Sunday, September 11, 2011

“Working After Retirement” Myths

I read recently that a substantial percentage of Canadian Boomers expect to continue working for pay after the “normal” retirement age of 65. In doing this, they expect to supplement their retirement income, stay in good health and satisfy their social needs while avoiding boredom. I’m wondering if this magical post retirement life they envision for themselves is largely a mythical one. A Magical Mythical Tour perhaps?

I admit to some prejudice in this matter because I retired early at the tender age of 58. After a two year volunteer “job” in Almonte (doing some of the things I used to get paid for for free) I hung up my food technologist’s hat for good. After nearly 5 years of full time retirement I am certainly not anxious to work again – even part time.

Let’s have a look at some of the working post-retirement myths as I have experienced them at least.

You Can Work At Your Old Job Part Time

Well maybe. I have to admit that when I first brought up the topic of retirement, part time work was suggested by my employer as a means of helping them adjust to my leaving. However, I did not accept for two reasons – first because I’d still be doing the same stressful stuff, and second working “half time” meant 50% of the salary for 75% of the hours. The company would have wanted me to be there half the day or more 5 days a week, to suit their convenience. They weren’t about to cancel meetings on Friday or Monday because I didn’t want to come in to work those days. And I know of at least one half time person who was terminated because she didn’t want to return full time.

You Can Find a New and Fulfilling Part Time Job

I did the two year part time volunteer job in Almonte and I’m sure I could have been paid minimum wage to do it. The small company I worked for really couldn’t have afforded me otherwise. It was fun helping them get Organic Certification but at other times I ended up working in Production a couple of days a week to help out. Finally I just decided it was better to retire full time.

You’ll Be In Better Health If You Keep on Working

I don’t think so. How can you be in better health if you are stressed out with a daily commute, lots of meetings and arbitrary deadlines set by people who aren’t doing the work? I’ve seen some stats that show that the earlier you retire, the longer you’re going to live. I know I’ve been far less depressed as a retiree.

You Need the Social Contacts of the Workplace

I’ve been fine without them thanks. I don’t think it’s healthy to depend on those you work with to give you a rich social life. I still get out to coffee with the boys, and I have the time now to meet and greet whomever I like.

You Must Work to Stave Off Boredom

I wonder if the person who wrote this has ever been retired. In my retirement years I’ve learned a new computer operating system, fixed dozens of computers for people in the neighborhood, traveled extensively in the offseason, hung out with my grandkids. I have time to blog, read all the books I want, moderate an Internet forum. Working was far more boring than retirement – unless you find writing reports, filling out forms, going to meetings and sitting in a traffic jam an antidote for boredom.

Forgive me for saying this, but I wonder if all the lip service paid to working after 65 isn’t just an excuse for the fact that people haven’t planned well enough financially to do anything else but work. Just my $0.02.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The End of Early Retirement?

I’m rapidly approaching the “normal” retirement age. The thing is, I’ve already been retired for 6 years.

Recently I read a newspaper article about how the concept of early (or for that matter normal) retirement is dead. Because we are all living longer, we should want to keep on with a fulfilling career after 65, and not retire as our parents and grandparents may have done.

There were some interesting examples of such paragons of industry, to wit:

  • A former psychologist now earning his bread as a renovations carpenter.
  • An ex PR manager who tried making it as a professional house sitter, but had to take some work in her former field as a proofreader.
  • A guy who formerly managed a major clothing retailing firm, now employed as a tax preparer / construction worker.

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see these “ stimulating positions” as any reason to continue on in the workforce if you don’t have to financially.

I worked a couple of years after retirement as a volunteer for a small company in the coffee business, but eventually decided I didn’t want to get up early and work 10 hour days if I didn’t have to.

In addition to this, after my wife and I retired we had a bunch of life issues – illness and death of her sister, aging and deaths of both my parents, her mother getting older. These took up a lot of time and thought and I really don’t see how we’d have done it all if we were committed to earning a paycheck in our senior years. Besides, we’ve got grandchildren now.

I acquired some pretty significant IT skills over my years at work and I now put those to good use helping others in the neighborhood. Most of my “clients” are around my age, and they trust me as much as the younger geeks they’d have to deal with otherwise. I suppose I could make a few bucks charging them for my services but hey – I don’t really need to, and they really can’t afford to pay me for whatever value I bring to their problems.

