Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sammy at 8

Any cat owner has to bravely face the fact that your feline friend has a life expectancy of 15-20 years. At age eight our current pal Sammy is firmly into middle age. However even as an old timer, he still has quite a bit of life in him.
He's a big cat. Always a wide body type, Sammy probably weighs 18 lbs and frankly he could stand to lose a few. However he carries it well enough and still looks pretty good.
His coat remains silky soft and because he was gray to begin with he hasn't begun to show signs of age. He's a step or two slower and he enjoys his naps a bit more but don't we all.
He's very quiet - never meows unless he wants his dinner. Even then it's a tiny "mew". His best feature is an incredibly loud and deep purr that seems to get better every year. He can turn it on in an instant and keep going for half an hour.
He's kind and even tempered and loves to be with people. As I write this he's sitting at my feet, and that wonderful purr just started up again.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

One Year Later

As the summer solstice nears again, I am reminded of the fact that one year ago today we were in Helsinki on our Baltic cruise. The days at the 60th parallel were truly long even in comparison with those in Ottawa at this time of year. I believe in St Petersburg it started to get dark around 12 PM and was brightening up around 3 AM - no wonder they call 'em "White Nights."
It was a truly memorable vacation and I have to thank Sarah and Dave for convincing us we'd really enjoy cruising. Great food, unpack once and take your hotel with you, visit a bunch of great Maritime cities including the magnificent capital of Czarist Russia - I mean how bad could it be? We didn't need Gravol once, either.
We're planning to do it again in November. Barcelona to Venice by way of Istanbul (not Constantinople). I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Living With Linux

There appears to be a multi-stage process that takes place when one starts working with Linux on a PC.
It goes somewhat like this:
Stage 1 - Attraction
You need a new operating system for an old PC that isn't supported by Microsoft any more, or you are sick of Windows 98/Me crashes, viruses, worms, spyware. However you aren't ready to jump into the pool without a lifejacket.
At this point you can try a Linux distribution with a "Live CD" that will install and run the O/S from a CD-ROM. You may have to set up the PC so it'll boot from an optical disk drive but that's it. If you like what you see - and if you see anything at all at this stage it's a good sign the distro will work with your video card - you can move on to Stage 2.
Stage 2 - Installation
Here you actually install the Linux operating system on your hard drive. Although it's possible to get Linux to dual boot with Windows, I've always found it easier to blow Windows away and just reformat the hard drive and install Linux as the only option. This means you likely want to have a second PC available to play with, or a second hard drive you can swap in and out.
Some Linux distros have a very easy graphical installer; others are text based and more of a challenge for a newbie. No matter what, you'll likely choose the default installation and then find out that isn't the best way to set things up. No matter - you'll be reinstalling again (trust me).
Stage 3 - Aggravation
Here is where you find out that your video card drivers aren't quite right, or your wireless card doesn't work, or your printer is really just a Windows zombie, or you want to use WPA encryption and its a PITA to set up. You'll do lots of research and Google-ing, plus you'll learn more than you ever wanted to know about the Command Line and Linux file systems. Don't give up though.
Stage 4 - Experimentation
Here you'll discover that there are another 100-odd Linux distros out there and you can download them and install them if you want. You may actually find another one that's faster on old hardware, that looks cooler, or that's easier to configure. At one point you'll install and configure your Linux trial machine with about 3 different distros and I guarantee you'll cock up your original installation in the process. Now is a good chance to reinstall the right way with a separate partition for data at least.
Stage 5 - Maturation
You'll settle on the one Linux distribution that works best for you and just install that on your PC. You'll keep it up to date and learn to use it in preference to all the other ones. You might even get a text that deals specifically with your favorite distro. In my case it's Ubuntu, although I also use Vector Linux on a really old laptop I have. At this point you'll have arrived as a Linux user.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Retirement FUD

It kills me how much disinformation and FUD there is out there about retirement planning these days.
I just read another article from a bunch of Waterloo actuaries that says that today's boomers are not saving enough and will be in danger of working until 75 or so - probably flipping burgers at Mickey D's - in order to survive in their old age.
The facts of the matter are much better stated by Malcolm Hamilton of Mercer Consulting:
(1) Most senior couples who are retired have more disposable income than working couples with a mortgage and kids to educate.
(2) You need about 40-50% of pre-retirement income (not 70%) to get by modestly.
(3) CPP and OAS will provide a fair chunk of your post-65 income. You need to save a bit to make up the difference but you don't need $2 million or so.
(4) Those of us fortunate enough to save in defined benefit pension plans, or put away a fair bit in RRSPs will be able to retire early or start a second career in our late 50s if we want to.
Read some articles by Malcolm Hamilton. He's telling the truth while a lot of so-called "planners" are just selling you snake oil. We are living proof that he's right.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Triple A

