39 years ago we were on vacation in the US with our Scotty travel trailer. After a July 4 weekend in Vermont we headed south down US Route 7 to Connecticut. July 7 found us near Hartford where we camped in this State Park.

Our neighbors were a couple of older couples from CT who were friendly and informative. One of the guys was a retired long haul trucker so he had quite a few laughs at my feeble attempts to back up and park a 13 foot travel trailer. To his credit he gave me some pointers which I remember to this day – not that I plan to back up a rig anytime soon.

The 1970s were still the heyday of AM radio – no Sirius XM back then – and we listened to the legendary Bob Steele on WTIC Hartford. It turned out we were in Hartford on a special day – July 7, 1977 or as Bob described it “seven seven seventy-seven.”

Bob Steele started at WTIC in the 1940s so he had been at the station to celebrate 4/4/44, 5/5/55, 6/6/66 already. So 7/7/77 was a big deal. I believe he celebrated 8/8/88 and after he retired the station had him back for 9/9/99. Amazing guy.

So on 7/7/77 what did we do? Went shopping at K-Mart and got a screened in tent to put around the picnic table. No bugs and we had a lot more space to eat. I believe the manufacturer – Camel Tents – went out of business in the 90s when a major sporting goods chain purchased them. But it was a great unit.

So many years, so many memories.

Eleven Years On

Eleven years ago today – July 6, 2005 – we moved to a new home, a new town, a new stage in life. This is how our place of abode looked back then – not all that homey, to tell the truth.

Well the neighborhood has improved a bit.

And the landscaping is a bit better.

No matter. On July 4, 2005 we were packed up by our movers in Georgetown. The truck was loaded on July 5 and we locked the door at 56 Pennington in a driving rainstorm. Then it was off in two cars to Almonte. We got as far as Peterborough, spent the night in the “Nite Owl” motel and next day were up early and off to our new life experience.

After we got unloaded and unpacked here we were joined by Sammy who had spent a few harrowing hours with Dave and Sarah as they took him to Ottawa earlier. He was glad to get settled, as were we.

And now we’ve been here 11 years. Our old pal Sammy went off to the Rainbow Bridge last year. We have had many joys (grandkids) and sorrows (deaths in the family) and of course we’ve gotten older. We learned the fun of cruise vacations, enjoy being close to the US without driving to Buffalo, and especially like the fact that Maria’s mother and our daughter and son-in-law live much closer than if we had stayed in Georgetown.

And although Maria worried that we moved to too small a town, she’s been happily received into volunteer work here. As for me – I love the scenery, the small town feel, the river, cool nights under a canopy of stars.

There are far worse places to retire than the Ottawa Valley.


No More Pencils, No More Books….

Today is the last day of school for my grandchildren for the 2015-2016 year. They were pretty excited about bringing all their work home and taking the summer off. Who isn’t?

It struck me that the last day of school – and more significantly the first day of school in September – occupied a central position in my life for about 50 years. Here’s my timeline:

1946-1952 – blissful ignorance

1952-1965 – wend my way through the educational system

1965 – 1969 – attend university

1969-1972 – blissful indifference. I’m working with no ties to the school system.

1972 – marry prospective teacher

1972-1982 – teacher goes to school

1982 – 1996 – teacher and daughter go to school

1996 – 2002 – teacher goes to school and daughter attends university

2002 – 2005 – teacher still goes to school after daughter gets on with her life

2005 – present day – blissful relaxation. How sweet it is.

I don’t want to count how many anxious days before school starts, how many moves and counter-moves, how much school stuff purchased, how many vacations taken at prime time for cost and and airport congestion. It’s over now – except if we want to take a holiday with daughter, son-in-law and grandkids. Then it’s deja vu all over again. Or will be when Teddy and Veronica get a bit older. No missing school in their future.

It’s funny how much I used to look forward to the summer. Even if I spent the time working, the rest of the family were enjoying low stress days kicking back by the pool. Now it seems kids are all over the place and former teacher and I look forward to Back to Pencils, Back to Books…you know the rest.



I think I’ve probably always had a slight hearing disability. When I had my first formal hearing test as a young professional, the plant nurse reported that I had some hearing loss in my left ear. At the time I put it down to ill-fitting headphones but she was probably right.

It was 34 years until my next hearing test, and sure enough the audiologist reported that I had a weak left ear, and my right ear was normal. By then I’d spent half a lifetime in and out of noisy plant environments. I got a hearing aid for my left ear only, and it made a fair difference in my aural acuity. I could hear birds again, and I knew where they were singing from. I also got to hear whining disk drives, refrigerator compressor noise and other cool stuff I hadn’t really missed up till then.

