Digital Ups and Downs

 

I was one of the holdouts when it came to digital photography – especially if that meant using a digital single lens reflex camera.

I bought a film Nikon film SLR in 2002 along with some new (at the time) autofocus lenses – just when digital was really starting to take off. At that time film was still superior to digital – the digital SLR cameras were not as high in resolution, had problems with dust getting on the sensor and messing up your photos. As well, most of the SLRs could not use standard film lenses that effectively – the wide angle film lenses were changed to regular ones by the fact that the DSLR image size was smaller, and you got a 1.5 focal length multiplier effect. OK if you like to make telephoto images but not so good if you want to use wide angle.

However things changed rapidly; it became harder and harder to buy film and get it processed. The last serious travel trip I made with film camera equipment was in 2006 when we did our first cruise to the Baltics.

In the meantime I got a number of point and shoot digicams – I was never satisfied with the speed nor the crummy viewfinder or LCD screen on the back of the cameras, but they were convenient for snapshots.

By 2011 I had finally managed to buy a very good point and shoot digital – Canon Power Shot S90.

 

This tiny digicam has become my go to unit for travel. I have given up on the idea of photographing a destination and focused more on experiencing it, with a few nice snapshots to bring back the memories. The S90 fills the bill:

  • Nice bright fast lens. Although it’s not a real telephoto it goes wide enough in most situations. I can get photos in relatively low light.
  • Small and lightweight. There’s something liberating about taking photos with a camera the size of a deck of cards, rather than carting around a film body, 4 lenses, flash, etc. etc. It’s a lot easier on the back.

This little camera did a great job on our Transpacific cruise. There were a few times when the sunlight was so bright I couldn’t see the LCD viewfinder on the back very well but I’m experienced enough to get a decent photo anyway. You can always digitally crop or straighten the photo later if need be.

There’s one place where a DSLR outshines a point and shoot though and that is speed. Taking photos of kids and pets is a hassle with a point and shoot digicam. So earlier this year I gave in to the inevitable and got a new Nikon 5500 and a couple of special autofocus lenses for it.

 

  • Now my old school Nikon autofocus lenses do work with the new camera – sort of. They have the aforementioned 1.5 focal length multiplier, and they do not autofocus with the new camera. However they meter and function well enough if my old eyes manage to get them focused. Above is a picture taken with one of the old lenses on the new camera.
  • SLR photos have a 3:2 aspect ratio wider than the point and shoot’s 4:3. The camera is far faster and has the ability to take photos in much less light. It’s great for photos of kids running around. However the body and lenses are larger and heavier than the simple little S90.
  • Technology has improved a lot. Resolution of a digital SLR is as good as a film one, you have far more flexibility with low light and the makers have figured out how to keep dust off the sensor.

So the bottom line is I have finally gone digital completely. My old film camera body is stored away, I can use the new DSLR with my older Nikon lenses or the newest autofocus ones. I can take just about any type of photo I want from fast action to portrait to landscape. I think for travel I’ll stick to the Canon S90 though. It’s just too convenient to leave at home.

Winfield Wants Noise!

 

I’m a long way removed from the Jays World Series triumphs – both temporally and geographically. But I was there front and center in 1992 and 1993 – close to 50 games each year. Sarah and I saw Jimmy Key’s masterful last start in the 1992 series and a couple of classics in 1993 – game 1 with Alomar’s amazing catch and Game 6 “Touch ’em all Joe!”

I remember that in 1992 the stadium was jammed every night but the crowd was quiet if nothing was happening. Dave Winfield issued his famous “Winfield wants noise” quote to rev us up a bit. Most of the seats were season tickets back then so it was an older corporate crowd – even our nosebleed seats in Section 513 were season tickets. Also Toronto was a hockey town back then so many baseball fans brought a hockey attitude – no action, no noise.

