Living in the Friendly Town

Recently I read an excellent Millstone article written by a young single mother who grew up in Almonte, moved away and then came back to raise her son. It made me happy to note that the place we chose to retire isn’t just a senior citizen’s home. However, Almonte does have its attractions for the oldsters and we take advantage of them as much as we can.

It has long been known as The Friendly Town – even says so on its water tower.

Of course, with the municipal election campaign coming to an end tomorrow the Town of Mississippi Mills (Almonte’s part of it) doesn’t seem as friendly as it has in the past. The outgoing council came under a lot of criticism and we have a new slate of candidates who want to sweep the old councilors and mayor out the door. The incumbent mayor is not running again. Some of the debate has been quite nasty. The issues?

  • High taxes, money not spent wisely on infrastructure. The new candidates think they can fix this. We’ll see.
  • Traffic in Almonte. One mayoral candidate wants to get rid of bike lanes, allow lots of street parking.
  • The Ottawa Valley Rail Trail. This was formerly a CP Rail line. It runs right through Almonte over that bridge above. The rural folks want to drive ATVs everywhere on the Trail. A lot of Almonte townies want to restrict the Trail to bikes and pedestrians in urban areas. You know how the anti-bike lane guy feels. There doesn’t appear to be any way the ATV jockeys can safely bypass Almonte if they don’t use the Rail Trail. I’m not sure I want to be in the middle of the bridge with a convoy of ATVs bearing down on me.
  • Enerdu power project. There was a lot of debate about letting a private developer use an old industrial site on the river to triple the size of his hydropower plant. He had to rip up the riverbed and build a big powerhouse right downtown to do so. In the end, the town was forced by the Province to allow it. This left a lot of negativity over the previous council, but in the final analysis they were powerless to do anything. The town doesn’t get a dime in taxes from this new plant. There was a lot of Fear Uncertainty & Doubt about how this project would turn out, and I was one of the naysayers (not that it ever mattered.) However aside from a bit more of an industrial strength look to the riverscape downtown, it could have been a lot worse.

I leave you to be the judge. We have the bulky new powerhouse in the river, but they fixed up the old flour mill behind it so it looks a lot better. Win some, lose some.

  • There were other issues like making Almonte’s downtown a Heritage district, but I think both sides agree this was an OK idea.

I think I’ll end here for now and pick up the narrative later when the election results are revealed. To be continued…

Back to the Past

So we have three (count ’em) TV outlets in the old homestead. Two are HDTV and these have fairly modern TVs hooked up. The third is an old CRT TV and SDTV PVR that used to belong to my daughter and son in law. That one’s in the basement and Maria watches it from time to time.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to modernize the basement setup and a few months ago I thought the time had arrived when the old PVR stopped working. However when I checked it out, all I needed to do was replace the hard drive with another old junk drive I had here.

Lately though, I foresaw another opportunity. The picture on the TV was black, the info about programming wouldn’t load. I tried rebooting and resetting the cable PVR with no success. So I called Rogers to send over a guy to verify that the PVR was dead.

He checked the signal and found it very weak – nothing wrong with the PVR. He went into the furnace room, checked the cable connections and found one that was loose – wanna guess which one? Tightened it up, picture was back – all’s well in the SDTV universe.

So back to the past we go – Blast!

Ganga Din

I never have used pot – never smoked a roach, never ate any of Alice B. Toklas’ brownies. I’m sure lots of kids did it 50 years ago when I was at Queen’s – but not me.

Having said that, I am not a “Reefer Madness” fan, nor do I think that possession of a bit of weed should give you a prison sentence, a criminal record, or crippled employability.

I do not think that smoking dope is any more of a health threat than smoking tobacco (but no less.) I don’t think it’s a gateway drug either. So I have no problems with decriminalization. Maybe it has some medical benefits – I won’t be finding out personally.

All in all, I wasn’t that concerned about legalization. Not unless my personal space got trampled on. And I believe that is what is happening.

I cannot turn on the TV or go on the Web these days without being bombarded by all the hype about cannabis stores, government regulation, cannabis stocks – blah, blah, blah. It’s all about the money. Money for the capitalists, money for the taxman.

I’m not happy about the fact anybody can turn their home into a grow-op. I would want a conditional clause put into any offer to purchase that nobody had been growing ganga in the bathroom, thank you.

Nor do I want to breathe in any sort of second-hand smoke. Tobacco smoke stinks. Pot smoke is worse. I want the street to be smoke-free. It can never come into the workplace. I’m concerned that just because pot is legal, a bunch of morons will interpret that as a license to pollute the air in parks and playgrounds.