Well fast forward another dozen years, my wife’s complaining I don’t hear what she says anymore and I have trouble picking up all the grandkids’ talk. So it was back to the local hearing aid center today. This time I found out I have pretty good low frequency response (although the dam’ left ear is still worse) but rather profound decline in both ears as I go to higher frequencies. My verbal acuity can use a little help too.

Now two (count ’em) hearing devices are indicated. I have never liked the beans in your ears sensation I get from my 2004 era hearing aid so that prospect didn’t thrill me.

The Hearing Instrument Specialist looked at me as if I’d just stepped off the boat from nowhere. It seems that technology has advanced slightly in the past 12 years. Now they have a little unit that sits behind your ear, a small wire runs down to your ear canal and the receiver works off that. Completely open, no plugged ears. And man are those units awesome – they can be programmed to boost the missing frequencies, cut out background noise, and even help with tinnitus if you have it (I do.) I couldn’t believe the difference these little suckers made.

So now all I need is money. The costs are equivalent to a nice Caribbean cruise per ear. My provincial health plan helps out but only a little. I suppose it’ll be worth it if Maria doesn’t have to shout and repeat stuff three times though.

So this year I’ve already found out I might need cataract surgery in a year or so, and now YASTAH – Yet Another Sense Takes A Hike. Good thing I don’t taste for a living any more. That’ll probably be next. Getting old sure ain’t for sissies, as Bette Davis once remarked. And she had the eyes for it.





Our Pal

It was a year ago today that I met Mr. Oates. He was a sad little shelter kitten who had lost his family home and was sleeping rough in the adoption lounge with about 50 other cats. The Arnprior Humane Society folks really recommended him though. He was a bit younger than I wanted but otherwise he ticked most of the boxes – never been an outdoor cat, friendly, had all his shots up to date, good looking ginger tabby.

So the next day Maria and I brought him home. He was really freaked out by the car ride, and as a result it took him a couple of hours before he owned the place in Almonte. After that – well, he was sleeping on our bed the first night.

He’s lost his kitten ways and is a young adult now, although he still has bursts of incredible energy – especially at 5 AM. He loves his cat toys, but unlike a kitten’s 100 miles an hour chase tactics he has mastered the art of stalk, hide and ambush. His favorite spot – aside from his cat bed – is next to the patio door to keep an eye on those pesky robins and grackles. He outgrew his first little bed so as an anniversary present we got this larger one. Maria put an old sweater in the new bed to make him feel better. He’s not giving it back.

He doesn’t have the incredible soft fur or wonderful purr of Sammy the Magnificent One, but he’s vocal and engaged like our first cat – Brio the redoubtable Siamese. Smart too. He loves Maria with every bit of his 12 pound being. Nothing like a nuzzle and snuggle at 2 AM to prove it.

No new cat can ever replace a pair of much loved lifelong friends but Oates is doing his best. We’ll keep him.

The Most Interesting Man…

No it’s not this Dos Equis dude. In my view the most interesting man I’ve heard about lately is arguably Richard M.Stallman – or RMS as he is known in the IT community worldwide.

I will not publish Mr. Stallman’s photo here because he cares deeply about his privacy. You can Google or Bing him if you want.

Richard Stallman started the Free Software Foundation in the 1980s with the goal of making a Unix-like operating system that was free – and in the sense of freedom from restrictions, rather than free of charge. Think free speech, not free beer – libris not gratis. The name for this new operating system was GNU. He and his colleagues had completed a fair number of the necessary programs by the early 90s but they were still missing the Kernel – the program that interacts between the user programs and the hardware itself. RMS and his co-workers had a kernel program in mind – it’s called The Hurd. Their design  – while elegant and sophisticated – was very hard to debug, and as a result took years longer to get operational. Even in 2016 The Hurd hasn’t achieved “production” quality although it works OK in virtual computing.

So what happened with the rest of GNU? Well, in the early 1990s Linus Torvalds produced a working Kernel program that ran on PCs. He made it available via the Internet, and a number of folks “discovered” the GNU tools and patched them into Linus’s kernel. The result?  RMS would like us to call it GNU/Linux but most of the world just chooses the name Linux. The rest is history.

GNU/Linux is a worldwide success and GNU/Hurd is still in the lab. And I’m sure deep down this really grates on Richard Stallman,

One should never minimize the contributions of RMS and his co-workers. In addition to contributing most of the GNU/Linux software tools, they wrote the GNU Public Licence – which outlines the rights and responsibilities of any user of GNU (free) software. The Linux kernel is also licensed under the GPL. The net effect was to energize a worldwide collaboration in software development which has taken Linux to another level.

