The Northern Spy: The X in X Factor stands for ….
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The Northern Spy: The X in X Factor stands for ….

By Rick Sutcliffe

Well, it has happened before...back in '83. See, from a feature point of view, the iPhone 8 look doomed beside the X. But price points do come into play in such matters. Apple is curtailing the production of the X, and the Spy assumes it will be discontinued once the X year is done.

As the physician said to the 12-year old Spy when he came into his office looking like scarlet fever: "Allergic to the phenobarb, eh? Well, back to the old drawing board. Somehow anniversary special products just don't do well. Are they too hastily conceived?

Wrong about grammar

A local radio ad grats on the Spy every time (often!) he hears it. It's a plug to take out a second mortgage on one's home equity for immediate spending wants (high interest contract no doubt, and very high risk behaviour) that ends with "our criteria is less strict". Has no one ever been told about singular and plural noun-verb agreements? And don't let's get started on the correct pronunciation of "Wednesday" and February", much less split infinitives. Yes and the Spy votes against Churchill in that the rule that one must not end a sentence with a preposition is one up with which he will indeed put.


Though announced well before, it was shipped in spring 2001. The Spy still has the black leather jacket with the Aqua X between the shoulder blades that was given to the first 1200 registrants at WWDC that year. Like his copy of the red book, a "forever" keepsake. Will there ever be an OS XI? Stay tuned. The Spy is once again expecting big things at WWDC--perhaps more than just a new Mac Pro. Seriously, though, it may be time for a revamp.

Wrong about toasters

PC's running W*nd*s did indeed become commoditized--inter changeable (and cheap) parts, dime-a-dozen plain-joe designs and a practical desk-life in constant use of perhaps three years before parts begin to fail. Trash and start over. The Mac avoided this fate because its designers thunk different. (Bonus question for old-time dweebs: What is/was a "thunk"?) Even under very heavy use, one can count on a Mac to retain value for years after most PCs bought the same year have been moved to a landfill.

But the main point here is that even in the worst (PC) case, computers are not, and never will be, toasters. They are compound sliding miter saws--versatile tools without a predefined or locked-in task set so the craftsperson can experiment, innovate, and find never-thought-of ways to use the tool for creative tasks. Assume the hardware will outlast any PC in comparative use. It'll be the desire to run updated (and often bloated) software bigger and faster that obsoletes a Mac. The Spy has fifteen-year-old machines that still work--with the software of a past era.

But speaking of saws, the Spy has just given away his older 10" blade compound sliding miter saw (still works) and purchased (today) a Bosch 12" dual bevel compound gliding miter saw in its place. He was lured by the increased capacity, the ability for the articulation mechanism to sit against the wall, glowing reviews online, and a pretty good (though still expensive) price at KMS tools (last day of the sale, though). A review will follow in a few months. However, what letter of the alphabet does the promo picture make with the bevel ghosted in both left and right positions?

Wrong about the stock market--so far

The Spy was convinced last summer that the stock market was overpriced and due for a big fall. Not. The Trumpian euphoria over tax breaks for business and the super rich at others' expense has sent the markets to dizzying highs. All this sometimes physics fellow can say is: "What goes up must come down." Thing is, the downslide could be steep and unprecedentedly deep. 2008 was just practice. Yikes! Other thing is, in the information friction-free and instantaneous happenings of our electronic age, when it starts, everyone will want out at once. If (when) this scenario does play out, the very advantages of our rapid info society will turn against us big time.


No, not crosswalks. The Spy wants to retrieve his old Apple][ files , bring the over to a Mac, and run them in a simulator. Ah….why? Well, he's teaching the hardware course, which includes among many other things, sections on machine language, op codes, and their ilk. Last few times through, the students had a very hard time getting their minds around the low level ideas when expressed in the rich (but therefore complex and confusing to the novice) Intel op code set and assembler. He thought a nice simple 6502… Well, that might not work out, but it's worth a try.

The software link between an Apple][ (though in this case it's an Apple//gs) is ADTPro by David Schmidt. The hardware link is a pair of cables--a null modem (crossover cable dont'ya know) from the Apple modem port to a DB9 connector and a serial adapter from there to USB on the Mac. In the old days, one analyze thed transmit and receive signals (to determine whether the two sides wanting to transact information exchange had been designed as senders or receivers) and built a cable for such purposes. Yup, every computer to printer cable was an adventure...could tell stories… But the Spy has forgotten where he stored his breakout box, so gave up that project and ordered a ready made null modem cable. Will letcha know.

'Course he's a CP Snow-defying crossover himself, having one foot firmly planted in computing, another in pure mathematics, and a third in the semi-literary world of an SF author--not to mention many other interests (such as working on a merger of two churches). Good thing there's only thirty hours in the day, 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

URLs for resources and products mentioned in this column
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