It also bothers me that so many former food factories in Ontario are now pot growing factories. It might be great for Smiths Falls or Chatham – or maybe Cobourg – but it doesn’t seem right to me. There seems to me to be a disproportionate use of small town facilities for growing it.

And what about driving high? We just introduced another legal impairment method. One that’s harder to detect. Maybe it’s already a problem but it won’t be lessened by legalizing weed.

I believe that far too little thought has been given to education in responsible use, especially with the young people. What is being done to keep pot out of their hands? Will it be any more effective than it is now with black market dispensaries?

The above probably sounds like senior citizen ranting – keep those dam’ plants off my lawn. But I haven’t seen anything in the legalization effort so far that isn’t all about the money and nothing else.

 

Five Alive

Well maybe she’s not a total juice blend, my younger granddaughter – but she is a juice girl. She loves her apple and orange juices – especially when she goes to McDonald’s.

Susannah turns 5 tomorrow. It is hard to believe that the time has flown by so fast. She is her mother’s girl for sure. An early talker, she is already picking up French in her senior kindergarten class. Grandpa can’t jerk her chain anymore – she just laughs and says “you’re only joking!” She gives me that professorial look over her glasses when she says so.

She is a girl’s girl like her sister – loves Barbie, loves being a Princess, loves her dresses and costumes. But she’s also up for rough and tumble games with Dad – jumping in the leaves or on the trampoline in the backyard. There’s nothing the older two can do without her wanting to try it too.

She’s popular with her friends and with her teachers at the school – many of them remember her as an infant coming in with her mother when Sarah volunteered in the classroom. But she’s no longer a baby, that is for sure.

Happy birthday Susannah and it won’t be long until you are 5 and a half.

 

2922

When I was a small boy, I was fortunate enough to get to know my dad’s uncle Eddy. Born in 1884, Uncle Eddy was a lifelong railroader. He started out with the tiny Bay of Quinte Railway, then worked for Canadian Northern and later on joined Canadian National. He was a freight engineer most of his career, finishing up in Ottawa after living in Deseronto, Napanee and Trenton.

Here is Uncle Eddy with his crew and their locomotive 2922 – later renumbered 3322. He is standing on the running board near the bell. This is the locomotive my dad traveled around Ontario in, back around 1920.

CGR 2922 was an example of a 2-8-2 steam locomotive popularly called a Mikado, or “Mike” by its crews. First designed in 1883 for narrow gauge Japanese railways, the Mikado design became popular during the First World War when heavy freight trains took over the rails in North America. “Mikes” lasted until the end of steam – about a 40-year service life. In the days of steam, the locomotive was called “the Pig” and that seems an apt description for this out-and-out freight dragger. No tall driving wheels or colorful paint jobs like the high stepping Pacifics or Hudsons used to haul the passenger expresses – just brute force and black iron.

Now a few years ago I was able to contact Library and Archives Canada and get some information about uncle Eddy’s locomotive. All of the CNR steam records are in the Archives and they were very helpful. Here is what I found out:

  • In July 1917, the Montreal Locomotive Works completes Job #58369, a model S-1-b Mikado. The new engine is the property of the former Canadian Northern Railway, now known as Canadian Government Railways. It is about this time that Uncle Eddy, who has likely been in charge of a Canadian Northern 2-8-0 Consolidation, gets behind the throttle of this big new machine. The engine receives the number 2922.
  • In 1923, the Grand Trunk and C.G.R. become the Canadian National Railway. In revamping the locomotive rosters the “Mikes” are renumbered; former 2800 and 2900 series become 3200 and 3300. Hence #2922 becomes #3322. The history becomes a little harder to trace.
  • In March of 1931, #3322 is now assigned to the Manitoba district and undergoes a boiler refit at the Transcona shops. Thermic siphons are applied to the boiler, and the engine probably receives an Elesco feedwater heater which radically alters her appearance. This makes it even harder for a latter-day detective to trace her history.
  • In September 1936, #3322 undergoes another boiler refit at Transcona. She is still assigned to the Manitoba district and the high mineral content of Prairie water is taking its toll.
  • In December 1947, #3322 is now in the Atlantic region. At that time 475 Mikados are still hard at work on the CNR. Out of 2583 locomotives, only 75 diesels and 24 electric cars are running on the railroad. #3322 is judged to be in poor condition and is scheduled for repairs.
  • In January 1948, #3322 undergoes another boiler refit in the Moncton, N.B. shops.
  • CN records show that Mikado 3322 goes to the scrapyard in April 1956. Uncle Eddy has passed away a month earlier. So the two old friends pass from history over 60 years ago.