Free software development soon led to the concept of Open Source. Open Source is a bit more pragmatic approach which uses the collaborative development process of Free Software but allows for the use of non-free (proprietary) bits like MP3 music compression, and video card drivers. This goes far beyond the scope of Richard Stallman’s work, he doesn’t agree with it and he gets really ticked off if people call him the father of Open Source development.

What is most interesting about RMS though is not his substantial contributions to the GNU Project (and by extension GNU/Linux) but his philosophy. To RMS software development using the Free Software model is a way of life, a community building exercise, something worth putting your name on and devoting your life’s work to. It’s rare to come across such a Don Quixote in the IT world. I respect and admire him.

Need you ask what he thinks of Apple, Amazon or Donald Trump?

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Today marks an anniversary of sorts, as 47 years ago – June 2nd, 1969 – I began my career as a food scientist with General Foods Research in Cobourg Ontario.

I was familiar with the lab having worked there as a summer student the year before. But now I was a professional as opposed to a technical employee. I had been a graduate chemist for all of 3 days at this point and it was straight to work. No gap years in Europe for me – I was broke.

I joined a product development team at the lab headed up by a GF veteran of 15 years or so. I was put to the task of changing the flavouring acid in Kool-Aid from citric to cold water soluble fumaric acid. Later on I realized that as the new guy they started me out on something rather low in prestige (cost reduction) but one where I had little chance of screwing things up (high profile new products.) But I drank the Kool-Aid, made regular trips to the washroom – and loved it. I was making the princely sum of $130.77 per week. Probably I get more today in my old age pension.

And what an analog world we worked in. Out balances and instruments had analog dials and paper output. Our analytical lab did its testing with “wet chemistry.” We used slide rule accuracy for weighing and did our calculations with slide rules. There was one mechanical calculator in the whole lab.

We wrote our formulations out by hand in a lab book. Costing was done for us so we had little concept of the economics of our work. To communicate we had a phone or we hand wrote “Speedimemos” using carbon paper forms. For real formal communication we had a secretary type out a memo on a Selectric typewriter.

Our lab staff was overwhelmingly masculine – only our home economist was a professional contributor, Today a food science lab would be 100% reversed as far as gender goes.

Although I knew the basics of computer programming, I never used it in my job until about 5 years later when mainframe time sharing became popular. One of my older colleagues kept his records of competitor products evaluation on paper using a COBOL type protocol. That was the closest thing to actual computers – except for our weekly paycheque which was printed by data processing at head office, and handed to us by the lab facilities supervisor. It was up to us to take it down to the bank and deposit it.

Our lab did not report to a marketing director back in those days. We were part of the Operations department – a completely different hierarchy that included plant management. We were located at the plant.

Oh yes – my fumaric acid project didn’t fly. I tested all the 14-15 different flavors with fumaric acid versus citric acid. The “cold water soluble” acid (it made use of surfactants to do the trick) wasn’t really all that soluble, didn’t taste as good as citric acid and looked scummy when you made up the product. Looking at the ingredient line of Kool-Aid 47 years later, it still uses citric acid. The developers who preceded me got it right the first time. Marketing killed the project – not the last time this happened in my career as a food scientist. But I got my feet wet in food technology (not to mention my tonsils.)

Years later drinking the Kool-Aid got a whole different vibe. But that wasn’t what it meant to a young chemist back in 1969.



Keeping Your Cool

Living as we do north of the St Lawrence River by a hundred kilometers or so we don’t get long stretches of heat and humidity like – say Baltimore. But it does get warm enough (scheduled for low 30s – 90 degrees F today) that it is worth it to have whole house air conditioning.

Here’s a photo of our Concord central air condensing unit. It was new when the house was, and while it isn’t a big name in A/C it works OK. Concord is a house builder’s brand that is one of many owned by Lennox.

This unit gave us good service for 10 years and then last year we had a few issues. Of course it waited until the first hot day – and shortly after the furnace contractor checked it over – to start acting up. It was slow to get started and finally it tripped the circuit breaker – first time ever. After that it wouldn’t start at all.

Since it was a really hot spell just then I repaired to the basement to sleep – it was cool and clammy down there but I managed until Mr. Oates came down to join me around 2 AM and amused himself by rolling the ball around in his kitty play track. Very stimulating.