I have a lot of sympathy for those folks who haven’t been able to save enough to retire and may have to keep on working into their 70s. But those of us who can retire should get out of the way of people who really need to work.

There’s plenty of stuff to do in retirement, and you don’t always have to get up early to find it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Technical Trip Down Memory Lane

On June 2, 1969 I left behind my university days and embarked on a professional career as an Associate Chemist with General Foods Ltd. Research in Cobourg Ontario.

I can remember getting my first Retirement Plan summary with GF and marveling that my normal retirement date would be November 2011. It seemed unreal that one could see 42 years into the future. It’s far less mind-boggling to look back over that number of years today.

The way of life I experienced then is gone physically now. The R&D department in Canada was eliminated in the early 1990s. The mighty GF plant complex in Cobourg closed a couple of years ago. And even GF itself disappeared as an independent company over 20 years ago – merged with Kraft, GF lost its corporate name by 1995. The lovely 60s era lab complex where I learned my trade is now an ambulance building.

Even in places where food company R&D remains in place in Canada, the entire activity has been so changed that one would no longer even recognize the same sort of work in the late 1960s – who did it, how we did it, how we got paid, how we were managed. Maybe it’d be fun to take a little trip down memory lane.

To begin with, food Research was an overwhelming male activity in those days. Out of a 40 person staff we had maybe 5 women, and only 2 would have been considered professional. One was a home economist and the other a pioneering food scientist from UBC. Today the proportion would be 100% reversed.

Most degrees in the lab were in Chemistry, not Food Science and the job titles reflected that fact. Today almost every food R&D professional would be a graduate of a Food Science program at Guelph, Laval, UBC, get the idea.

We were a paper based department. We wrote our lab notes and product formulations by hand into bound notebooks. Our work was read and witnessed by our peers and supervisors. Our formulations were written to three figure accuracy, then checked and typed by a special formula control department which created a second formula for costing that went to 4 decimal places. We could not sort our formula listing except mentally, we were not directly responsible for ingredient line declaration, and we had only a foggy idea of how much our creation would cost. I cannot imagine how any food technologist could work like this today.

Our communication was mainly by telephone, although nobody had a direct line to the outside. We hand wrote memos which were then typed (and often corrected) by our secretarial staff. If we were in a hurry we had a particularly vile method of writing called a SpeediMemo – three copies, carbon paper. One copy was to keep, two to send, one to get back.

We kept track of our time on cards which we sent to the Research Facilities Supervisor. Each of our projects had a name and number. We got paid once a week by paper check which we had to take to the bank. My first check was around $100 as I recall. My gross pay was close to $130 per week.

We had a 15 minute coffee and /or tea break twice each day. Our coffee was made for us and delivered to the lab by a nice lady. We were supposed to remain at our desks, you see. However the management did not object if we had coffee with co-workers in another lab space as this encouraged “cross-pollination” of ideas.

A typical lab was a large bright room where we had 4-5 desks set up around the walls and the rest of the area consisted of benches and counters where we could weigh, mix ingredients, run tests, etc. Our equipment was unfailingly analog in nature.  Balances and test equipment had moving visual displays or paper recording charts. Even digital results such as colorimeter values were obtained by rotating knobs and matching potentiometer needles. The equipment was specifically designed and built for food application – the Amylograph, Farinograph, Hunter Colorimeter, Texturometer.

There were no computers or calculators in general use. The analytical lab had a strange Friden mechanical calculating machine with knobs, switches and thumbwheels. This could do calculations to some accuracy if you could master its eccentricities. Otherwise you stuck to a slide rule or mental math.

The only computer application I saw in the lab was by an older researcher who used a COBOL database structure to file and retrieve his hundreds of competitive evaluation reports. He knew nothing of computers but he liked the logic of the database.

Our laboratory library had a couple of interesting Information Retrieval systems. One was called the McBee card and was used to find the oldest research reports we had in the company. Some of these went back to the early 1940s. You stuck a long needle through a stack of cards. You then gave the deck a shake and the cards that you might be interested in were notched and fell out.

