It’s been a long time since I’ve done any real hard core programming or coding. I learned FORTRAN (with punch cards) in university and then I had a long and useful dalliance with BASIC (sort of FORTRAN for dummies.)

BASIC was the common language of time sharing – on teletype terminals with paper tape input. Later on BASIC was the way to communicate with the earliest 8 bit microcomputers (you didn’t call them Personal Computers until later.)

When it was my pleasure to teach a bunch of Grade 8 students to program we used BASIC – since that is what their classroom’s Commodore PET used back then.

Both FORTRAN and BASIC were what you would call “logic oriented” programs. Logic and formulas were the key thing. and you got that right and then thought about inputting some data to manipulate and output the answer.

Well times have changed and now that my grandson has asked about programming (or coding as they say today,) a creaky old dinosaur like BASIC would not be the choice of language to learn. What then?

Well it looks as if a language called Python might be the way to go. I have had a brief look at it and it shares a couple of desirable characteristics for an oldster like me.

  1. It is an interpreted language like BASIC. That is it runs its programs one line at a time, and errors are easy to debug.
  2. It is quite readable and uses a lot of the BASIC type symbols.

However unlike BASIC Python is one of the new “object oriented” languages. Instead of treating data as an afterthought to the logic, an object oriented program starts with the data first, puts it front and center and packages the logic with the data. Each combination of data and logic forms an object. The result is that a program that might have 60 lines in BASIC will have maybe 10 in Python – a dramatic improvement in productivity.

It is a different way of thinking though and I’ll need to put in some time if I want to try it out. There are some online courses and books on Python so I’ll see what I can do.

That said, Python looks like a type of programming language a kid could learn.

If you were wondering the creator of Python did not name it after a boa constrictor – the inspiration for this particular language is Monty Python. A programmer with a sense of humor – who woulda thunk it?


Three and a Half

That’s how old Susannah said she is today, when her Nonna called. Actually she’s 3 on the nose since it’s her birthday.

She wants to celebrate a half birthday like her older siblings do. Everyone wants to grow up fast and Susannah thinks she has more of it to do apparently.

Unlike her brother (little Ray) and older sister (little Maria), Susannah is the most like her mother. She was an early talker and is friendly and outgoing. The picture above shows a serious side, but she gets a lot of laughs out of saying new words like “Argentina.” Her preschool teachers think she is mature and physically quite fearless – I guess trying to be like the older two will bring that out in a kid. Time will tell but I see a lot of talent in her for learning – like Mom.

She is a big Disney fan and loves the Princesses. You’d have to ask her which one her favorite is – Grandpa isn’t that current on such things.

She’s made it past the baby stage and the terrible twos now and the whole world awaits. Happy birthday, my dear granddaughter.


In 35 years three great cats have lived with us. All three have shared the feline grace and beauty. All three combined contemplative calm with explosive energy. All three exhibited the “it is what it is” attitude that every cat shows to the world. All three were hearty and friendly souls with their human companions.

But each one was unique in his own way. Take phobias for instance. Brio was freaked by plastic bags. Sammy was terrorized by Jack Russell terriers. And Mr. Oates isn’t all that keen on vacuum cleaners.

Or consider how each one took (or takes) a catnap with a human:

Brio – the Featherweight

Brio was the lightest and slimmest of Siamese. I used to lie on the sofa or the floor to watch TV and soon a slender Seal Point would pad up, stretch out on my legs head footward, and use my slipper as a pillow. He would doze off happily in this position. For years after Brio went to the Rainbow Bridge I used to expect to see that brown and cream ball of fur coming whenever I stretched out somewhere.

Sammy – Upper Torso Guy

Sammy was the heaviest and largest of the trio. When I lay on the couch I had to turn on my side for him. Then he’d hop up on the back of the sofa, walk delicately onto my rib cage (ouch!) and finally stretch out with his head near my shoulder. He’d stay for a while, rumbling that magnificent purr, and then if he wanted to sleep he’d head down to the floor and nod off nearby. He was a hangout with you rather than in your face sort of guy.

Mr. Oates – He Longs to Be…Close to You

Oates is a mid-sized but solidly built cat. But he doesn’t want to lie on you. Instead he “spoons” – curls up in contact with the back of your knees. He has to touch you and then he’s happy to lie there and snooze as long as you let him. At least that’s how he is with me. He is much cuddlier and in your face with Maria.

