An Offer I Might Refuse

Recently I got an email about new Internet packages offered by my ISP who shall remain anonymous (Rogers.) Then just yesterday I got the same offer in a mailout. As usual they offer a 3 month discount window where you’d save $25 a month but you have to sign up for 2 years. I’m grandfathered in with a plan that was up to date two offerings ago.

So what exactly is Mr. Rogers offering me?

  • Supposedly a bit faster “up to” 60 Mbit download speed. I just checked mine with the “old plan” and I’m getting about 25 MBit speeds in the basement over the wireless N LAN. I have gotten over 35 wired in to the router upstairs. Not sure what results I’d get with the new plan, frankly.
  • 200 GB of bandwidth. Right now I have unlimited bandwidth in the “old plan.”
  • Hockey on my desktop and a SHOMI subscription. With the Game Centre Live and SHOMI features I supposedly get $300 /year extra “value.”
  • A new “Rocket” gateway with AC wifi capability. This probably would not be as good as my current Rogers DOCSIS 3 modem and D-Link N personal router combo. It would likely be incompatible with my wifi range extender and most of my equipment doesn’t support AC so I’d be back to N router speeds anyway.
  • I would have to pay $50 for installation and $15 to switch plans so that eats up $65 of the $75 “savings.” After that I’d be paying $10 more a month.

So I wouldn’t save anything after three months, pay more, get some features I don’t need and probably would not use, a gateway that isn’t an upgrade, plus give up my unlimited Internet. I could probably get by with 200 GB if we don’t stream a lot in a month but who knows?

Sounds to me like an offer I can pass on, thank you.

Gain (and Loss)

The online and digital revolution in music has obtained a lot of benefits – it’s hard to imagine how cool it is to carry thousands of songs round on a iPod or smartphone, or stream music videos seamlessly from the Web. But I can’t help thinking there have been some losses in the process. And I’m not just referring to the demise of the CD – sad though that may be.

It seems to me we’ve also lost that particular piece of artistry called the “concept album.” When vinyl started to disappear in the 1980s, the idea that you played an LP from start to end went with it. A CD can be just as much a random access device as a linear one. So away went the thought of a long playing record as a body of work put together with a purpose. Musical appreciation of a rock group became as vacuous as a “Greatest Hits” LP.

As an example of my thesis, I present the Moody Blues’ 1971 masterwork “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.” You have to listen to the tracks in order – especially note the way the Mellotron tour de force “Procession” (Desolation…Creation…Communication) segues seamlessly into the Top 10 powerhouse “The Story in Your Eyes,” and then reappears in “One More Time to Live.”

The great Philip Travers sleeve art that went with the LP was diminished when it appeared on a CD and probably has been forgotten if you just put a few tracks on your MP3 player.

I note the revival of vinyl in some quarters and while I am no fan of the “click and pop” of LP records, I do hope that the folks who have rediscovered the turntable will also rediscover the concept album and the way to experience it properly.

By the way, there is at least one way to “play through” an album on line and that is with Spotify. You can look up any album by the Moodies there and stream it start to finish. So maybe we haven’t lost as much as I originally thought.


Back in the antediluvian period before the Web, if you saw the term syndication it usually meant one of two things:

  • A bunch of folks got together to invest in something expensive and risky, like a racehorse for breeding.
  • An old but successful TV series was recycled on a secondary network or specialty cable channel.

Times have changed of course, and today syndication has an Internet meaning as well. Generally syndication means that one makes Web content more widely available – not just on the site where it was generated – but through a variety of sources. Let’s take this blog post as an example. You can obviously visit this site to read it, but what if you don’t know about the site? It is up to the content provider – in this case myself – to make it more widely known and available – promote it if you will.

There are a number of tools to use in order to syndicate my content:

  • First there are plug-ins that work with WordPress to auto-publish a notification on a site like Twitter. All I can do there is announce a new post via a Tweet – there would not be enough room to republish the post in its entirety. I’ve got one of these set up for Twitter and I had to apply to Twitter itself to get permission to have this capability. It was a bit geeky but I managed. Twitter thinks I am a Web developer now. The Tweet links back here to read the post.
    There are other Twitter plugins which randomly publish and re-publish announcements about my older posts on Twitter, but I’m not that much of a narcissist to do that.
  • The second way is through an RSS feed. RSS (Rich Site Summary or Real Simple Syndication) is supported by the WordPress software, and hence each post I make becomes part of an XML based document called a feed. Now this document looks pretty ugly on its own with lots of tags, so I can send it to a service called Feedburner that makes it more readable. From there I can transfer the feed to a Newsreader called Feedly where it can be read like a magazine or integrated with other feeds. Feedly is a rather cool site that can summarize all the blogs I might be interested in and present all the new posts in one place. This saves a lot of time checking each blogger’s website for new stuff.
    On the surface RSS seems like a really great idea, but I don’t think the major Web destinations like Google, Yahoo! or Facebook like it all that much. They’d rather have your eyeballs on their site directly. I’m wondering if eventually it’ll disappear like some other ill-fated Web protocols (Gopher comes to mind.)
  • A third and very easy way is to use a site called IFTTT which means IF This Then That. IFTTT is a collection of Web Scripts called Recipes. Each Recipe takes one action (such as publishing a WordPress post) and does another as a result (like putting a notification on Facebook.) There’s a lot you can do with IFTTT, and if you saw a note about this blog on Facebook that is how it got there. IFTTT is a bit slow to update but it works well, and it took no time at all to set up.