The McBee system had been replaced by some sort of Termatrex app for more recent reports. With Termatrex you placed a bunch of punched plastic sheets on a light viewer and if the light shone through in the right spot you were getting somewhere. I never figured this system out, and to be honest I never saw anyone else use it effectively either. One of our secretaries was pretty good with Termatrex and she could find things if you really needed it.

One last word about our management structure. It was heavily hierarchical and deep. I figure there were at least 4 levels of management in Research alone and probably another 3 up to the President of GF Canada. This doesn’t include all the lateral supervision we had in formula control and time reporting. It’s really amazing we got anything at all done under such a suffocating system.

In spite of all the strangeness above, it was a great time in my life. I was doing some interesting practical work, I learned a tremendous amount from eager young technical colleagues and the veterans who made up the backbone of the laboratory effort. I have never regretted the 5+ years I spent learning my craft in Cobourg Research. Long may it live in my memory.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

It’s The Hardware, Stupid

When I first got involved with Linux - discovered Distrowatch and the joys of downloading and burning CDs - I thought the whole Linux scene was about the software. Man, all those different desktops, music players, office programs…choice was so cool! At one time I had a testbed system with 7 different distros on it, all chainloaded. Oy…

I’ve calmed down a bit since then. My current way of thinking is that the hardware you are working with determines not only what Linux distro you use but how you use it. Here are some examples taken from my computer museum at home:

  • Antique and Ancient Hardware. This stuff probably ran Windows 98 or even Windows 95. Installing Linux on the oldest machine I have was more a proof of feasibility than anything practical. For machines like this the lightest possible window manager and operating system is a must. Vector Linux has always been a good choice here, although I did have to use Deli Linux for my oldest junker.
  • Old but Still Useful. This might have a Pentium 4 and up to 1 GB of RAM. Maybe it even ran a primitive version of Windows XP, but I didn’t feel I wanted to be bothered maintaining all the security software. On these machines I just blow off XP and install Mandriva. They work fine for such uses as a music jukebox, or backup photo storage machine. Or one of them can serve as a main system for someone who doesn’t have a computer at all.
  • Netbook. I have one of these, and the look and feel is about the same as a 2003 desktop. It’s slow and underpowered - handy only for email or light Web surfing when on vacation. Linux is the only solution that makes sense for it, so I use Ubuntu Netbook Edition. Why anyone would want to run Vista or Windows 7 Starter on these types of machines is anybody’s guess.
  • Fairly New – Runs Linux Only. This is very nice cheap desktop system from 2008 that I use as a backup or alternate in my basement den. It has a dual core processor, lots of RAM and it’s never had anything but Linux installed. Right now it  screams along with Mandriva. Fast, powerful, safe, secure, free – what more could you ask?
  • Aging but Powerful. This is my main desktop system – Pentium Dual Core from 2005 with 3 GB of RAM. It was quite a machine in its day, and I got it as an off lease desktop in 2009. It runs XP Pro and I use it for a few things Linux is not quite up to as yet – tax software, my favorite photo management program come to mind. I do have this machine set up to dual boot with Mandriva, but to be honest I just use XP most of the time. It isn’t worth the aggravation to shut down and reboot to switch operating systems unless I want to rip/burn CDs. I prefer to do that in Linux.
  • Lights Out. A good description for my newest machine – a notebook with quad core processor, gobs of RAM, huge hard drive, 64 bit Windows 7 O/S. On this machine I’ll never dual boot. It’s not needed at all, since it has the muscle to run virtual machines all day long. I’ve installed Oracle’s VirtualBox and three different Linux distros to play around with, although my principal O/S here will continue to be Windows 7. Virtualization will likely be my way of the future with Linux on the latest hardware.

