September Song


Oh, it’s a long long while from May to December,

But the days grow short when you reach September.

I remember hearing Frank Sinatra sing “September Song” 50 years ago when I was a university student. Frank was 50 at that time so it probably touched him in the right place to sing it. The song is older than that – it comes from a Broadway show of 1938 and was written by Kurt Weill. It has arguably touched the hearts of folks who were born as early as the 1880s.

Well, September has become my favorite month in the last 10 years, so the song sure resonates with me these days.

It wasn’t always that way though. From my earliest days at school until I retired (and especially until Maria did too) September was always a month of sturm und drang for for me and the family. It was a time of dislocation and change – return to school, move to a new address at University, get ready for another school year (teacher), get kid to school, high school, university, yada, yada, yada. The first week was always a zoo – hot usually and somebody got sick.

However since we retired and moved to the Valley we have a totally different September to contemplate. Cool nights, warm days – still summer but the heat is turned down. The leaves starting to change but our lives remaining stable. Kids back at school and the crowds gone away at Costco.

The retired teachers up here have a brunch the first day of school at a golf course in Lanark. It’s called “The Hell with the Bell” and that seems quite appropriate.

There is a slight echo of September chaos with the grandchildren heading to school next week but that is more Dave and Sarah’s problem than ours.

The journey from May to September has been a bit unusual this year. In May we got back from a month long voyage of a lifetime, only to say goodbye to a wonderful old feline friend after 16 years. In June we welcomed Mr. Oates into our lives and he has been a delight. July we were butting heads with a recalcitrant air conditioner and celebrating our 10th anniversary of moving here. In August we had lots of house guests – grandkids, grumpy black cat, old work friend. Now we are heading to September and the leaves have started to turn on my favorite route from Carleton Place to Almonte. September Song.

And these few precious days I’ll spend with you,

These precious days I’ll spend with you.

Sleeping with a Predator


Once you invite a feline into your life, the topic of nocturnal sleeping arrangements is going to come up. On the surface, the idea of having your pal share your bed seems uncomplicated. Even the biggest cat isn’t much larger than a terrier, so it’s not like having a Great Dane in bed with you. There will be room.

Cats enjoy the warmth and company and on a cold night provide a lot of warmth themselves. All cat lovers know that one of the features of feline company is the rich but safe experience of living with a tiger – so why not go for total immersion and let him sleep next to you?

in practice it’s not that simple. Every cat is different in their approach to night time snuggling so maybe it’ll work out. Or maybe not. Let’s review our three guys.

Brio – No Chance, No Way

Brio was by far the most aggressively friendly lapcat we have ever owned. He was also surprisingly unassertive in some ways, given that he was a Siamese. He had his cozy cat bed on the sofa in our basement rec room and in cold weather we provided a heating pad under it – which he loved. He would quite happily stay there. That said, he would have absolutely loved to come and sleep with us. However, we were in our tough cat love phase back in the 1980s and didn’t permit it.

Brio was his own worst enemy though. His idea of an ideal setup was to head under the covers with you, turn around and stretch out luxuriously with his upper torso in your face. Nobody could deal with a night of such Siamese closeness. I used to get into bed, wait for Brio to arrive and then grab him and take him down to his cat bed. He was totally predictable. I suppose I did this 3000 times in Brio’s life and he never learned the trick of keep away at bedtime.

Sammy – Not My Bag

For all his kindness and friendliness, Sammy was never a real bed guy. He was totally unwilling to be locked up at night in the rec room though. We would get nothing but wailing and scratching if we tried it. What he always wanted to do was snuggle next to us and purr briefly, then hang out on a rug nearby. If he was lonely he might hop up for a brief cuddle part way through the night but then he was back to the rug. In the early morning he’d be up there again to remind you it was breakfast time. His purr was legendary. One time I drifted in and out of sleep, wondering why someone was idling a dump truck outside the house.

The only time Sammy really spent quality time on our bed was if we went away for a few days and he was alone most of the time. We always put out our PJs for him to sniff and lie on. They would be gray when we came home, so we knew he loved them.

Mr. Oates – Work in Progress

Oatsy hasn’t got his bedtime routine completely worked out yet. He was desperately lonely at the shelter and despite the unfamiliarity of his new home and owners, he spent the first few nights on the foot of our bed. I suppose he was afraid we’d abandon him if he didn’t stay close.