After 50 years of interest in the game, two World Series, spring traning junkets, visits to numerous major league venues, etc. etc. - I finally attended my first minor league baseball game last night.
Sarah and Dave took me out to see the AAA Ottawa Lynx against the Durham Bulls. Crash Davis and Nuke LaLuche did not play for the Bulls.
Some brief observations:
(1) The Lynx are history in Ottawa. A stadium which can hold 10,000 people had barely 500 on a steamy June evening. Admittedly the weather was threatening, and a violent thunderstorm washed out the game after 6 innings. We got rainchecks for another one his year. Better use them quick.
(2) Lynx stadium is OK - nothing special about it except cavernous dimensions. It's built for speed and defense - a real pitcher's park.
(3) AAA baseball looks like the real thing - a step slower, a few miles per hour off the fastball - but pretty good. There are no real stars of the future at this level though - the hot prospects are honing their skills at AA. Mostly it's guys on the fringe of the majors - late 20s early 30s, hanging on for another shot at The Show.
(4) Kids love getting up close and personal with the players and coaches. Not a bad deal getting an autograph from Gary Gaietti, something that would not have been possible 10 years ago except with a lot of effort.
(5) Why is it that every pitcher from San Pedro de Macoris looks like the Martinez brothers? The Bulls had one last night - Tony Peguero. Tall and skinny with a lot of hop on his fastball.
(6) The triple is still the most exciting play in baseball. Ottawa has a talented and fast catcher named Jason Jaramillo. He smacked a two run triple to right center last night that won the game for the Lynx.
(7) There's just something special about the little things that makes baseball so great. The pitcher gets set to throw his last warm up pitch, jerks this thumb towards second base. The catcher shoots the ball down there, the infielders toss it around and back to the pitcher. So familiar, so appropriate, so ...well, baseball.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Antique Surfer

It cost over $3000 when new, at a time when laptops were expensive curiosities for corporate executives. It was obsolete the day it was built. Its processor is at least 4 generations away from leading edge. It is maxed out at a now pathetic 160 Mb of RAM.
In its heyday it was designed as a standalone workstation, running an operating system that had internet access as an afterthought. It did not feature an ethernet card, let alone a wireless connection.
It's incredibly heavy, built like a tank. It has a great keyboard with a solid feel and a bright 13 inch TFT display. It's my 1998 Compaq Armada 1700. And I'm typing and publishing this post right now using it wirelessly.
I found it a few months ago in a recycling depot near Almonte, sitting on a battered old desk and selling for $50. A close inspection showed that it had a nearly new hard drive and everything else worked. At the time it was still running Windows 95 with a few glitches. The modem didn't have proper Microsoft drivers but I didn't care. I brought it home and the transformation began.
A trip to Nepean later, I had a used 128 Mb RAM module which I installed in the machine. I also got an ethernet PCMCIA which I plugged into the Cardbus slot. Then I got rid of Win '95, reformatted the hard drive and installed Vector Linux 5.8 Standard. This nifty operating system is perfect for old hardware - it even got an ancient ISA sound chip working. For a total of $100 I had a working notebook PC and a cable connection to broadband.
Later on I took a gamble that I could get the old Compaq to be wireless. I picked up an refurbished D-Link wireless PCMCIA card on eBay and after some configuration of Vector Linux, it works!
Now I can work wirelessly on an antique from the Clinton administration - a machine so outdated that Windows Me would have trouble running on it. Thank you Compaq for building such a quality machine, and thank you Vector Linux for bringing it into the 21st century.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Grandpa's Home

It was 1976. Trudeau and Levesque were debating the future of Canada. Jimmy Carter was squaring off with Gerald Ford in the US. Disco-mania and the leisure suit were rampant. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. And I finally realized a lifelong dream and got a grandfather clock.
It was hand built by my uncle's old friend Luther Gaylord - Luther was about 68 at the time and had retired from a long career as a cabinetmaker. My uncles delivered it personally to my home in Beaconsfield. They're all gone now, I'm an old man but the clock remains.
However, the heart and soul of the clock - a Kieninger A60 Westminster movement - had fallen upon hard times. It received an extensive rebuild and re-bushing in 1998, but after 31 years its plates were worn, its bushings were bushed, its cogwheels had all kinds of play in them, it didn't chime all that well and lubrication by a local clock repair guy couldn't fix it. After consultation with the repair expert, we decided the movement must be replaced with a new one.
So after six weeks, an order to Germany, some slight modification to a 31 year old pendulum and a week of test bed running, grandpa is back.
Luther was a sensible man with an eye for value, so he chose a reputable and established clock manufacturer for the original installation. Kieninger still makes new movements to this day. In fact it's now part of the Howard Miller clock group. The fact that Kieninger is still around made replacement relatively easy, actually.
So here's to Luther - craftsman and overall good guy. I'm sure he'd be glad to hear that after a heart transplant his good old clock is ticking like the well oiled machine it was, is, and hopefully will be.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Let It Be...Naked

Yeah, yeah I'll admit it. Like most late 40s boomers I have a copy of "Let It Be" in my vinyl collection. However it's never been one of my favorite Beatles works, at least when compared with "Sgt. Pepper" or the White Album. It's got a collection of mostly great songs but it just didn't sound like a Beatles concept record to me when I first got it. Never has. Until now.
I just received a copy of the 2003 remastered and re-engineered "Let It Be - Naked" and it blows me away. I know it's a tricky proposition to redo a 1970 classic but it has been done beautifully. The sound is crystal clear, the murky Wall of Sound expunged completely. The between tracks chatter has disappeared. Two real pieces of crap are gone, replaced by the John Lennon composition "Don't Let Me Down". The order of songs is changed so that "Get Back" opens the compilation and "Let It Be" closes it.
The Beatles minus all the strings and voices sound like well, the Beatles - with an uncanny sort of basic energy that would be right at home in the New Wave to come 10 years later.
It's probably naive revisionist history to assert that this is the "director's CD" - the one the Beatles really wanted to make. After all John and George are dead, and we know how much Paul wanted to redo "The Long and Winding Road" without all the dreck. Maybe this remixed CD is a bit of a nod to Paul's ego - but you know, he was right. "The Long and Winding Road" comes out as a thing of beauty when it gets naked.
I don't think you could get away with such radical surgery on a truly great Beatles album like "Revolver" or "Magical Mystery Tour" but it certainly has worked with "Let It Be."