Monday, December 29, 2008

Transatlantic At Last

One thing I've always wanted to do is take a sea voyage across the Atlantic. This dream is set to come true this April as I've finally convinced Maria she can do this with me - with lots of bonamine packed in her suitcase.
We'll be flying from Ottawa to Miami and then it's a two week cruise with the first 7 days at sea . We'll go to the Canary Islands, Spain, France, Great Britain and end in Amsterdam. After a few days in Holland we'll fly back.
Actually a cruise like this is a bargain because they have to take the ship over there anyway, and not everyone chooses a transatlantic cruise as their first experience of ship travel.
The ship is Celebrity Century - large enough to be comfortable, small enough to enjoy great service.
One more lifetime ambition to check off my list.


Thanks to Sarah (who lent me her copy) I was able to read pop sociologist Malcom Gladwell's latest book on what it takes to be uber-successful.
Gladwell is one of the most entertaining writers of non-fiction I've ever read. Although I think he does better as a micro-sociologist (examining individual stories) than he does in the macro realm (trying to explain large scale happenings), his book is a thoroughly great read - in the same class as The Tipping Point and Blink.
At least I know now why I wasn't that much of a worldly success - born in the wrong timeframe, and lacked the opportunity to grind it out for 10,000 hours in my choice of craft. However as a husband , dad, and hopefully granddad I'm doing OK.

Daylight Saving Time (from 2002)

Daylight Saving Time arrived today, and once again this year, a month too early.
I get up at 6 AM each day, and I had barely gotten used to a bright hour of rising. Today I was plunged into the gloom of February redux. Not that the extra hour of daylight did me much good. Today featured leaden skies and cool temperatures - not exactly outdoor weather.
In the halcyon days before 1986, DST came late in April, with the promise of some glorious May evenings. Now it's still wet and cold in my part of the world, and I'd prefer a bit more daylight to start the day. Alas, nobody asked me.

Golden Age (from Early 2007)

I believe we are in a golden age of dumpster diving and recycling when it comes to personal computers.
Many laptops and desktops built from 1998-2001 have now become technically obsolete as far as Microsoft Windows is concerned. These Pentium III - and even Pentium II - machines are running Windows 98 or Windows Millennium and are no longer supported by Microsoft for security. They may be able to run XP but never Vista- never in a million years.
Most of these systems have plenty of horsepower to do basic email, Web and Office tasks, play music, catalog digital photos - if they can be given a new lease on life with a stable, secure and supported operating system.
That is where Linux comes in. There is a distribution of Linux for the lamest system around - although anything older than a Pentium II processor will be a S-L-O-W performer if you want a graphical user interface.
Here are some examples of PCs I have resurrected with Linux:
(1) Dell Dimension 4100 desktop from 2000. This machine belonged to my daughter when she was in graduate school. It was gathering dust until I upgraded its memory to 512 Mb, added a new hard drive, and installed Ubuntu 7.04 (the distribution Dell is now offering with new PCs in the USA.) It has a wireless card and runs as a second PC in my basement now.
(2) Compaq Armada 1700 laptop from 1998. This antique Pentium II 266 was running Windows 95 (badly) when I discovered it in a recycling facility near Almonte. It had a new hard drive and the leather carrying case alone was worth the $50 I paid for it. I added some more memory up to a whopping 160Mb, and got a used wireless PCMCIA card for it. Now I have a wireless laptop that works great with Vector Linux 5.8. Vector is especially good with very old hardware.
(3) Compaq Presario from 1999. My neighbor bought a new Vista PC and was going to throw this one away. I installed Ubuntu Linux, put in a wireless USB setup and her son now has a PC in her basement to check email and surf the Web.
(4) Dell Optiplex desktop from 2001. This one was too slow, and could not work on the network of a coffee company in Almonte. I put Ubuntu on it and gave it to one of the employees there.
(5) Whitebox midtower from 1999 - this one has a 1st generation Pentium III 500 and 256 Mb of RAM. It couldn't even boot Windows 98 properly, and was about to be junked because its owners now have a new Gateway. I installed PCLinuxOS on it and gave it to a friend who didn't have a computer. It's doing fine in a new home, with a new lease on life.

Philip Gibbs (from April 2002)

I read some gripping prose lately, in spite of the fact that it was written 80 years ago and its author has been dead for 40. The book is called "More That Must Be Told", by the British war correspondent Philip Gibbs (1877-1962). It is an analysis of the developed countries after World War I, and in its pages one can clearly see the seeds of the second global conflict. Gibbs soberly wrote of the great German war debt, the poverty of Austria, the vengeful mentality of France, the apathy in Britain, and the developing isolationism of America. He saw so clearly that the United States was the key to world peace, and hoped against hope for her participation in global affairs. Alas, his hope in 1921 had to wait 25 years to see fruition, until after another great war.
It is chilling to read current events 80 years later, when you already know how things turned out. I wonder what a reader in 2082 will make of our current events. It seems there is not much new under the sun.