As he got his cat mojo working he left the bed and spent his nights in the ensuite sink. He’s grown a fair bit now so that isn’t as comfortable as it once was.

So he’s returned to the foot of the bed, and right now when I wake up in the night I’ll feel a cozy warm lump right behind my knees. Oates absolutely adores Maria so occasionally he’ll come up, knead and lick her hand (or face.) Such ministrations are not always welcome at 3 AM. Nor are his crepuscular activities at 5:30 AM such as grabbing your toes through the sheets. Oates is definitely feeling his way.

I suppose the way we handled the cats sleeping with us is the way a lot of people handle kids behavior. Be strict with the firstborn, ease off a bit with the second, and the third … well you don’t have the energy any more to deal with it!


Grandpa’s Girl


Hard to believe it was 5 years ago today that we got the call that Sarah was ready to go to the birthing centre at the hospital to deliver child #2. I decided we had lots of time, so we stopped off and had coffee at Tim Horton’s before heading over to her home to babysit Teddy.

As it turned out, things were in a bit more of a rush and about an hour later Veronica was born. Unlike her dark eyed and hirsute brother, she was much more fair of hair (and blue eyed) and what hair she had looked like a Mohawk cut for quite a while. Things steadily improved in the “bad hair” department and she’s quite the young lady as she celebrates her fifth birthday today.

For the first couple of years Grandpa was definitely in the background as she was close to her Mother but around age 3 a switch was turned on. Grandpa became a very important person in Veronica’s life, and vice-versa.

It seems I can always make her laugh. “You’re just joking, Grandpa. You can only make two jokes today.”

She’s as sweet as can be, but she has a sense of fairness that would make her Nonna proud. Don’t try to let Teddy play too long at a video game unless she has her turn. She might be the middle child but she won’t let you forget her for a second.

As she grows older, she’ll be fiercely protective of her older brother and younger sister. And they darn well better appreciate it when she is.

I love her to pieces and I just hope and pray I’ll be around to celebrate many many more of her birthdays. Happy 5th birthday to Grandpa’s special girl!


Stealth Siamese


Our first two cats were pretty easy to figure out as far as breed characteristics went. Brio was a registered Siamese of the old school “Applehead” variety. He’d be a Thai cat today.

Sammy was a rescue cat but his appearance, green eyes, luxurious soft gray coat, quiet demeanor and tip-toe walk marked him as very much Russian Blue.

Mr. Oates is different. He’s a bicolor cat with a “mask and mantle” coat – white and ginger tabby. But I can’t help thinking he might be a “Stealth Siamese” as Pam Merritt calls them in her excellent Way of Cats blog.

Stealth Siamese cats are out there in the moggy universe because a lot of Asian genes are in the cat population – thanks to the long time popularity of Siamese in North America.

So what makes me think Oatsy might have a bit of the Siamese in him?

  • Really intelligent. You can see and feel his little mind thinking all the time. Better be one step ahead or it’s world domination.
  • Incredible energy. At 9 months you’d think he’d be slowing down a bit as he matures. But he’s like the Energizer bunny when it comes to play.
  • He doesn’t have the Siamese “points” but his head and ears have that classic old school Siamese look.
  • Athletic. His leaps will take your breath away, given that he’s quite a bit heavier than Brio was.
  • Talkative. After the taciturn Sammy, we are back having cat conversations. Oates isn’t quite the talker that Brio was but he’s trying hard.
  • Body style. Looks like he’ll be a long and lean cat – a bit heavier (more like a Burmese) but the Oriental influence is definitely there.

That’s how it looks right now – and having been owned by a Siamese for 17 incredible years, Having Mr. Oates around suits me just fine.



Onyx and Oates


Maria’s friend Shari has been away on holidays so we have been looking after her cat Onyx. Onyx is a dignified and sedate 8 year old lady who is used to a quiet single cat household. She tends to be a bit grumpy if her serenity is disturbed.

We have a single cat household as well – but our guy is a fun loving, high energy 9 month old cement head named Mr. Oates. Oatsy started out in a household with kids and then spent some time in a shelter with scores of other cats, so he’s had a bit of a hardscrabble life. He’s kind and inoffensive and actually fairly submissive, but he’s a teenager meeting a granny for the first time.