One might wonder why I’d go to all this trouble for a blog that’s just my ramblings for friends and family. Well, I enjoy the creative aspects of blog writing and if I can make it more freely available why not try? Besides I get to learn about some new technology. Well, new to me I suppose – the geeks out there have done this stuff since 2007 in all likelihood. I am still more of a social media caterpillar than a social media butterfly.


March Break

This upcoming week used to be one we looked forward to like no other. From 1987 until 2004 we used a week of my vacation to “get away” at March Break. Every year we hoped and prayed that the weather would be OK to fly from Toronto and only one year did we come close to not making it – the blizzard of 1993 where we got away by the skin of our teeth and ended up in the only vacation spot in the US where it was pleasant – Phoenix AZ.

The first trips we took were to Texas – mostly San Antonio and Corpus Christi. Then we went a bit further afield to Arizona – for sunshine and the Grand Canyon and Cactus League baseball. We finished up with flying trips to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, and in one case Brussels. This particular photo is of Brugge Belgium in 2002.

All these frenetic trips ended in 2004. The following year we retired and we were busy with moving plans at March break. After that we had no need to cram our traveling into the same week so many others did. We have discovered the joy of going away in the “shoulder seasons” when prices are lower and places and airplanes are less crowded.

We sure have some great memories from those times, though.

Rethinking Twitter

I never have been a big fan of Twitter. It always seemed to me to be a rather vacuous stream of consciousness application – not enough text to really say anything worthwhile.

However I’m changing my mind about it. Perhaps I’ve been looking at it the wrong way.

Last night my granddaughter Veronica got really ill with a croupy cough and had to go into the Children’s Hospital in Ottawa. My daughter kept us and everyone who needed to know updated by a series of tweets. Actually this was far more efficient than telephone calls at 3 AM or email. Veronica got home after some treatment with epinephrine and steroids and she’s a lot better today.

If you look at Twitter as more of a news headline source or rapid information disseminator, than a microblog or vanity program, it makes a lot more sense. Maybe its users aren’t such twits after all.

Tempus Fugit

At least that is what is says on the brass dial of our Grandfather Clock, and I am sure It’s true. Next year this old timer will be part of our household for 40 years.

The clock case was hand crafted by Mr. Luther Gaylord (1908-1988) in 1976. Luther was a retired cabinetmaker who had worked for my Uncle Howard and he built the cases as a hobby later in life. We were lucky enough to get him to build one for us. The original movement ( made by Kieninger) gave out after 30 odd years and was replaced after we moved to Almonte. Kienenger is till in business fortunately. Recently the clock started chiming a bit slowly, so I got Mel Chase of Chase Clock Works in Carleton Place to come by and give it some lubrication. All seems back to normal although Mel said the second movement will likely need cleaning in a couple of years. Tempus Fugit indeed.

Life at Sea

Ever since I was a small boy I dreamed of going to sea – probably influenced a lot by my uncle Rocky’s stories of his adventures in the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II.

It never happened of course – or did it? Well, maybe. Since my 60th birthday when I discovered the joy of cruising, I have experienced the nautical life – admittedly in a very artificial and luxurious way. Can’t deny the experience of that picture though – out in the Atlantic at dawn in May 2013. Not that I had anything to do with getting there, but hey…

It was always on my “bucket list” to cross the Atlantic Ocean by ship, and we have done that 4 times. I have a Trans-Pacific cruise from Sydney to Vancouver in my near future – calling in New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii. Not too shabby I guess.

There’s a lot more to a cruise holiday than just shipboard life, of course. A lot of the world’s most interesting sights and sites are near the seaside, so as a result of my cruising journeys I have:

  • Walked the streets of Oslo early in the morning and experienced the Viking Ships museum.
  • Visited the Vasa museum in Stockholm.
  • Seen the fountains at the Peterhof and the Amber Room at the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg.
  • Visited the Vatican, the hill towns of Volterra and San Gimignano, the Acropolis, and the Blue Mosque.
  • Seen the ruins of both an Irish monastery and a famous Scottish castle.
  • Called in the port of Cherbourg where the French ocean liners left for North America, and in the port of Liverpool where Cunard had its offices.
  • Hung out in the street where Oscar Wilde grew up, and stood next to James Watt’s statue.
  • Seen the Blinking Canal and the Stinking Canal. They are side by side in Flanders.
  • Gone into the graving dock where the Titanic got her propellers fitted and visited her final port of call in Cobh, Ireland.
  • Had the best fish and chips of my life and helped a crew member buy an overcoat in Invergordon, Scotland.