Watching this year’s Jays on TV I was amazed at the difference in the crowd. The stadium is just as full but the noise level and cheering is incredible – probably twice as much as I remember. Maybe it’s because buying tickets today is more of a spontaneous event, and the crowd is younger – or maybe because today’s crowd has more of an uptempo Raptors basketball mentality. I just found a huge difference in the way the crowd gets into the game. Hopefully that’ll continue into the playoffs this year. And we won’t see any more “Winfield wants noise” type signs. Or The Wave, for that matter.

 

W(h)ining on the Bus

 

Recently Maria and I embarked on a retired teachers bus tour of 4 Prince Edward County wineries. The bus from Smiths Falls picked us up in Carleton Place at 7:30 AM. A painless trip? Well, not so fast – read on.

 

We drove to Perth, picked up our remaining passengers and then headed to Kingston through the country. When we got on to Highway 401 we were making good time until we got near the Deseronto Road exit. Then we heard a bang, which we  thought might be a flat tire. It turned out to be a broken hose to the turbocharger on the engine. We could not go at high speed after this mishap so we had to wait for a service guy from Napanee to fix the hose. This took about 45 minutes and didn’t fill us with a lot of confidence. Was this going to be a replay of our Vancouver Tour in May? Above is a picture of where we stopped. Not too civilized.

Well we did make it to Prince Edward County and then our driver got lost and had to stop at a gas station to get directions to Waupoos Winery. After a driving tour of downtown Picton we were on our way and arrived about a half hour later.

 

The Waupoos winery was very impressive. The washroom facilities were not – one unisex facility and 20 women in various states of need. Maria and I went for a walk around the building and she inadvertently stepped off the verandah and did a faceplant in the turf. The verandah was like the one in the picture but on the opposite side – and fortunately had some green space below.

Maria banged up her knees, shoulder, chin and worst of all bruised her hand quite badly. We didn’t get any wine tasting in here because we were looking for icepacks for her hand. She’s still recovering from the fall.

 

After another tour of Picton we went for a nice lunch at the Waring House. Well recommended.

 

Next we had a short journey to the Black Prince Winery – although our driver missed the entrance and had to turn around in the parking lot of the Pentecostal Church nearby, (Don’t ask.)

Black Prince featured some nice wines, a knowledgeable Winemaker and a big friendly cat named Duke who looked a lot like an upsized version of Mr. Oates. Duke is apparently “starved for human companionship” after the winery closes in December. He is used to being petted and fussed over by 250 visitors every day. Nice job if you don’t mind company.

 

Then we were off to the Huff Estates west of Picton. It is an impressive winery but the folks there didn’t seem to expect us so they had to scramble to get ready for our wine tasting.

 

Adjacent to the winery was an art gallery with outdoor sculptures that would grace any mansion. Bring money though – lots of it – if you want to buy anything. We are talking tens of thousands of dollars – even in Canadian that’s a lot!

 

We headed back through Picton again to Lake on the Mountain. Yes our driver missed the turn and had to get directions.

Our final objective was the Devil’s Wishbone winery – which we had not visited due to late arrival in the morning. This winery was in an old barn that has been lovingly restored. Their wine maker does things the old school way, they provide an excellent sit down wine pairing and tasting session, and their small but excellent selection of wines makes the Devil’s Wishbone well worth a return visit. They make a little over 1000 cases of wine per year – a tiny amount. Not nearly enough to get a place in the Provincial wine stores. DW was really the highlight of the tour. Save the best for last, I always say.

Most wineries in Prince Edward County are similar in size to DW, and all of them are quite young. The oldest is Waupoos and it’s only been around since 2001.

After (enough already) one final drive through downtown Picton we were on our way home – tired, battered, bruised and certainly a little bit buzzed. We finally got back to Carleton Place around 7:30 PM after no more mishaps and were home a half hour later. Mr. Oates was happy to see us. We didn’t tell him we had petted the Duke earlier in the day.

I plan to stay off the buses for awhile if I can manage it, though!