We never had open warfare but a series of skirmishes marked their introduction. Oates would stalk and run after Onyx, who would hiss and growl. Oates would back off for a couple of minutes, than rinse and repeat. And so it went. Onyx can’t jump and Oates probably could slam dunk a basketball if he could hold it in his paws. Needless to say he takes the high road.

We lock Onyx away at night with food, water, litter and a comfy bed so she (and we) can get some sleep. That isolation suits her fine, especially since she does not have to share her food with Oatsy during her incarceration.

We play with them – a lot. Both Oates and Onyx like Neko Flies but playing with her is a slow pitch softball league and playing with him is trying to hit a David Price fastball at the Rogers Centre. Nevertheless getting some energy out helped ease tensions.

They have agreed to co-exist for the duration, but I’m sure Onyx will be happy to go back to her serene and comfortable existence. Should happen this weekend.

Help! My Machine Has Slowed Down…


I do a fair bit of IT work for the seniors in town. Some of it is easy to diagnose – printer doesn’t work, lost my wifi password – but by far the most common and baffling complaint I get is – my computer has slowed down, it’s sluggish. What can that possibly mean?

  • Is the computer slow to boot up and takes a while before you can use it?
  • Do programs take a long time to load?
  • Is Web surfing slower than it used to be?
  • Do you get hangups, glitches, blue screens?

Nobody can describe the exact problem and to be honest I have no way of figuring it out. I don’t know how the machine ran when new.

Older versions of Windows did slow down a lot over time due to a variety of reasons that have been fixed. Maybe folks think it’s 2002 now and the same fixes apply. But you can’t defragment a hard drive today and speed things up like you used to.

The normal knee jerk reaction is to reinstall Windows. But unless you have your own separate copy of the operating system, that is hard to do. Most machines today have a separate hard drive partition  where there is a copy of the factory installed software. Reinstalling that eliminates your data and any software you added, plus brings Windows back a few years and a few hundred updates. Also you get all the bloatware back that you may not have wanted in the first place. So no.

If you have Windows 8 you may be able to “refresh” without a reinstall – but the vast majority of people around here have Windows 7.

Before getting into this further I’ll give the ultimate solution set that has worked for me – and which I cannot reasonably suggest to anyone who calls.

  • Buy or build a desktop with a fast processor, scads of memory and a discrete graphics card. I have two of these and one is trigger quick and the other one just blazes. One was purchased as a business class machine and upgraded. The other was built from scratch. Neither is state of the art today but they ain’t too shabby either.
  • Use Linux – far faster, uses less resources, doesn’t need resource hogging security software, never slows down – ever.
  • Install your operating system on a Solid State Drive. That’ll speed things up by a factor of five.
  • Get decent broadband and make sure it’s working at the speed you are paying for. I don’t have the highest speed but it’s plenty fast enough for my home network.

So what is the typical unit that has “slowed down” ? It usually is a 4-5 year old cheaper laptop. Slow AMD processor and graphics, memory challenged, slow hard drive, not worth upgrading. Operating system is Windows 7.

It’s hard to imagine that such a machine ran that fast when new. Since then it has invariably had a printer, iTunes, Skype, some sort of photo organizing program and a camera software suite added. Many of these apps have startup run features. It isn’t uncommon to see that 70% of the RAM is in play before you actually do anything. Start Skyping or watching YouTube or open a bunch of browser windows and things get slow – especially if you need to use the hard drive for anything. I advise my “clients” to uninstall old printer drivers and programs they never use but I don’t take them off myself.

Then there’s malware. Most users I meet are concerned they have a virus but I hardly ever see that. Even Windows 7 has a decent firewall and antivirus program provided by Microsoft. Some users have heavyweight security like Norton or McAfee which provide their own level of kneecapping to the system, but do give virus protection.

What’s more likely present is spyware and adware downloaded with “free” software – such as the abominable Ask toolbar and Search Protect browser hijacker. I always run Malware Bytes to get rid of that stuff and then try a different anti-malware program like Hitman Pro. The last machine I cleaned up had over 150 pieces of malware on it and I have seen some with over 1000.

A lot of people never clean up unneeded temporary files and browser cache, history or tracking cookies. Some of that you can get rid of with Malware Bytes but for a good cleanup I like CCleaner. It’s free and effective.