None of the S-1-c class of Mikados survived the scrapper’s torch. One S-1-a (#3239) is preserved at the Canadian Railroad Historical Museum in Delson, Que. An S-1-b (#3254) recently ran at Steamtown, where another S-1-d (#3377) is on display in the loco graveyard.

I was lucky enough to be in Steamtown in 2011 when CNR 3254 was still operating and got a chance to ride behind her on a brief passenger shuttle. Now she is out of service and it’s unlikely she will run again.

CNR 3377 looks terrible but is actually in better mechanical shape than 3254. It was used as a donor locomotive for parts to keep 3254 working. Those parts could be swapped back and it is possible that 3377 may be restored to operating condition. However, this probably won’t happen in my lifetime.

In my long and memory filled life, I have a lot to be thankful for. My love of steam trains came about by getting to see them with my grandpa and by getting to know a man who actually ran them. Plus I had the opportunity to take my own grandson to get up and personal with a Mikado similar to Uncle Eddy’s. Can’t ask for more.

 

 

 

Message In A Bottle

It’s a great Police song and a useful metaphor for a tiny personal blog like this one.

Let’s be realistic – a site like Almontage is not ever going to be Google-esque when it comes to traffic. There will be limited interest in the articles here – there’s not much in the way of politics or controversy. And it’s a big Ocean – oops big Internet – out there. Who will be motivated to find it?

I do have a Search Engine Optimizer installed, but that is more to get the tags right so my pics show up in Facebook previews.

I am not out to sell anything, advertise anything, get memberships or have a paywall. Some people start a blog to make money, but I think there are lots of more lucrative activities out there if you need cash. Maybe you could work at Tim Horton’s.

So here I stand on the beach. I toss another bottle into the sea. Maybe somebody will find it. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll get charged with littering.

If I think about it, the only reason for me to have a blog is for fun. There is joy in writing – a joy I never had much of in my work life. And there is a lot to keep my mind occupied in administering the website. I have to know Linux file structure, a bit of HTML and CSS, how various and sundry plug-ins work. I have to moderate comments and dump spam in the trash. Recently I introduced Cloudflare to make things work a bit faster. This may not sound like fun to you but it is for me. Keeps my mind active too.

I suppose I could write my posts on Facebook, but then they would own everything and benefit from advertising on their pages. Also Facebook – or any blog site – could terminate my account and all my posts at any time. This way I maintain my independence.

I have had my own little corner of the Internet since 1998, so I guess I’ll keep on keepin’ on. Now, where did I put those bottles?

 

Blog-O-Versary

That’s me in London in 2008. Cheers! By this time, my Almontage blog had been going for 6 years or so – although not very frequently updated. I started off in 2002 using Blogger software and publishing the text from my personal website. This became increasingly impractical and slow so by 2007 I switched to publishing my posts on Blogger’s site itself.

However, by October 2014 I was getting tired of the Blogger look and feel and wanted to get back to my personal website again. I discovered that if I got my own domain with a web hosting firm I could install the free WordPress software and have a much better experience. I have to do my own site maintenance but that is OK. WordPress makes it easy to install plug-ins to control spam, speed up access, and best of all choose your own theme. I went with Bayse – a minimalist single-column personal blog theme.

Only a couple of hundred copies of the Bayse theme were sold and it isn’t available any longer. However, it still works fine with WordPress and you won’t encounter it every time you discover another blog – unlike the default WordPress themes like Twenty Sixteen.

I haven’t tried to write a niche blog like digital photography or recipes for cornbread – I just have a stream of consciousness format. A blog seems a good outlet for travel posts, so I do a series of those if we take a cruise or something similar. I hope friends and family enjoy my ramblings so I link on Twitter and Facebook.

So this month marks my 4th Blog-A-Versary. No big changes or celebrations but I’m happy the way things turned out.

 

 

 

Changes in Social Media

I read recently that Google is shutting down its social media platform Google+ over the next few months. They claim it is for security reasons – they had to patch a big breach last March – but it looks to me as if it’s more a case of $$$. If you have never heard of Google+ you are part of their problem I guess. It is tough to compete with Facebook.

There is another platform called MeWe which is trying to be a better Facebook but so far they have about 0.1 % of Facebook’s membership numbers. That means crickets if you go over there. There is also an open source social network called pluspora which you could try if you are concerned about privacy and anonymity, but again its numbers are small.

It’s apparent that Facebook is disproportionately populated by the senior citizenry. Although it started out as a university-based app, Facebook got gray in a hurry. The younger folks like Instagram and Snapchat better. But hey, Facebook owns Instagram too.

There are alternatives but good luck getting all your Facebook friends to switch. If Google couldn’t manage to do it, I don’t like your chances.