The Evolution of a Linux User

It’s been close to 5 years now since I first started experimenting with the Linux operating system. During that time  I’ve learned quite a lot – about Linux itself, and about me as a Linux user. Thought I’d reflect on that a bit today. Some random thoughts:

  • I’ve gone from user to geek and back to user. This transition was necessary at first. When I first began to install Linux, it was on older systems that needed a new O/S. I also wanted to have wireless capability as these older systems were in my basement and I wasn’t anxious to run cables through the floor or the walls. The Linux distros at the time were not particularly wireless savvy, nor were they always friendly to the type of wireless hardware available to me. I had to figure out how to use the command line, make wireless configuration files manually, even build a few modules to get things to work. Then around 2008 everything changed. It would be very rare today to install a Linux distro that didn’t have working wifi. Wireless hardware is also far more compatible than it used to be. So is printing and scanning, especially with HP printers.
  • My choice of Linux distro is far more limited and certainly not particularly geeky. Basically I stick to a mainstream system that just works (Mandriva), one for netbooks (Ubuntu Netbook Edition) and one for older hardware (Vector Linux.) I have not gotten into the real enthusiast’s type of Linux like Slackware, Arch, or (God forbid) Gentoo. I like Gnome or Xfce for a desktop environment.
  • I try to use the Linux O/S in a few different ways depending on the hardware I’m working with. More on that in my next post.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Makings of a Dinosaur

The other day I was reading in Cnet about the post laptop era - as evidenced by the crowd at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin Texas. The participants at at SXSW roamed the streets with their iPads and smartphones setting up meetings, arranging dinner dates and texting each other ad nauseam with barely a laptop in sight besides a MacBook Air.

After reading this article I realized that I have the makings of a real technical dinosaur. Not only do I not have an iPad or interactive smartphone, I have no intention of ever owning one.

When I worked back in the Pleistocene era, I was happy to have a desktop system and be incommunicado when I wasn’t in the office. A laptop in those days was considered a perk for the managerial types, but I always felt it was a perk not to have to take my work home every night. Times have sure changed and working stiffs are now glued to their Blackberrys and iPhones, not to mention that everybody carries a laptop back and forth to the office. Ball and chain.

But not me. I need a big screen now for my aging eyes. I haven’t even been able to get used to a touchpad, let alone a touch screen. I have a netbook but it’s so slow and frustrating that I switched to a powerful quad core laptop. If I ever buy another computer it’ll be as big a honking desktop system as I can afford. And don’t even get me started on trying to type on a virtual keyboard.

Sorry you interactive bleeding edge people, but I won’t be making the SXSW scene anytime soon. Just call me Laptopadon or Desktoposaurus.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bunking In With Teddy

Carib082I admit there were times I wasn’t really all that confident we’d enjoy our recent Caribbean cruise as much as we normally do. Part of the problem was that we were going to have two year old  grandson Teddy sleeping in our cabin.

As I saw it there were a few problems with this arrangement:

(1) Teddy normally sleeps in his own room without the distraction of others – especially fun distractions like Nonna and Grandpa.

(2) Teddy is used to Mom or Dad being there when he wakes up. We weren’t sure how he’d react when they were not.

(2) Teddy gets up EARLY. 0530 is a common rising hour and - while I used to get up them when I was working at Unilever - it’s been a while since I’ve wanted to.

Anyhow we decided to give it a try but we had a backup plan. There was a second crib placed in his parents’ stateroom in case of emergency.

We began our little experiment in the hotel in Fort Lauderdale. The first night’s sleep ended with a cry of “EEE-YAW! Up!” precisely at 5:30 AM. Can you imagine having an alarm clock that worked like that? Not a pretty thing to contemplate.

As time progressed we went to a new mantra each day: “Daddy? Daddy? Mommy? Mommy? Nonna? Grandpa? Up. Walk.” Things were going pretty well until a time change moved everything back an hour. At 4:30 Nonna found herself  walking him around the ship watching the cleaning staff and finally wheeling him down to Plan B – his long suffering Daddy.

Another night after a day of missed naps, we found him up and ready to go at 1:30 AM. Any attempts to snuggle or return him to his crib got “No, no,no,no! Up! Walk! Nonna coming! Grandpa coming!” Time for Daddy to take over again.

Toward the end of the cruise Teddy was settling in nicely although still rising around 5:30 - but the last night he had another 2 AM incident. His Nonna told me later that as she wheeled him around the ship and got him asleep in his stroller she noticed other passengers just coming back to their cabins with drinks still in their hands. Good thing we weren’t among them I guess. Teddy went back to good old Daddy again that night and Dave got him to go back to sleep. Thank heavens.