Oates is really smart when it comes to reading the signs for a nap on the part of the owner. He’ll come running as soon as he thinks that’s about to happen. Like now.

Gotta go – he’s already waiting for me, and I don’t want him hogging the whole bed.

Conspicuous Consumption

I’ve been reading some Financial Independence (FI) blogs lately. The most interesting ones seem to be based in the UK, and are written by younger folks who primarily work in the IT business.

The goal as espoused by these blogs is to “make all you can while you can and get out as soon as you can.” That is: work your butt off early in your career and make the big bucks, while at the same time living like a Trappist monk. Cut your consumption to the minimum and save 75-80% of your disposable income. Acquire a shedload of financial assets so that you can retire at age 50 or earlier. Implicit in this assumption is that you’ll have no defined benefit pension or maybe no pension at all aside from your own savings.

I’m lucky I suppose that it didn’t have to be that way for me. Maria and I do have some DB pension income that always keeps the wolf away from the door. And yes, we were able to retire somewhat early.

However, I do agree with keeping the conspicuous consumption down a bit. We have never cared what others think about our lifestyle, so we haven’t needed the uber big house, fancy cars and fashionista wardrobes that Advertising Age would deem essential to life. It’s even less important now in our dotage, where having stuff is less important than having experiences (like vacations with grandkids.)

But I did indulge in a little conspicuous consumption lately. Yesterday I was down at the preschool where my granddaughter Susannah is enrolled and my daughter Sarah is the overworked and unpaid president. The school office had an old desktop computer system that ran Microsoft Vista (badly.) There were constant crashes on a computer that was needed for office work.

We went to the preschool and I provided an old Dell Optiplex GX620 (pic above.) This was the oldest desktop I had but it was an awesome machine back in the day. It can run a 64 bit stable version of Linux Mint, provide all the Internet and Office capability they need, and no crashes. That is the good news.

The bad news is that I was unable to get an old HP all-in-one LaserJet to scan properly with Linux. It printed just fine but the scanning software gave I/O errors. The office lady said that the scanner had not worked under Windows. She had an even older Lexmark all-in-one that scanned but didn’t print. Good luck getting that working with Linux – it didn’t even have a modern Linux driver available.

So after some consultation, Sarah and I went to the local Staples store where I bought a new HP all-in-one DeskJet, new cable, and cartridges and Maria and I donated it to the preschool.

I still had the problem that this bleeding edge printer was too new to be supported by the older HP driver package in the desktop. However I was able to geek it up a bit, install the latest driver collection manually. At the end of the day and about 5 hours of futzing about, the scanner and new printer were online.

So that’s my conspicuous consumption for yesterday. We are a bit out of pocket, but the preschool is back in business. They can even print the odd color flyer if they want. And I am sure we did the right thing, which counts for a lot.

The Theme’s The Thing

I’ve always enjoyed the chance to write and publish it online. I have been at it now since the late 1990s, first by having a website and later a blog. My very first website was  the “canned” variety – I went to GeoCities, got an account and used their layout. Later on I learned how to code my own HTML and then all I needed was an online Web host.

IN the early 2000s I also started a blog – again I went to a commercial blog host (Blogger) and wrote my first articles there. For a while I thought of a website and a blog as two different things. However the landscape was changing with companies like WordPress and Joomla coming along. The website and blog converged into something called a Content Management System. And so it was that a couple of years ago I gave up on maintaining my old school website and migrated my blog posts to WordPress.

I still needed to have a place to host my material, and in the process I got my own domain name. Then I needed to install WordPress on my domain and I was all set to start writing. Or was I?

Actually two things are needed to make a WordPress blog work for you:

  1.  WordPress software. This is really the back end for your blog. It’s a database and working environment so you can write, edit, update and publish your posts. It also provides ways to speed up access, kill spam comments, get updates to the software. The Web host provides the software as part of its package; all you need do is install it with a couple of mouse clicks.
  2. A theme. This is a collection of common elements that gives your blog a look and feel. For example if I wanted a theme to revolve around Autumn, I might have a photo like the above to be part of it.

WordPress software comes with a number of free themes but they are pretty generic and boring. Also it is pretty obvious to any seasoned blog reader that you are using a “canned” WordPress theme – thousands of first-timers do just that.