Birdsongs (from April 2002)

A vernal highlight for me is the return of the birds to the big trees in our neighborhood. This morning as I stepped outside the front door, I heard a feathery chorus: "Cheery-Up! Cheery-Up!" from a Robin, "Cooah" from a Mourning Dove, "Dee! Dee! Dee!" from a Chickadee, the fast cheery warble of a Purple Finch, and the slow cadenced whistle of a Cardinal.
I immediately thought of our recent walk through the Royal Park in Brussels, where we saw and heard real Cuckoos, and a Blackbird that can sing rather than squawk as our North American Grackles do. Doubtless Charlotte Bronte enjoyed the same sights and sounds 160 years ago.
Of all God's gifts to humanity, the song of one of these light-as-air creatures must rank among the best.

Cross of Sacrifice (from April 2002)

Four weeks ago today, my family and I visited the town of Ieper (Ypres) in Belgium.
We stared in admiration at the magnificently restored Cloth Hall and St. Martin's Cathedral. These medieval masterpieces were smoking ruins after the scourge of German artillery in 1915.
Later we visited the Menin Gate. It was a deeply emotional moment as we looked at thousands of Canadian names - names of men who had no known grave, no other memorial.
We walked along the ramparts of Ieper to the Ramparts Cemetery. There my daughter (age 24) discovered that every one of the 192 Commonwealth soldiers buried there had been younger than she is when they died.
Three hundred thousand men of the British Commonwealth died at Ieper. One hundred thousand of them were never identified. So much blood spilled. So little wisdom gained. When will they ever learn, When will they ever learn?

Two Great Cats (from 2002)

I'm a cat person. It has my great fortune to be owned by two wonderful yet totally different animals.
The first was Brio (1982-1999) , a classic Sealpoint Siamese. Brio was the smartest , noisiest, most intelligent four-footed bundle of love I will ever know. To this day , as I lie on the couch watching TV, I still expect to see this great old cat climb onto the sofa, and stretch out full length on my legs to sleep. The day we had to send Brio to the Bright Cattery in the Sky was one of the saddest days of my life.
A few days later, when I returned to the Vet to pay Brio's final bill, I spotted Sammy in a cage in the reception room. He was an energetic 6 month old stray kitten whom some kind soul had brought to the Vet. Sammy is likely a Russian Blue, with the soft gray silver tipped coat. He's a lot quieter breed of cat, but he has a wonderful deep full-throated purr that makes his whole body shake. He's become a regal looking adult male, but deep down he's just a cuddly old lap cat.
Did I mention I'm a cat person?

Moved to Blogspot

Because I've had some issues with publishing posts on my own ISP's hosting service, I've had to move this blog to Blogspot as the host.
The new web address will be

I deleted the old blog on my ISP so the former link is now dead. Sorry about that, but I think I was running out of space over there.
A few of my earliest posts have also disappeared but they remain on my Facebook notes so I may republish them when I get a chance.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Waiting Game

The crib has been assembled, the baby clothes are in the bureau, the books are in the bookshelf and the nursery room is ready.
My daughter has a couple more days of work and then she's off on her maternity leave.
Now it's the waiting game, and I'm sure she's anxious to get the show on the road.
I know her mother and I were feeling that way the last few days of September in 1977. As I took Maria to the hospital on Oct 2, I remember thinking - well this is going to be a special day for all of us - and it was.
Let's just hope Teddy doesn't make us wait too much longer.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hope for My Grandson

For better or worse, I am rapidly approaching the 62nd anniversary of my appearance on Planet Earth. My father is dead, and my mother's mind is fading so I can't say for sure what my parents were hoping for me in November 1946. However I suspect it wasn't much different than any other young parents of the day.
The world had just come through a Great Depression and the Second Great War of the 20th Century. Things had been pretty bad, and my parents had to be hoping for a better life ahead.
I'm sure my wife's parents had the same hope for her three years later, and they hoped big-time when they immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1956. Things had to be better for the kids.
And they were. Maria and I came from humble beginnings but we always had enough to eat and wear growing up, plus we had the opportunity to get a good education. As a result we had long and satisfying careers, saved our money and are enjoying a comfortable retirement so far. We've had our ups and downs but nobody would deny we had a better chance in life than our parents did.
When Sarah was born in 1977 the world was still under the spectre of Nuclear War, there was stagflation in the economy, uncertainty about the future of Canada. Yet as young parents we had hopes for her, hopes she would have a better life than we did. Certainly we were able to give her more opportunities for learning and travel, and provide her with a few more luxuries than we had as children. She did us proud - went further in school than we did, has excelled in her choice of career, married a fine young man, and now is expecting our grandson.
And what of their hopes for him? The world is now facing the threat of terror, the possibility of another Depression, the depletion of resources, Climate Change...the list goes on and seems to deny the possibility of a better life than his parents and grandparents have had. Yet babies continue to be born, young parents continue to hope.
Perhaps a better life is in the cards for our young grandson to be. He should have all the opportunities for learning and development as an individual as his grandparents and parents have enjoyed. Beyond that is a lot of hope and prayer - prayer that he'll grow up to be a kind, loving and life affirming person and leave the world a better place for his being in it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Closing Windows - Not Yet