 

 

 

 

Uncle Eddy

 

Edward (Edmund) Leo MacDonald (1883 -1956) was definitely my father’s favorite uncle. The youngest of my grandfather’s brothers, Uncle Eddy got a job with the Canadian Northern Railroad as a young man, worked his way up to fireman, married my great-Aunt Winis and by the time the Canadian Government Railways was formed in 1915 was an engineer. He took over the mighty 2922 shortly after she came out of the shops in 1918, and when my dad was a boy he took him along in the cab for many freight runs (something they’d never allow today.)

This big powerful freight engine was fired by hand. No automatic stokers back then. The fireman was a busy guy.

This tiny photo is all I have of Uncle Eddy with his crew and his loco. He’s the guy wearing the cap and overalls, standing near the locomotive bell.

Uncle Eddy was quite a joker in his younger age. He had no love for the station agent in his home town, so when he came in to take on water at the tank near the station agent’s home, he’d play him a little tune on the whistle at 2 AM. He had another special whistle code he used to tell Aunt Winis he was back and would soon be home – get the tea made, please!

I met Uncle Eddy late in his life after he retired from CNR and he always had an interesting story to fascinate a young boy. He was a dyed in the wool union man – no fan of the government meddling in a railway strike in the early 1950s.

A few years ago I did some research and found out more about Uncle Eddy’s 2-8-2 Mikado – which he always called a “MIke.” In fact I got the actual service record of his engine from the Canadian Archives – all the old CNR steam stuff is there. It seems that CN renumbered the engines from 28XX and 29XX to 32XX and 33XX. Also they made some modifications that changed the loco’s appearance and made it harder to trace the history. Of course it’s all clear now with the available Internet info on CN steam locomotives.

 

Here’s #3254 – one of the 3 surviving CNR 2-8-2s as she looks today. The major difference is a big feedwater heater in front of the stack.

 

And here’s how she looked in 2011. Engine 3254 is a slightly older class of Mikado – none of Uncle Eddy’s class survived.

It seems rather appropriate that the year Uncle Eddy passed away his own big “Mike” was cut up and scrapped. Two old proud warriors riding off into the sunset together nearly 60 years ago.

 

 

What Sort of Computer Do You Need Today?

 

When I got started with computing back in the late 1960s this is what was available – either through direct access or time sharing. Hardly the sort of stuff you’d have in the rec room, let alone in your pocket. I learned a lot back then – FORTRAN, BASIC, APL, how to use a card punch and reader, how to debug a sequentially designed program. Not much of it applies any more.

Today it’s a whole new ball game and just about anyone who wants to can use a computer and choose from a dizzying variety of brands, form factors and designs. The choice is often more of an issue than anything else. So what’s best for you? I would think the age old question “what do you want to do with it?” is still applicable.

Just for fun I’ll try to suggest a few options based on what a person’s needs might be today.

  • Young and Upwardly Mobile
    There’s no question that is I were in my early 20s today I’d have a really hot smartphone. Communication, calculation, media consumption – an iPhone or deluxe Android unit can do it all – anywhere, anytime. You usually have good eyesight at this stage so the small screen isn’t an issue. Most of my nieces (and even my slightly older daughter) have these units along with them all the time.
  • Internet Consumer
    If you read a lot of library books, get some email and frequent Twitter and Facebook, probably a tablet will do the trick for you. You may not need mobile access so a wifi only unit can suffice. You will need to have wifi access so that means going to McDonald’s or having a wifi network at home.
  • Road Warrior
    Sure you’ll have a wireless phone, but if you want to do serious work you’ll likely want a nice business grade notebook as well. Something with the power and speed to do office work and also lightweight and portable. Most people who travel, plus work from home or have a “hot desk” setup at work have this sort of machine today. Big change from the desktops of my working life.
  • Lightweight General User
    If you still like a mouse and keyboard, do some basic stuff like web surfing, email, blogging, word processing, spreadheets -well then any cheap laptop and wifi printer will do it for you. I see a lot of these setups around the seniors places I visit today. Likely the laptop has replaced an older desktop as a primary computer in the home. They tend to be slow and rather graphics challenged units but for most folks they are fine performers. Don’t try to fix them though. Not worth upgrades either. Buy another one.
  • Gamer or Simulation Fan
    If you like the latest video games or maybe you enjoy train or flight simulation programs you are going to need some serious hardware – probably a decent quad core processor from Intel or AMD and a fairly sophisticated discrete video card. Most games will have a recommended configuration but the higher the quality of display and game settings, the more powerful hardware you’ll need. And it will likely be a desktop unit – no way most netbooks have the power you’ll need for best results.
  • KISS Senior
    Keep It Simple, Stupid – the best way for a stay at home senior to do this is to get a nice All-in-One Unit from HP or Apple. These machines offer more power than a laptop without all the wires and complexity of a desktop. A perfect machine to combine with a simple wifi printer.