Three Life Lessons

On last Saturday, Maria and I were privileged to attend a Celebration of Life for Tom Abraham. It was good to see Laura and her grown-up sons again, to meet their wives and children. We got to sit with Tom’s sister, her son and his family. I was pleased to meet an old General Foods colleague. I also met a gentleman who had benefitted from Tom’s tireless volunteer work as a scoutmaster in the ’70s and ’80s.

Coming away from Cobourg, we were confirmed in our belief that a person’s life influences and touches far more people than one might expect at first glance. Certainly, my life was not touched by Tom in the intimate and personal way his family’s was. Nor was I a boy scout inspired to live as a better person. At the same time, I cannot deny that Tom had a real influence on me as a young and impressionable food technologist. I’d like to outline three life lessons from him I got in my early 20s. I’ll try to quote him as directly as I can. Tom was a plain-spoken guy so you might hear a bit of him in these quotes.

Lesson #1 – If you ever want to amount to anything around here, you are going to have to learn to taste the right way. 

By this, Tom meant learning to taste in a systematic manner using the General Foods Flavor Profile method. All new GF hirees were offered some basic Flavor Profile methodology.

Tom early on recognized my interest in the Flavor Profile and my performance in taste tests convinced him I had the talent, so he went further and asked me to join the Taste Panel in the lab.

I also received training in Texture Profiling as well. These tasting methods served me admirably throughout my 35-year career as a food technologist – so very few colleagues in other companies had the chance to do it as seriously or systematically as I did. I gave Tom the credit for teaching me to taste – both to his face and behind his back – over the many years I worked in the industry. He deserved it. I won’t forget it.

Lesson #2 – Being on the Taste Panel isn’t all fun and games – sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it.

One of the first things did as part of my training was work with Tom to evaluate a bunch of oleoresin spices. We had to taste a number of beakers full of hot, slimy, salty cooked cornstarch dosed with sage, rosemary, thyme, black pepper and cayenne.

Later on, we learned how to taste for “off flavor” – oxidation, fermentation, rancidity. I discovered I had outstanding sensitivity to detect rancid fats. For the rest of my career, if any of my colleagues suspected their product was getting rancid, they would call me in to verify. I have been under the table a number of times if the rancidity was really bad.

Another time Tom asked me to help him evaluate a number of powdered meat flavors. We tasted these in instant potato base. This particular batch of samples was really horrible. When the salesperson called to ask how we liked then, Tom told him in no uncertain terms they were the worst we had ever tasted. “Well,” said the salesperson “they were specially formulated for dog food.” (Gag me.) This sales guy was not on Tom’s Christmas card list that year.

And so we come to Lesson #3. This was the one lesson that went outside the lab, and I think Tom had learned it from Laura through personal experience.

Lesson #3 – When you leave the lab, leave your Panel Training at the door. You don’t want to go home and do a Flavor Profile on whatever you are having for dinner.

This one doesn’t need much further commentary – except it has saved me a lot of static over the years. I try to honor it unless I run into stale coffee or oxidized soda crackers.

So there you have it. Three life lessons learned. A mentor and teacher reaches out and touches the working life of a young and green food scientist. This scientist remembers, and will always be grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

In The Cloud(s)

Back in my youth, I was accused on more than one occasion of “having my head in the clouds.” I suppose there were worse places to have my head.

Of course “in the cloud” (singular) has a much different meaning today. Simply put, it means keeping your data on virtual servers on the Internet instead of on your own machine in the home or office. This blog post is a good example of that. It may be on a hardware server at my Webhost, or maybe not. Maybe the Webhost stores it in the cloud.

Well, there is one way for sure to make use of the cloud in my blogging, and I have done so. That is to employ a service called Cloudflare. It’s used by millions of websites to improve speed and security, reduce spam, and cut down on bandwidth usage. It’s a free service. My Host Provider was happy to help me set it up.

It may seem like overkill to feature such a sophisticated service on a tiny blog that’s non-commercial and for family/friends. But I get my fair share of spam disguised as commentary. Anything that reduces the number of Black Hats is welcome.

Some people don’t like Cloudflare, especially if they use a web browser called Tor. This browser is designed for Internet anonymity – a good thing that Cloudflare actually supports. Unfortunately, a lot of spammers and intruders use the Tor network, and it’s hard to separate them from the legitimate users. Cloudflare doesn’t block Tor users but sometimes it makes them go through an additional security check (I am not a robot) before allowing access to a website. I am not too concerned about this issue since very few visitors to this site will be using Tor.

I was informed that it will take a couple of days before the Cloudflare install really becomes effective. We’ll see if I end up with my head in the clouds once more.

 

 

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