Although I'm still a long way from being a Linux guru, I have progressed steadily in knowledge to the point where I feel comfortable using it as my primary computer operating system. In fact my newest desktop is Linux only.
My experiences with Microsoft Vista on my neighbor's new Compaq desktop have led me to conclude I don't want to have Vista on any machine of mine - ever. For a while I was thinking that maybe I'd dump Windows completely and go over to Linux cold turkey as it were. But I decided it isn't time to do that - yet.
I don't use Internet Explorer or Outlook Express. Firefox and Thunderbird Mail work great and they are basically the same in Linux or Windows XP. So the online experience is the same with both systems.
Windows XP runs fine on the older hardware I have it installed on (upgraded Dell Dimension 4100 from 2001.) XP will be supported with another Service Pack and with security updates until 2014. I don't care about eye candy and desktop glitz. In fact I have XP looking like Windows 2000 right now. There's no rush to get rid of it.
There are a few things that I still prefer to do with XP, frankly:
(1) Income tax. Quick Tax is Windows only. I could use Quicken's online service or Ufile I suppose, but I prefer having the software on my local machine.
(2) ACDSee photo management software. It's still the best, and I'd have to see if it works under WINE emulation in Linux. Not sure, but it's fine in Windows XP.
(3) Slide scanning. My old Minolta Scan Dual II can be made to work in Linux but it's designed for XP. Its software will never, ever run in Vista though.
(4) Roboform. The best password manager in the world. I'd really miss it if I went to Linux only.
In conclusion, I'd say that God willing I'm going to explore every opportunity to do things the Linux way over the next six-odd years. When XP finally is no longer supported, or I can't keep it running on my old Dell, then it'll be Linux time. Any new machine will never run a Microsoft O/S. Trust me.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Vista Free Computing

I had a couple of totally new computing experiences earlier this month.
I bought my first clone computer after 25 years - everything else I've ever had has been branded (for better or worse.) Also I got my new desktop with no operating system at all.
After a never ending sequence of Linux junkers I wanted to see what my favorite O/S would do with a modern system.
So I headed down to Everbest Computer in Nepean and they built me a new box - AMD X2 4600+, 2 GB RAM, DVD-ROM, Western Digital 320 GB Hard Drive, ATI X1250 Integrated Graphics. What's even better was they didn't insist on any Microsoft Tax - no Vista or XP installed as part of the package. Without that bloatware I saved about $400, brought it home and installed Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon myself.
Now I have a great new system that just flies...I knew Linux was good on middle aged hardware but I never expected it to be as great as it is on relatively state of the art machinery. So I am now officially Vista Free for the foreseeable future.

Adios Old Friend

We said good-bye to an old friend a couple of weeks ago.
Our 1995 Dodge Neon gave up the ghost after 13 years, 150,000 km and countless trips in and around Georgetown and lately Ottawa.
We had noticed a smell of gasoline in the garage and then when I took the Neon out for a drive there was a trail of gas on the road behind me. This is not a good thing.
Having been warned about a rusty gas tank last summer, I expected something dire. The Arnprior Chrysler service dept. informed me that in addition to the leaking gas, I had rotting brake lines, and bad front end steering components. The total bill to fix it was about 5 times what the Neon was worth. We could not justify it at the age of the car.
So one of the most fun-filled and at the same time exasperating cars I've ever owned had its plates removed and went to the wrecker.
In its heyday it went like a rocket, cornered like a snake on sandpaper. At the same time it was noisy, had a poorly designed 3 speed transmission, rode like a lumber wagon and had the worst wind noise I've ever seen - thanks for those frameless windows, Chrysler!
I fixed the A/C twice, had the inevitable head gasket repair, tire replacement and various computer glitches an old car will give you. But I loved the old beast.
The Neon's spot in our garage is now occupied by a Jeep Compass - very smooth, great view of the road, sophisticated continuous variable transmission - a delight to drive. But I still get a lump in my throat when I go out there and get in.