Now a lot of this stuff could have been done by air and land it’s true, but the cruise made it all very convenient and effortless.

One thing I didn’t do was ride the donkeys up the hill in Santorini, and you shouldn’t either unless you want to smell like an ass. You have been warned. Take the cable car.


Microcosm of Society

There are a couple of locally produced DVDs about Almonte’s history in our video library. The first one – called “Almonte’s Interwoven Past” – deals with the first 100 years when the town was a solid blue collar, lunch pail place. There were large woolen mills, a flour mill, a foundry and various and sundry minor industries that catered to the big ones. The railroad came through in the 1860s and was part of the CPR transcontinental line for decades.

The second DVD – “Transitions” – is concerned with the last 50 odd years when Almonte morphed from a mill town to its present status as a tourist destination, retirement haven and antiquers’ paradise. You can see a bit of that in the above photo which shows the former Thoburn Mill water turbine beside the old foundry which is now a pub.

It can be argued that Almonte’s changes are a microcosm of small town Ontario societal changes. For example 50 years ago the flour mill and a couple of wool weaving mills were still in operation with a bunch of industrial jobs contributing to the economy. The downtown was a typical mixture of food stores, clothing shops, hardware and pharmacy establishments. There was even a “frosty locker” spot where you could rent freezer storage. That’s all gone today. In its place are the boutiques, restaurants, antique stores and coffee shops to cater to the tourists and retirees. The railroad ceased to carry passengers around 1960 and disappeared entirely 50 years later.

And of course all those steady mill jobs are gone as well. There’s a bit of high tech industry and a couple of micro food processors but that’s it, The young people here leave for Toronto and Ottawa and work in social services or professional jobs if they’re bright, or in fast food McJobs if they aren’t. A lot of blue collar work around here today revolves around home building and I’m not sure that’s a sustainable long term thing.

It’s a good thing that Almonte has its natural beauty and proximity to Ottawa I suppose. At least it was able to change with the times and survive. Other small Ontario towns have found it far tougher.

The Technology Bin

I’ve been restoring and updating old PCs with Linux for nearly as long as I’ve been in Almonte. That is one of the great features of the Linux operating system – just about any old piece of junk will run it. When I first started these projects my starting material was 1999 or earlier stuff with low grade single core processors and massive CRT displays.

A lot of this detritus ended up in my basement computer museum. I got rid of the most egregious stuff a few years ago but not before I stripped the old machines of anything I thought would be useful in future builds. As it turned out, much of it was not useful – so yesterday I loaded it into boxes and today it went to a recycle depot. I’ll document some of this legacy crud below just to remind myself not to store it in the junk room again.

By the way if a used computer doesn’t have at least a dual core PC and DDR2 memory it isn’t worth keeping around today. My principal desktops are all quad core machines and so is my notebook. I do have a dual core or two still around but one is a jukebox and the other’s in mothballs. They both could run a 64 bit O/S as well. No point in 32 bit machines nowadays.

But there’s a lot more dead technology that I sent to the bin. Here are some examples.

  • PCMCIA boards – some old laptops didn’t have Ethernet or wifi connections so you needed one of these cards plugged in for Internet access. But that hasn’t been the case in the first decade of the 21st century, so..buh-bye.
  • Ethernet adapters – now obsolete as most motherboards have it built in. The oldest PCI boards don’t even work that well with modern modems and routers.
  • Parallel printer cables. You don’t even need a cable with a wifi printer now, let alone this dinosaur parallel port connection.
  • AGP video cards – old slow and obsolete 3D technology. Nuff said.
  • CD-ROMS and CD-RW drives – a far more capable DVD-RAM drive costs $20 new.
  • Low capacity PATA hard drives – when you can get a 64 GB thumbdrive for $30, who needs a bulky 40 GB parallel ATA drive in your PC? Even 160 GB PATA hard drives are questionable, although I did keep one around until the next cleanup. Got rid of a bunch of PATA cables as well. And don’t even get me started on VGA video adapters and cables.
  • PS/2 mice and keyboards – I had a bunch and they won’t plug into anything without an adapter. Besides most peripherals are wireless today.
  • Wired routers – even a basement PC needs wireless connectivity. You have it anyway for your laptop and tablet so why snake cables around the house?
  • SDRAM and DDR memory – nice if you want to fix a 10 year old PC but I don’t any more.
  • 56K dial-up modems – oh really? I have a real discrete 56K modem around here just in case there’s someone on the planet still using dial-up. It won’t be me.

I’ve become far more critical of what sort of hardware I’ll resurrect with Linux now so hopefully I won’t have another clean-up like this in my near future. No guarantees though. Technological time certainly flies.


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