I’d like to think that cleaning out malware and unnecessary files helps speed things up but if a machine is old, slow and lacking memory it’s a losing battle. In the final analysis, all one can do is recommend a new machine or an upgrade. I would recommend at least 8GB of RAM in a laptop these days and most of the machines I see have 4 or less. However, if you bought a cheap machine in the first place how motivated will you be to pay more?

I do my best to make sure the machine is crap and virus free and send it home. Miracles are not in my toolbox, unfortunately. Most folks are happy I tried.



Windows 10


When we got our Acer Veriton business class desktop a few years ago it came with Windows 7 and it was purchased just before the Windows 8 debacle – exactly for that reason. No way was I going to buy the next Vista.

Now Microsoft has apparently realized the error of its ways, and has made a free Windows 10 update available to anyone with Windows 7 or Windows 8 on their machines. What I’ve read online has indicated that Windows 10 is the real deal and worth the upgrade. So I signed up a while ago and today got notice that my upgrade was ready to install.

I’m no stranger to upgrades. I upgraded from Windows 95 to Windows 98 and from Windows Me to XP so I know it can be done with Windows. And I’ve done many an Ubuntu upgrade on the Linux side. There are some advantages to an upgrade as opposed to a completely clean install:

  • You don’t lose all your personal data (although you’d better make sure you have a backup just in case.)
  • You don’t have to reinstall all your programs or customized look and feel.

There are some disadvantages too:

  • You can be certain any upgrade won’t be 100% smooth and easy. Some things won’t work with the new system.
  • There is a small but finite chance you’ll brick your system completely. It has happened with this upgrade.

There isn’t much choice here though as the Microsoft “free” upgrade is coming via Windows Update and you have to use the OEM software licence that came with the desktop. They don’t give you another option.

Well as it turned out the upgrade went pretty well. After an automated check of my licence key, Microsoft made the upgrade files available in Windows Update. All I had to do was start the process. There were three phases:

  • Copy over the files from the update.
  • Install the software and drivers.
  • Configure the system.

There were restarts after each phase and  a progress “clock” kept track of things. The whole job was finished in about 45 minutes.

When I restarted and booted into Windows 10 for the first time, my video card settings were not working so I had a very ugly looking display. Another restart fixed this.

Then my BitDefender Internet Security didn’t start. I had to remove and reinstall BitDefender before it worked.

Finally an Intel Rapid Storage Technology Driver failed to launch. I was able to find the latest Windows 8.1 driver on Intel’s website and that worked fine. Pretty good considering all the complexity of an upgrade.

One of the “features” of Windows 10 is that they have bought back the Start button AND the Start menu. However the Start menu is (to use an oxymoron) pretty ugly. Unlike the sleek and useful Windows 7 Start menu, the Win 10 one has a bunch of weird “live tiles” winking and blinking at you. They aren’t as gross as they were in the Windows 8 Start screen but they are still there. Some of them are outright money makers for Microsoft like the offer for Live 365 Office. Others are social media apps or what passes for news these days. Personally I don’t want to see the fate of the Subway guy in my Start menu.

There are other features I find rather lame – such as another “Bing Search” box in the Taskbar Panel and an annoying personal assistant named Cortana.

Also I don’t want to sign onto my desktop with the same Microsoft Outlook account I use on my laptop. If you do that the dumb software synchronizes both machines and you get a brain dead low res laptop display on your big screen desktop. Lots of work to be done.

I started out by signing onto the desktop machine with a “Local Account” instead of the Microsoft one. I can’t buy those flashy apps from the Microsoft Store but who  cares?

Next I unpinned all the live tiles from the Start Menu. Better but still ugly. I decided to install Classic Shell and replace the Windows 10 Start button with the classy Windows 7 orb I am familiar with.

Then I dismissed Cortana, disabled Bing and hid the Search box from the Taskbar. Now we’re talking. The result can be seen above. Windows 10 technical advantages and Windows 7 look and feel. Windows the way I like it.

Some days it’s good to be a geek. I am sure there are a lot of folks out there who will upgrade to Windows 10, be unhappy with the look and feel but won’t know how to fix it. Maybe I can help them, now that I know a trick or two.

Is Windows 10 my new favorite O/S? Nah. I’m finishing up this post on Linux Mint 17.

If It Ain’t Broke…


This is my basement desktop unit that I built a couple of years ago. It’s fast and works pretty well. It was cheap to build because it uses AMD components – the processor actually is an APU – combines video and general computing on the same chip. And the operating system cost nothing.

