). Again, go to the site below for his books, and click on the link in the RSS feed on the right, or on the “How To Buy” item in the Fiction drop down menu at the top, to get to the page with the full list of Amazon links for both. Read well, and until we meet again, may your next month be exciting, though not too exciting.

–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, Interim 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. 

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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