When the repair guy returned he found that the run capacitor was faulty. This is the gadget which keeps the power draw low while the compressor and fan are running, and also helps start the unit. Not good when it fails. When replacing this part the service guy recommended adding a separate start capacitor – these used to be standard equipment in old school A/C units but due to cost reduction efforts they omit them now. The start capacitor speeds up the initial process of getting the fan going and the compressor pumping.

It wasn’t a very expensive part to add and frankly I don’t see the rationale of leaving it off to save on production costs. Since it was added, the start capacitor has done its job well. The condenser unit starts up rapidly and much more quietly. We haven’t had any issues with the circuit breaker. And for a middle aged unit such as we have, reducing the initial power surge can go a long way towards a life extension on the compressor.

The start capacitor – a recommended addition, a false economic omission. That’s the way I see it anyway.

Suck It Up

I needed some canned compressed air the other day, to blow the dust out of a laptop fan. My can in the workshop was exhausted, so I headed over to the local hardware store to get another one.

I couldn’t find any on the shelf in the electronics section so I flagged down a store clerk. She couldn’t find it either. We went to Customer Service and had the following conversation:

“Sorry, sir. It appears we don’t have any.”

“But you do sell it, don’t you? I remember getting a can here not too long ago.”

“Yes we do – but our last two cans were shoplifted. Apparently you can inhale the stuff and get high. Who knew…?”

So it was off to the neighboring town and Staples. Surely they would have some canned air. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. Another staff member took me to an obscure lower shelf in the computer section and got a big locked plastic box off the shelf. You know, the kind of box Staples uses to lock up expensive hard drives and video cards.

As she’s struggling to open the box and take out a couple of cans, I told her what I had heard about this canned air stuff.

“Yes, that’s why we have it under security packaging now. In one of our Toronto stores, they found a young lady passed out in the bathroom with a couple of empty cans of Dust Destroyer. We aren’t anxious for that to happen in Carleton Place.”

So I came home, blew the dust out of my laptop and put the cans safely away in the workshop. But I can’t help thinking:

“It’s a strange strange world we live in, Master Jack.”

The Formula

I see quite a few references to the fact that Boomer parents have passed on to their Millennial and Gen-X offspring a “formula for success” in life that said offspring must follow.

This “formula” will have the following elements (among others:)

  • Get a good education (preferably at university.)
  • Get a job.
  • Buy a house. Prices always go up, you know.
  • Stick it out at your job for 35-40 years.
  • Retire with a pension.

Now I cannot deny that using such a formula has worked out very well for early boomers such as Maria and myself. We attended university when it didn’t cost a fortune, got out debt-free. always had a job available, bought a house at a reasonable price, worked the required time and yes ended up with the pension income.

However, the time when you didn’t have crushing university debts, when a decent job was taken for granted in Canada, when a house cost 2-3 X your income, when steady economic growth meant stability in society – those days seem to have gone forever. So I can’t see how we old folks can propose such a formula for today’s Millennials – and blithely assume it’ll work for them because it worked for us.

Our own parents didn’t give us any such formula for success. Most of them had to live through the Depression and World War II when life was anything but predictable and steady. My dad worked as a grocery clerk most of his life and later on had his own grocery shop. My mother worked with him in the store and when she was widowed got a job as a clerk in the local hospital. Neither of them had much chance to get an education.

Maria’s parents probably had an even worse time of it. Her dad spent his 20s in a POW camp in Iraq. Later on he had to leave his family in Italy and go work in Venezuela for a while. When the family came to Canada he worked hard as a Terrazzo floor installer. Maria’s mother had two jobs – one in a school and the other in a university dorm – and she spent a fair bit of time cleaning toilets and other fancy stuff.

So what formula could our parents give us? Sure, they had advice which we were free to accept or ignore – but it wasn’t a formula that was guaranteed to work. They weren’t that naive.

Our parents did teach us to:

  • Make the most of our talent and go with it as far as it would take us.
  • Respect ourselves and respect others.
  • Try to leave any place we stayed better than when we arrived.
  • Make a difference no matter what our circumstances were.
  • Above all, be kind.

So as far as a formula goes that was it. These are choices you can make in life, not a pre-programmed method which if followed equals success – or if not followed, equals failure.

Our Millennial and Gen X kids often blame us for insisting they do exactly this or that, when circumstances have changed so much that our advice doesn’t apply any more. And in my view, they are more than justified to say so. However what our own parents taught us was the wisdom of life. Maybe that’s what we should be advising our kids to do, rather than exactly duplicate our life trajectory.





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