So at the end of each day we managed all right, and a couple of good nights sleep at home has cured our exhaustion. And the two weeks of quality time we spent with this incredible little boy was worth every minute of lost sleep.

True Celebrities

Carib118Celebrity Cruises has a theme that they’ve used for years – that the guests on their ships are like celebrities in their own right. Slogans like “We treat you famously” or “Starring you” have been coined to get this point across.

I suppose the Celebrity marketeers believe this, but after our 10th Celebrity cruise (and 2nd on Celebrity Equinox) I’m convinced that the true celebrities are the wonderful crew members who serve us aboard the many ships. Those are the folks who keep us coming back to Celebrity.

A case in point would be Leandro, our waiter from our first Equinox cruise. He remembered us - especially our 2 year old grandson Teddy - so he greeted us warmly when we met him again. He was kind enough to let me get a photo of him with Dave and Teddy for our cruise scrapbook.

We met many others on the ship who also remembered Teddy as well – Melani from Mauritius, Albert from Honduras, Leonardo (our all time favorite sommelier) from the Philippines, Antonio from Portugal. During our last Equinox cruise, Antonio had given us a map of Lisbon that was kid friendly so that we could make the most of our day there. We were really happy to see him again.

Maria and I even managed to re-greet a really nice young man (Remzi from Turkey) that we had as an assistant waiter on a Med cruise in 2007.

This time we got to meet a bunch of new celebrities – Leo’s lovely wife Maria who was also aboard Equinox, Anne from France, Ephraim from Turkey, and our fabulous waiter team of Yalcin from Turkey and Alejandro from the Philippines.

We also enjoyed meeting two other nice ladies – Janet from Nicaragua and Samantha from Jamaica - and a tall handsome sommelier named Bojan from Serbia. Bojan loves little kids and came around every day to our table to cuddle our 6 month old granddaughter Veronica. He should make a great dad someday.

I know the cynics among us will assert that these people are paid to be nice and serve us during our cruise vacation. But there’s a huge difference between paid service and genuine unsolicited friendliness. We always get the latter from Celebrity Cruises’ multinational onboard staff. That ensures our loyalty far more than any sort of repeat cruiser program ever could. Here’s to the true Celebrity Celebrities.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

September Song

I got a letter today from Service Canada that told me that my application for Old Age Security has been accepted. It’ll be a while before the money starts rolling in, but I definitely am on my way to the winter period of life.

Just as well I suppose, because when I was in the drugstore today the cashier asked me if I was over 65. It was seniors’ day after all.

Anyhow this got me thinking about one of my favorite old songs – one my Dad used to love. It’s called “September Song.” His favorite version was by Frank Sinatra, but I think mine is by Jimmy Durante. Yes, I know Lou Reed also recorded it but give me some credit for taste.

So here are a few details on “September Song” for your reading pleasure. It was written by Kurt Weill and Max Anderson in 1938 for a Broadway musical featuring Walter Huston – great actor, no singing voice. Apparently the writers dashed it off in a couple of hours and made it as simple to sing as possible.

The show wasn’t that successful but the song became a classic. There are some poignant lyrics that really resonate with me today as I contemplate my OAS notice:

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few

September, November

And these few precious days I’ll spend with you

These precious days I’ll spend with you.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Down to the Sea - In This Ship

We’re off on another cruise in a week or so. We got started with cruise vacations rather late in life, but now we like them a lot. This will be our 10th one – all with Celebrity Cruises.

Sticking with the same cruise line – assuming you like their style of cruise experience – is a good thing, because eventually you start getting some nice perks. We now get free Internet and laundry service, a lounge with drinks or specialty coffee provided, and priority tendering and departure facilities. We’ve also enjoyed galley and bridge tours.

We’ve had cruises on a wide variety of Celebrity ships – from the smaller more intimate Celebrity Zenith up to the brand new megaship Celebrity Equinox. Right now I have to say we like the big ship best. It’s very comfortable in all sorts of weather, has lots of facilities to keep you happy on sea days and we really like the way they have organized the dining experience.

Last year we went across the Atlantic on the Equinox. This year we’ll be cruising down to Panama and South America. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watching A Little Boy Grow Up

Oh sure I loved Mom and Dad when I was a boy growing up in the Leave It To Beaver era. However my favorite adult for a lot of that time had to be my Grandpa.