So what’s hanging around my place – a couple of powerful desktops, a couple of cheap laptops, an older tablet plus a couple of aging desktops in the Museum downstairs. But I am a Grandpa Geek and Train Simulator user – not really typical. I don’t have any mainframes around though – left that part of my life behind in the 1980s.

 

Life Begins at 40

 

or so they say. When I turned 40 it wasn’t as big a trauma as turning 30. I was a dad, had a great marriage, a good job, was happy spiritually. I can wish no better blessings on Dave as it happens to him tomorrow.

He’s been a big part of our lives for the past 20 years and it’s hard to imagine how things would have turned out without him. He’s a great husband, involved father of our grandchildren, kind, hard working, responsible, patient, supportive.

We’ve had great holiday experiences with him and looking forward to more. Whether we are sweating it out in Cartegena, taking a ferry to Helsingor, riding on a sugar cane train in St. Kitts, or going to the British Museum to look at the Magna Carta, he’s always been up to the task cheerfully.

Best wishes and lots of love from the old folks.

 

 

Windows 8, Windows 8…

 

doncha just love it? (Apologies to Daddy Dewdrop.)

It’s possible to avoid the annoying Start screen with its playing card sized “live tiles” and bring back the Start button and menu. All you have to do is install Classic Shell.

But Windows 8 – or even its supposed improvement Windows 8.1 – has some other really crazy “features” that any sane developer should have fixed by now.

First, when you shut down Windows 8 you don’t really shut it down. In order to get faster boot times, the Windows gurus set it up so that Win 8 goes into hibernation rather than full stop shutdown. An image of your system is put on the hard drive and you reboot from that.

As a result certain applications – notably Norton and McAfee Security – do not fully update and as a result do not work properly when you start the computer again. Two of my senior “clients” have had trouble with their antivirus protection as a result. No, to really make sure everything is updated and shut the machine down completely, you don’t choose “Shut Down” from the menu, but “Restart.” Then you can Shut Down after you Restart I suppose. Makes a lot of sense. NOT!!!!!

Second – and this one drives me nuts – certain wifi adapters that worked OK with Windows 7 don’t work with Windows 8.1. I have one of these – Qualcomm AR956X – in my laptop. You can sign on OK but after a few minutes the adapter loses contact with the network and shows up in your system tray as “limited” wifi. You can’t browse, download, or do anything on the Internet until you disconnect and reconnect. Then you are OK for another few minutes, then rinse and repeat.

Neither Microsoft nor Qualcomm have done anything to update the Windows 8 drivers for the wifi chipset, and this is afflicting a whole bunch of Lenovo and Toshiba laptops, so be warned. The only solution I found was to disable the internal wifi card in Device Manager, and plug in a tiny USB wifi adapter from a different manufacturer. That appears to work but nobody should be expected to do something like this.

Perhaps the solution to the wifi dilemma lies with Windows 10, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Right now I can’t upgrade anyway because Microsoft says my Lenovo laptop hasn’t been verified as compatible. That figures, come to think of it.

The hardware that hosts my blogging site runs on Linux. So does the PC I am writing this post on. Anyone wonder why?

Update: I have been able to find a more recent version of the Windows 8.1 Qualcomm AR956X driver on a (wait for it) unofficial Czech website. Sounds very safe and secure, right?

Anyhow I downloaded the driver and updated via Device Manager. It seems a bit more stable, so we’ll see.

 

 

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