So I didn’t want to have a generic WordPress theme (they have names like Twenty Twelve, Twenty Fifteen, etc.) What now?

There are literally thousands of themes out there – some are free and others are “premium” or payware. The paid themes are generally better designed, more stable, updated more often and have support if you run into problems. I decided I’d look for a premium theme.

But what did I need? A few things actually:

  • Simple layout. This is a blog, after all, not a commercial website or online store. The technical term for this feature is Minimalisitc.
  • Responsive. I want it to look OK on a desktop, notebook, tablet, or smartphone. A responsive theme changes as needed.
  • One column design. That way the blog post is front and center.
  • Ability to put in pictures, links, and formatted text.
  • Reasonable cost. It can get expensive in a hurry if you look for a  bunch of of rich features and I didn’t really need a lot of them anyway.

So I ended up buying my theme from a site called Themeforest. It was made by Playne Themes and it’s called Bayse. I think it ticks most of the boxes.

The Bayse theme can be and is modified to suit the user but I like it pretty much as is so I stuck with the default settings.

Although I tweet my posts and link from my Facebook page I don’t think my blog has a large circulation. No matter. I enjoy writing it and keeping friends and family up to date. It’s also a good place to write about family ancestry and document it for future reference. If you have read this far I hope you enjoy it.



The Miracle Worker

Most of us are familiar with this wonderful 1962 film. However my grandma knew about Helen Keller far earlier than this. She and Helen were contemporaries, after all. This item was pasted into her scrapbook in 1904.

The World’s Most Remarkable College Graduate
The story of Helen Keller’s life is the biography of two wonderful women- the blind, deaf,and dumb girl who for over twenty years has fought against awful odds, and the kind, ingenious and patient teacher who has led her charge into the sunlight of knowledge and of kinship with humanity.

In 1886, when Miss Annie Sullivan was called to Tuscumbia, Ala., to assume the care of Helen, the child had been living for nearly five years in the mental darkness that followed her treble affliction resulting from convulsions.The task of education seemed well nigh hopeless, for the one sense through which the child’s mind was to be awakened to consciousness was her sense of touch. But in June 1904, eighteen years later, Miss Keller graduated from Radcliffe with distinction, and received her degree of B.A.

This fairy tale of education, this romance of the conquest of obstacles, is a superb triumph of concentration. At her entrance examination in June 1900, as if Nature had not sufficiently handicapped her efforts, she had to submit to two additional trials. The questions were given her in the American Braille system of writing for the blind, with which Miss Keller was only slightly familiar, having learned the English Braille – the two systems being as different as two distinct systems of shorthand. This delay in puzzling out the translation of the questions was further aggravated by the fact that her little Swiss watch with raised figures had unfortunately been left at home, so she had no means of gauging the time, yet her typewriter clicked out the answers and she “passed” with flying colours in every study.

During her college course, in many studies Miss Sullivan repeated the lesson while Helen’s fragile fingers feathering the way over her mentor’s face, translated the muscular motions of speech into ideas. She studied English, Latin, French, Greek, German, political economy, logic, higher mathematics, chemistry and all the other myriad phases of college wisdom, through her wonderful fingers.

She uses the typewriter in five languages, has learned to speak with clear articulation, can swim, row, play cards, chess and basketball; dance and perform a hundred other seemingly impossible things. Her memory is marvellous, her temperament sunshiny and happy; her mind is wonderfully broad, subtle and thorough, and her book, “The Story of My Life,” besides being great as a biography, is the most important work of the century on psychology as a revelation of the human mind, its methods and possibilities.


Grandpa Said There’d Be Days Like This

Here is a news item copied from Grandma Hawley’s scrapbook – pasted in there a century ago:

Car Killed Horse Yoked to Sleigh- Driver Jumped
Birch Cliff, Mar 3, 1916. A collision between a York radial car and a horse belonging to Postmaster A. H. Mitchell, at eight o clock this morning between Stops 19 and 20, resulted in the horse being killed and the front of the car badly smashed.

The horse, yoked to a sleigh, was being driven by George E. Hawley. It had just left Mr. Mitchell’s yard and was crossing the tracks when the driver noticed the car rounding the curve a short distance away. He raised his hand but was not seen.

As the car bore down on him, he jumped. The car missed him by about a foot and struck the horse broadside. The animal was hurled about 115 feet. It died as it was being led to the stable. The vestibule was badly smashed up, and the car had to be sent to the barn. The horse was valued at $150.