He was quite an old man when I arrived on the scene. Here’s a pic of us in 1955 when I was 9 and he was 80. However Grandpa lived until age 91 so I have a long and vivid memory of his presence in my life.

He was a man of seemingly inexhaustible patience and good humor – ready to answer any number of questions, and with a treasure trove of stories guaranteed to interest a small boy. He spoke of log cabins and coal oil lamps, steam engines that ran on the railroad or were pulled along the roads by horses and mules, working on the farm or in the city. He would drive me to a convenient spot outside the town where we could watch the trains thunder by, and later get a big basket of fresh strawberries from a local grower. Even when his vision failed, and he had to rely on me to tell what time it was on his favorite pocket watch he never lost his kindness and generous spirit. What a guy,

I mention this now, some 60 years later because nowadays I have my own 2 year old superfan in the making. His name’s Teddy. I am not sure I can channel my own Grandpa – certainly I’ll never be able to compete in storytelling – but I’ll give it my best shot. I’m a bit younger at this stage of life and God willing I’ll be around awhile to provide lots of memories for Teddy as he gets older. At the end of the day I suppose that’s the goal of any Grandpa – sit back and enjoy watching a little boy grow up.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Windows 7 Is A-OK

I am pretty much a Linux guy when it comes to the PCs around here. Mind you, most of them are older pieces of hardware where Linux runs very well. One machine is fairly new but I didn’t want to be bothered paying for its operating system, or getting involved with licensing hassles. I just installed Linux from the start.

Up until recently I had just one Windows machine in the stable – and that was my Windows XP based Dell Optiplex GX620 desktop from 2005. I still use Windows for a few essential applications, and I expect to continue to do so. Windows XP is getting pretty antiquated, and security support will end in a few years. At that point I would have to abandon Windows completely and go strictly Linux, or move on to some sort of Windows successor O/S.

My experiences with Windows Vista did not inspire a lot of confidence, however. The first Vista machine I saw was one of those “Vista capable” fiascos which had barely enough memory to run the O/S itself, let alone any useful apps. It was slower than an underpowered XP machine it replaced and was only made tolerable by adding another 2 GB of RAM. When I tried configuring wireless routers on other Vista machines I soon became frustrated by all the sidebars, gadgets, popups, UAC interventions and general noise that Vista threw in my face. Not to mention the angst of finding the controls for a simple wireless client configuration. I soon learned to tell any neighbor who asked for help “Sorry I don’t do Vista.”

That’s all changed with the purchase of this Windows 7 equipped Dell Inspiron notebook I’m using right now. Mind you, it’s got plenty of hardware muscle – quad core processor, discrete graphics, scads of RAM, big hard drive. However, Windows 7 is tuning out to be a pleasure to use.

First of all, it is rather minimalist in comparison to Vista. The sidebar is gone, and gadgets are completely optional. The taskbar at the bottom of the screen handles launch icons and minimized Windows buttons with ease.

Second, it is very quiet. Information popups are kept to a minimum and you only see the User Account  Control when you are making a major change to the system like installing a program. Security suites like McAfee run unobtrusively and don’t have much effect on performance as far as I can determine.

Third, the Aero interface is very attractive and has some nice features without being too glitzy.

Finally Windows 7 comes with some nice Windows Live! applications like Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Writer (for blogging.) I am still not that crazy about Internet Explorer or Windows Media player but there are good alternatives available like Firefox, Google Chrome and Songbird that work very well.

