The Week To Be Determined

by Joe de Jonge & Alex Sammon

published November 19, 2013


IT'S WELL KNOWN THAT THE  BlackBerry and the iPad stand at opposite ends of the Tech-Cool sliding scale. The BlackBerry is businesslike, stiff, dorky. It’s a forty-something on a Segway. The iPad is different. It’s intuitive, even artistic. The iPad is a thirty-year-old riding a longboard.

     But from a less superficial perspective—and regardless of the fact that Segways and longboards are both, in fact, lame—the iPad and the Blackberry have something in common: among some of their largest institutional customers, the future of both devices is uncertain.

     The iPad is facing threats in its own backyard. On November 5, the Los Angeles Times reported that the LA Unified School District’s plan to “put an iPad into the hands of every Los Angeles student and teacher” might end up “difficult to financially sustain.” This makes sense: there are tens of thousands of students and teachers in Los Angeles, and iPads cost hundreds of dollars each. That tablet computers have been chosen as an improvement for cramped classrooms and poor instruction is less intuitive.

     Exactly how LA schools will keep their iPads is yet to be determined. At the moment, the Unified School District is considering extreme measures—including the diversion of extra construction funds to iPad purchases—to maintain the program. LA students are probably unaware of this. FarmVille can be very distracting.

     Federal types, on the other hand, are well known for their BlackBerry use. Obama demanded a personal ’Berry when he was elected President. The device’s blue glow likely illuminates the sleeping faces of every staff member at Politico. And the Department of Defense owns nearly half a million of them—the BlackBerry is the only device authorized to connect to the Pentagon’s secure network.

     But all of this might change. In light of recent turmoil at BlackBerry (shares in the company plummeted 28 percent on a single day in June; CEO Thorsten Heins was fired just this month), the DoD is looking to expand its network. According to NextGov, a pilot program to connect non-BlackBerry devices to the Department’s servers will begin by the end of the year. That might be another nail in the coffin for BlackBerry. It’s true that the future of government and education might just lie in technology. But don’t get too attached—it’s all still being determined. –SPE



CHICKEN LITTLE IS MINDING HIS OWN business when he is plunked on the forehead by a wayward acorn. Unequipped to address the possibility of projectile flora, he stammers his legendary resolution,

The sky is falling!

Chicken Little then gets eaten by a fox. It’s a cold world.

Little’s slogan has since been used to undercut every doomsday prophesy since 1895.  Generations of bedtime bards have made a mockery of his ill-fated prediction.

But this week Chicken Little finally caught a break.



THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY'S GOCE satellite ran out of its xenon-ion fuel in October. Environmental regulation has precluded the construction of an extra-atmospheric Shell station, which sealed the satellite’s fate. On November 11, it reentered the atmosphere and began its fall back to earth.

     The GOCE satellite has spent the past four years in orbit, gathering detailed readings on earth’s gravitational field and oceanic terrain. The irony here is painful: it is this same gravitational field that has, of course, caused its death.

     It is estimated that 75 percent of the satellite will be incinerated upon atmospheric impact, with 25 percent reaching earth’s surface. Recent reports placed the satellite above Siberia, though it is unknown as to where this heavenly detritus will finally come to rest. Early reports have placed debris as far as the Falkland Islands.

     Apparently, though, the sky has been falling with some regularity. NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research satellite, Germany’s ROSAT X-ray space observatory, and Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Mars probe all booked unexpected return flights in 2011 alone. In fact, the GOCE satellite represents only a tiny percentage of the 150 tons of anthropogenic galactic refuse cascading back to earth every year. Debris showers have been most frequent in Australia, though no casualties have yet been recorded.

     While this trend has raised the stakes on stargazing, there doesn’t yet seem to be cause for concern. LiveScience estimates there to be a one in 3,200 chance that someone on earth will get struck by descending satellite. So it probably won’t be you. But given the frequency, odds are that someone’s face is going to get smashed by smoldering space shit, statistically speaking.

     Please apologize to Mr. Little. –AS



TORONTO MAYOR ROB FORD LOVES CHRISTMAS. Luckily for Mayor Ford, Christmas comes early this year—or at least the 109th Annual Toronto Santa Claus Parade does, on this Sunday, November 17. It’s the largest parade in all of Canada, with an expected turnout of between 750,000-800,000 revelers. Mayor Ford has always been a big supporter of the parade, and this has not gone unnoticed by Parade Co-Chairman Ron Barbaro, “He’s the only mayor who ever really walked the whole parade, which I thought was spectacular.” Handing candy to children every step of the way, I might add.

     But Mayor Ford may be getting a lump of coal from Santa this year. The fate of the 109th Annual Toronto Santa Claus hangs in the balance.

     In May, rumors surfaced of Mayor ford smoking crack on video. These remained rumors until Halloween, when the Toronto Police announced that they were  “in possession of a video digital file” with “images consistent with those reported in the press.” After a few days of mulling it over, on November 5, Mayor Ford owned up: “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But no, do I, am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.” Not a crack-addict, just a drunk; business as usual. Later that very day Mayor Ford announced his plans to seek re-election next year.

     On November 13, Toronto City council voted 37-5 to ask Mayor Ford to take a leave of absence. He has no intention of doing so: “I’m definitely keeping this job,” he said earlier. “I am not leaving here.” He also has every intention of marching in the 109th Annual Toronto Santa Claus Parade. Former fan Barbaro thinks otherwise, “He won’t be walking in the parade. He will be watching the parade with his family and that is his participation.” Mayor Ford doesn’t like to take hints. His Chief of Staff Earl Provost insisted, “He is going to do something official. He is the mayor of Toronto.”–JJ