My grandpa told me lots of stories about his days as a horse driven cartage guy, but never this one. Probably he wanted to put it out of his memory.

Albert Lived Here

In an earlier post I mentioned that the site of Albert M. Prices’s home on E. 110th Street in Cleveland is now a vacant lot. However thanks to Aunt Helen’s family history book I found out that in 1920 Albert built this nice house on Hampshire Road in Cleveland Heights – then an up and coming suburb. This house is still standing.

However Albert didn’t live in Cleveland Heights that long as in 1922 the doctor prescribed a change of climate to be necessary for Estella Price’s health. She and Albert moved to suburban Los Angeles (Tujunga CA) and built this interesting home in 1923. Albert died in L.A. in 1937 and was interred in Forest Lawn Cemetery. Estella stayed in L.A until the 1940s when she returned to Cleveland to live with her daughter Florence. After her death in 1949 her body was returned to California and interred beside Albert’s in Forest Lawn. Now you know the rest of the story.

Doesn’t Apply Anymore

I’ve impressed the seniors in Almonte that I help with IT problems by telling them that my computing experience goes back close to 50 years – all the way to punch cards, keypunch terminals, mainframes, FORTRAN and serial job control. And it’s true; I have learned a lot. What I don’t say is that much of it doesn’t apply anymore.

And it’s not just the old programming languages, teletype machines and paper tape that have gone the way of the dodo bird. In the late 90s I learned HTML and FTP so that I could set up an online website. Today all I’d need to do is go to Blogger or WordPress, get an account, and start typing.

Oh sure, you can still geek it up a bit with a blog (and I do.) I have my own domain name, I installed a standalone version of WordPress and I use a specialized blog theme that probably only about 150 other folks in the world use. It may not look that special, but a theme developer spent time to make my blog easy to read whether you have a 23 inch wide screen or a mobile phone. I worked on the site the other day to install a plugin for getting automatic updates to the latest version of my theme. But the basic blog engine installed with a couple of clicks. Easy peasy.

Other innovations like spreadsheets took away the need for programs to calculate statistics or perform scientific analysis. The cloud and the thumbdrive have pretty much obviated the DVD burner. Massive amounts of data blew away the floppy disk. And so it goes. Just when you’ve got a technique mastered you don’t need it. In fact most people can get the online presence they want today with Twitter or Facebook. Even a blog is an extra, if you think about it.

So what has all that work to learn all too soon obsolete technology done for me? It’s given me a feel for the subject and a sense of what to do if all the fancy automatic stuff breaks down. The reason so many older people feel helpless with technology today is that they didn’t grow up with it the way the younger people do. I manage to hold my own although I have to admit that tablets drive me nuts – especially if somebody wants to print with them wirelessly.

At the end of the day I suppose that the march of technological change is much like the march of life itself. Before you know it you’ve gone from bleeding edge to leading edge to mainstream to obsolete to irrelevant. Just ask the baby boomers (although they likely won’t admit it.)


Expectations Exceeded

As I stumbled through the gloom of a rainy early Sunday morning and helped Maria get ready for a trip to Lakeshore Hospital Pointe-Claire, it occurred to me that:

Don’t know what it’ll be yet, but his/her birthday will be today – Oct 2.

Ultrasound wasn’t quite as precise back then so we got a yellow outfit ready for the trip home.

I guess we had expectations even then. Routine labor and delivery. Healthy child. Bring baby home. Of course it never happens that way and after a frustrating and painful time for Maria, Sarah arrived and was swiftly bundled off into the nursery for observation.

Bur she did exceed expectations even then. Healthy, lovely to look at, a sweet girl (I had in my heart of hearts hoped for a daughter.) Many years of growth and development lay ahead  and I can honestly say that my primary expectation all through it was that she grow up to be a kind honest and loving person. She exceeded that in every way, plus excelled in academics, socially, and as a leader in every environment.

Look up HOBY . She experienced that weekend in Grade 10 – and deserved it for sure. Sarah won just about every academic award you could at every level, was president of her university residence, a student senator. After her academic career she has conquered a challenging management program in the Federal Government, become fluent in French, run a number of recruitment and personnel programs and oh yes – taken the time to be a devoted wife and mother of 3 wonderful kids.

Happy birthday, my dear daughter. Expectations exceeded – always.

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