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The Northern Spy
August 2008

Recession? What Recession?

Rick Sutcliffe

Much of the U.S. economy is in trouble just now due to high commodity prices (especially oil), the high cost of its foreign adventures, the mortgage crisis, and collateral damage to the banking and automotive industries. Apparently not so all of North America, and especially the high-tech sector.

First Data Point

The malaise does not extend to Canada, which saw a very marginal one-quarter GDP decline, but seems likely to avoid a second, and this, technically, dodge a recession on a national basis. These figures do mask a deep division, in that the manufacturing centre is heavily dependent on the U.S. economy and goes where it does, whereas the resource-rich east and west are currently prospering, despite slight declines in the leading indicator package. Of course, when commodity prices inevitably decline into the next business cycle, the TSE could take a big hit, but...

Second Data Point

Despite being widely excoriated ahead of time for brutal price gouging, Rogers had an initial iPhone sellout for its first weekend of Canadian availability. The extensive bad publicity forced the 3G monopolist to reduce prices for an initial so-called sale, but this action amounted to reformation, not repentance. The numbers will presumably go back up in a month. However, the exercise indicated that lots of people have the money for toys.

Third Data Point

Still with the frozen north, the government of Canada held a radio spectrum auction in July that brought in some $4.5B, nearly triple expectations. This is starting to amount to serious money. Consequence: New and serious competition in the cell phone business from one or two new national carriers and a dozen or more regional ones. The Spy still expects one or both of Telus or Bell to switch to 3G, then Apple to second source the iPhone, thus forcing prices down at the same time as getting even with Rogers for embarrassing them in the initial rollout. BTW, there is no truth to the rumour that Apple Canada stores are not selling iPhones to poke a stick in RogersÕ eye. Rather, they are not selling iPhones because they arenÕt a telecommunications carrier. Canadian law is what earns the black eye in this case, preventing a manufacturer from hawking its own products.

OTOH, Rogers managed to poke yet another stick in its own eye by rejigging its internet service so that page errors are redirected to their own advertising site, then answering critics by referring to this egregious interference as a product enhancement. Really? This is in the order of carriers throttling traffic other than their own, degrading performance on packets they are required to carry yet that compete with theirs.

Sigh. The trouble with the SpyÕs second law (against legislating against stupidity) is that nearly all laws are passed to do exactly that. Someone needs to tell Rogers (and like minded carriers) this before governments start passing laws enforcing net neutrality in the face of their stupidity.

Fourth Data Point

Whatever else is going on, people are still buying computers, and AppleÕs sales are still increasing far faster than the industry average, now propelling the company into third place in the U.S. market. iSteve has a long way to go before catching leaders HP and Dell for the market lead, but it now seems a matter of when rather than if. The larger iPod Touch, next iPhone iteration, and the iTablet/iSlate will all hype sales when they arrive. So will the quad core laptops. Note that Apple is still building mindshare, and per the SpyÕs Fourth Law (marketshare lags mindshare) still has a lot of credit built toward becoming number one in computer sales. Barring missteps, say about thirty months.

The Spy has never been able to comprehend the business worldÕs viscerally emotional attachment to the PC and its limited, error-prone, virus-filled OS. Perhaps once IBM has been out of the microcomputing industry long enough to evaporate that portion of mindshare attaching to the mantra "IBM compatible", IT people will begin to evaluate systems with the dispassion of accountants instead of the passionate love-hate reactions theyÕve had in the past. Perhaps now that Apple is selling its product in a box that can run W*nd*ws if one must, they can buy Macs without the downside of admitting they were wrong all these years.

One thing seems certain. The MS failure to upgrade W*nd*ws to a useable product finally has many IT managers trying to decide whether to install Linux or OS X as its replacement. MS seems paralysed, unable to react. The giant is in trouble, though the realization hasnÕt reached its brain yet. Nor has it reached the bottom line, though that will come. Lack of marketshare lags lack of mindshare.

Lethe Revisited (Again)

It wasnÕt easy to put our cat to sleep this past month, but when she attacked the hand that was weeding around her for perhaps the sixth time (another round of antibiotics for Joyce), and our children pointed out that grandchildren couldnÕt live with that risk, it became time. She now resides at peace under one of her favourite trees, a threat to neither birds nor humans. Our other old cat is already much less neurotic, indicating things were worse when we werenÕt looking. (Note to self: There is a paradigm for Vista here somewhere.)

For its part the SpyÕs MacBookPro continues to sleep better than ever, but sometimes in closed-lid mode must to be awakened by the remote. Other times, when moved or switched from open-lid to closed-lid, it has to have the lid flipped open and a couple of clicks on the pad before the external usb trackball comes alive. Also, no OS updates will work in lid-closed mode, but thatÕs to be expected. Otherwise, no new sleep-related trauma to report. Apple is getting close to making this work smoothly.

Low-Tech Ruminations

The Spy is well-known to his own children as an incorrigible tool junkie who doesnÕt just have to have the latest in programming and OS utilities, but also haunts Rona, Home Depot, Princess Auto, and KMS Tools eyeing up the latest in woodworking and mechanics tools. His garage wall has for years been a model for "everything has a place so hang it on its own nails". However, a wall of tools is rather non-portable in the event of a move (why he rarely does so) and the dust and rusts inherent in open storage are also inconvenient unsightly. Thus he finally bit the biscuit and purchased a combo roller and top tool chest to get everything organized and off the wall. (Though encouraging him to be off the wall any more than already may not be so good an idea.)

This got him to thinking. (Uh-oh.) Computers have finally become the tool commodities we all thought they would. So, why not sell them in tool stores, between the socket sets and routers, just across from laser levels? ItÕs a non-traditional thought, but the mindset is there, the rent is usually lower than in a mall, and a mini Apple store in a Home Depot seems like such a good cultural fit (to the Spy at least). Besides, the ones that sell automotive tools are already selling computers--your typical car has four or five installed and requires a couple more to diagnose. Hmmm.

This got the Spy also connecting computers-as-a-tool to a key social phenomenon. Could this (not just the abysmal math curriculum during and worse skills upon exiting high school) be part of the reason for the precipitous decline in computing science enrolment (up to seventy percent in some schools despite there being more jobs)? Perhaps when programming web sites is a second occupation for stockboys, cashiers, roustabouts, lonshorepersons, truck drivers, and social workers, software engineering as a professional career loses its lustre. Well, folks, someone has to write and maintain the hard code. Hey, we still need people who get the picture, both big and small, who get programming languages, AI, data structure, modelling, Fourier transforms, who understand the cold iron and how machine language (OK, at least assembler) works. Besides thereÕs much better money in professional software engineering than there is in script-kidding together cookie-cutter web sites from ill-understood code kits. Support your friendly neighbourhood technological society. Get a life. Get a career. Become a pro. Enrol in your local university computing science school.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, 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? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.


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Last Updated: 2008 08 06