It runs Linux – an operating system that powers a great number of Internet servers and companies like Amazon and Facebook. Linux was also the basis of Android – you may have heard of Android if you have a non-Apple smartphone or tablet.

You can also download and install a desktop version of Linux that looks a lot like Windows 7, works great for email, web surfing, office tasks, is safe and secure, fast, and above all is free. I saved at least $100 by using Linux on my homebuilt system. What’s not to like?

One problem you might run into is when you upgrade a piece of hardware in the box. 90% of the folks who run PCs are using Windows, so most hardware is designed for that. Some of it works with Linux and some does not – you have to research ahead of time.

My grandson uses the box to play video games in a browser and sometimes the games are a bit slow –  I decided I should maybe upgrade the video. The old video in the APU dates back to 2012 and wasn’t that powerful to begin with.

I carefully chose a new video card – mature technology that should work, although it has been upgraded with larger video memory and faster speed. It is AMD designed just like the APU, but faster and more powerful.

Linux has two kinds of video drivers – one that is developed by the community and called “open source” and the other that the video card manufacturer provides called “proprietary.” The open source driver is your first choice and in general the AMD based one is very good. I have used it for years.

So I plugged in the card, started the machine and – zero. I had no 3D acceleration from the card at all although the system recognized the new video card. As far as I can determine, the open source driver has not been updated to “see” this new card’s ID. Maybe it will in a future update to the software, but it doesn’t now.

So what to do? I installed the proprietary video card manufacturer’s driver and – instant Karma. 3D worked and the tests I did with 3D in the browser were much faster. I am sure my grandson will be pleased. All’s well that ends well.

So even after a careful search and choice of appropriate compatible technology I still ran into a glitch with Linux. Such is the life of a Linux user – in many cases the Linux motto should be: “If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.”

Choose Your Ocean



TransAtlantic Cruise?


Or TransPacific Cruise? The choice isn’t easy. I thought I might look at the features of each cruise rather than try to list advantages and disadvantages. After all, what cruise has disadvantages, right? 🙂

TransAtlantic Features:

  • One cruise. Start in Florida, end in Europe or vice-versa. If you want to take a back to back cruise that’ll likely be in the Med. or to Scandinavia.
  • Two weeks or less. You can fit it into work schedules usually.
  • Air travel’s OK. You’ll have one long flight but it’s not onerous.
  • Relatively cheap. It’s the best value in cruising and a real repositioning cruise.
  • If you go east you’ll change the clock forward a lot, but you won’t be jet lagged when you get there. Going west you probably lose a night’s sleep on the plane but you’ll be picking up an extra hour just about every day.
  • Shoulder season cruising. You go east in April or May, go west in October or November.
  • Nice choice of destinations – Southampton, Harwich, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome – you start there or end there. The other end of the cruise is in Florida which ain’t bad either.

TransPacific Features:

  • Two cruises. Both are destinations (end in Hawaii for cruise 1 and start there for Cruise 2.) There’ll be a huge turnover in passenger roster in between. Thousands of Aussies come from Sydney to Hawaii and an equal number of Canadians and Americans embark in Hawaii. The vibe changes incredibly.
  • Cost is considerably higher as you have two cruises, and both are popular. Not as many ships going across the Pacific either so price competition is non-existent.
  • More time required. You need a month to do the Pacific cruises.
  • You are going to have a brutal flight one way. It’s not bad going to Sydney as you get some sleep but – wow! 24 hours and 14 time zones.
  • Exotic places to see – Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, Hawaii.
  • Lots more sea days of course – it’s a much bigger ocean.
  • Tougher to pack as you’ll have four seasons to deal with. We left Ottawa in Winter, arrived in Sydney in the Fall, cruised through Summer, and arrived in Vancouver in the Spring.
  • You’ll lose a day going over but have two days at sea with the same date. Go figure.
  • Spectacular southern night sky. We went up every night after dinner to see the Southern Cross.
  • For Canadians – when you get back you are in Canada. Customs hassles are kept to a minimum.

So there you have it. Our choice? Well we did the TransPacific one once and it was well worth it. We’ve done 5 TransAtlantics and are ready for more. You cannot beat the value, and the opportunity to do a second cruise in Europe is always there if you want.


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