To sum up, Windows 7 is A-OK with me. It is a worthy successor (finally) to the aging XP, and far nicer to work with than the bloated and annoying Vista. I’ll have no problems if some day I have to replace my Dell Optiplex XP desktop with a Windows 7 machine. And what would happen to that old desktop? I can see Linux in its future.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

No More Lonesome Whistle

The Brockville and Ottawa Railway has had several names over its long and interesting history - B&O, Canadian Pacific, Ottawa Valley Railway - but no matter what you call it, it's being taken off life support.
This fine old railroad - which traversed Canada's first rail tunnel, carried the Prince of Wales in 1860, and was the scene of one of the worst train wrecks in Canadian history in Almonte - will die today (February 5, 2011.) It hasn't been in use for close to a year and the last opportunity for anyone to buy it as a working entity ends today. CP will tear up the tracks, and probably the counties of Lanark and Renfrew will buy the roadbed for recreational trails and possible re-use if ever needed.
This railway was a major contributor to the industrialization and settlement of many of the Valley towns in the 19th century, but today it's really a road to nowhere. It can't really serve as a commuter railway as most traffic runs perpendicular to it on roads to Ottawa. The last viable Ottawa commuter line near Almonte disappeared over 20 years ago.
CP doesn't need it for slow, heavy, long haul freight transfer either, and there's no local rail traffic between the small de-industrialized towns it formerly served in the Valley. Perhaps some of it would make a nice scenic tourist railway, but I don't know how the Carleton Place suburbanites or the inhabitants of Almonte's poshy downtown condos would like a smoky old Ten Wheeler or light Pacific chugging past their homes in the summer heat. Besides, Ottawa's already got a steam railway for the tourists.
So after 150 years the lonesome whistle will no longer sound in Almonte. There's a nice old railway bridge over the Mississippi that'll be great for pedestrian traffic, and not much else.

Friday, February 4, 2011

End of the Netbook Era

I've been using a Linux powered Acer Aspire One netbook for a while now - during that time I switched from its native Linpus Lite to Ubuntu Netbook Edition. However I've become increasingly dissatisfied with its performance as a portable PC at home.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not junking it completely. For travel it's a terrific companion - lightweight and robust with its solid state hard drive. It's great for checking email or some light web surfing. It crams into a backpack along with my digital cameras and never complains. It backs up my photos on the road.
However it is not a good machine for portable use around the house. It's underpowered, memory challenged, and very slow for even the simplest Web tasks. The tiny screen is OK in a hotel room, but I longed for a bit more real estate in the living room. The fact it runs Linux mitigates the problem some, but even without the CPU sucking security apps the Aspire One is a laggard. It's sort of like using a laptop from 2001.
So I have been tempted for a while to replace the netbook with something that is a little more functional. I don't want to be tied down to a desktop all the time, but I don't want to stare at a tiny screen and wait... and wait... and wait... either.
There's an additional point to all this - I really want to learn more about Windows 7. Many of my "clients" in the Almonte seniors community are getting over their Vista phobia and replacing their XP hardware with Windows 7 machines. If I'm going to continue to help them with simple troubleshooting I need to have some experience with this latest version of Windows.
The net result was that a couple of weeks ago I decided to buy a new Windows 7 notebook. I decided on a Dell Inspiron M501R. This is a 15.6 inch consumer grade Dell laptop - I decided I didn't need road warrior capability or durability.
I also decided to go with AMD technology. I know Intel has a technical edge in processors, but AMD has good reliable hardware and I believe a slight edge in the graphics arena with their Radeon GPUs. I got a quad core Phenom II CPU and a discrete Radeon 550v graphics unit. AMD calls that combination Vision Ultimate and it should be more than I need for most tasks.
Anyway I customized my machine on the Dell website, my order sped off to Xiamen China where the system was screwed together in Dell's factory there. Then it headed off to Nashville TN for final boxing and shipping to Toronto. From there Purolator brought it to my door in Almonte. All this took 10 days from start to finish.
I've been playing around with my new toy since Monday - typing this post on it now. I've found it to be a powerful, smooth and responsive machine - its graphics are significantly better than either of my aging desktops (2205 and 2008 models.) It's more than capable of running the snazzy Windows 7 Aero interface.
As for Windows 7 - I like it a lot, and I'm a dedicated Linux user. It seems solid and unobtrusive (a far cry from the annoying and bloated Vista O/S I've encountered when trying to fix a few problems at certain neighbors.) It does have User Account Control but it's like a well behaved Linux install - doesn't jump in your face at every keystroke, and doesn't dim the screen while it waits for your confirmation. I wouldn't hesitate to tell any Windows XP devotee to switch over to Windows 7 when they replace their system.
So it's the end of the netbook era at home. But the little Aspire One will be in my backpack and off on another journey one of these days.