Dueling Technologies


When it comes to Windows systems I find that Bitdefender Internet Security is the best for me. It’s got a great Firewall and Antivirus combination, it’s silent and unobtrusive, it doesn’t bog my PC down, and best of all unlike (choke, gasp!) McAfee it actually prevents malware.

Bitdefender also has excellent online technical and commercial service and can fix most problems in a jiffy. However I recently (and not for the first time) encountered problems where BD antivirus prevented me from doing a legitimate upgrade to my PC. It’s a matter of dueling technologies I suppose.

AMD recently released its newest “Crimson” drivers and since my laptop’s graphics haven’t been updated in a year I decided to download and install the latest AMD software. When I started the installation it got all the way to 2% progress, then the text got gobbledegooky on screen and the window darkened. Finally a message came up that the Installer was not responding. This is scary; if you bork your video driver your computer is in trouble. Fortunately the old driver stayed in place and worked.

It took a couple of days of Internet research to find out that Bitdefender was at fault. Its real time antivirus solution was blocking AMD’s installation. The solution was to completely uninstall Bitdefender, install the video driver software and then reinstall the Internet Security programs. What usually takes a couple of minutes took about an hour.

This is the second time this month I’ve had trouble with Bitdefender. It wouldn’t work after I upgraded to Windows 10 so I had to remove it, install a newer Windows 10 compatible version, and verify my licence. You never find this stuff out in advance, unfortunately.

I suppose I could switch to another Internet Security suite when my licence expires but it seems to me that all of these security products have issues with legitimate changes on your PC. Part of the price you pay for the Windows way of doing things. At least BD keeps me safe (so far.)


20 Years Online


I was not an online pioneer but I’ve been around it a while. This year marks 20 years of online presence and activity for me.

I’ve messed about with computers for close to 50 years but certainly the last 20 have made the biggest difference in my information lifestyle. An example: in 1994 we wanted to go to some West End shows when we visited London. I had to go to a local news vendor, buy a week old copy of the Telegraph and look up the entertainment ads to find out what was playing. In 1995 I went online and knew in 30 seconds. Information access has exploded since then so you can imagine how much things have changed for the average user.

What we do online, how we do it, what we see and hear, and how fast it happens have also changed dramatically over the past two decades. The way a person connected to an online provider in 1995 versus today is like comparing a hot air balloon to a Boeing 777 when it comes to travel.

So what was it like 20 years ago as an online early adopter? Only about 8% of Canadians were connected back then.

  • First of all it was a S-L-O-W process. After you got connected your modem delivered content at 14.4 Kbps. A typical cell phone photo that gets casually sent to Facebook or Instagram today would take a couple of minutes to upload or download in 1995. Painful. I was green with envy when Sarah went to U. of Guelph in 1996, and got connected to T1 broadband at 100X the speed I had at home. Of course I have more than 20X that T1 speed in a consumer grade broadband hookup today.
  • Second, it was expensive and inconvenient. You had to tie up your phone line when you were using the online service and maybe the dial-up number was long distance for you. You paid by the minute for access so often you dialed in, got your email and read it offline. So much for continuous access, huh?
  • Third, in many cases you weren’t really on the Internet. The online providers had been around before the Web and most had their own proprietary way of delivering content. Prodigy (shown above) had a Videotext protocol called NAPLPS which provided the blocky and lurid graphics you see. Most of the stuff you read was their own content, although later  they came up with a crude browser that allowed access to the Web at large. It wasn’t as good as Netscape but it worked – after a fashion I guess.
  • It was a text based world – email, bulletin boards, chat. Music and sound were possible but given the bandwidth restrictions you didn’t have really good audio. There were sound effects and brief spoken clips (WAV files) and music came in the form of MIDI – sort of a ricky-tick synthesizer groove. Web browsers needed a special plug-in to play MIDI files.
  • Streaming video, music on demand, online gaming – fuhgeddaboudit. That was at least 10 years in the future – although the university kids had enough broadband access to download MP3s, and the beginning of the end for CDs arrived in the late 1990s.

Since 1995 we’ve obtained almost universal broadband access, home routers, wifi, mobile Internet, Roku, Netflix – not to mention Amazon and Google, worms and malware. Publishing a blog like this is almost trivially easy compared to 20 years ago. We’ve come a long way – and the Internet of things is on our doorstep now. I found it easy to be on the bleeding edge back then – now I’m a dinosaur. But I do know wifi. Go figure.

Conglomerates, Slicing the Salami and Other Reasons to Fear for Humanity

Being retired from the Canadian food industry, I am uninformed and unaffected by most of what passes as corporate progress, but once in a while this nonsense strikes home. With my afternoon tea, in fact.

Back in the 1970s there was a Canadian brand called Peek Frean which was part of the iconic British based Associated Biscuit Manufacturers company. PF made a wide variety of sweet biscuits – available as one item or in variety packs like Special Tea or Assorted Creams. Just the thing to accompany Salada or Red Rose orange pekoe steeped in a teapot.

However, that all started going downhill when the puppet masters started playing conglomeratio with the cookie industry. First Nabisco acquired ABM. Then Kraft swallowed Nabisco. Then Cadbury got slotted into the whole mess. Finally Kraft spun off the whole snack and cookie biz to a new entity called Mondelez – with me so far?

Similar stuff went on in the UK to the point where – after its most celebrated factory closed in Bermondsey London in 1989 – Peek Frean ceased to exist as a brand after 125 years. Maybe they’ve stopped having biscuits with tea over ‘ome – who knows?

Oh you can still buy Peek Frean stuff here – after a fashion. The individual packs are mostly gone – aside from shortbread and digestive. The varieties are still sold as well – but the famous Bourbon cream from 1910 has been replaced by an insipid Nabisco recipe that looks different and tastes nothing like the real thing. The custard cream is a shadow of its former self. “Nice” – those crispy coconut wafers – and the iced currant thingys seem to have vanished completely. All in the name of “SKU consolidation” and corporate greed. The bean counters must be delighted.

And of course I can’t get a decent substitute anywhere around here – no British themed stores left in the Almonte/Carleton Place area so Crawford’s and Jacob’s biscuits aren’t available. I can still steep my Red Rose in a 50 year old Gibson teapot but my biscuit plate is looking increasingly empty. Those younger folks who dunk a tea bag in their cup might be happy with Oreos, but I am not.

And don’t get me started on the other way today’s food companies slice the salami thinner – take a 450 g package, change it to 400 g and charge the same price for it. There’s more than one way to make a profit, you see. A pox on all their cost-reduced recipes and factory consolidations!


Another (Birth)day in the Valley

Come November 19 I’ll be celebrating 11 birthday anniversaries  in Almonte. This photo was taken around the time of my 2nd one in 2006. A lot has happened since then, even to things in the photo. The old flour mill in the background has been renovated; the railway signals and even the trains are gone now. On a personal level we’ve had some family tragedies and many happy events in 10 odd years here. My grandchildren have been born and are growing up not far away.

You have limited control over where you live for most of your life, it seems. It’s good to be able to choose somewhere you like after you retire, and for us Almonte has been that place. We are close to family, close to an airport, close to the US if we want to drive there. The air is clear and the stars are bright at night. The town is scenic and historic. We’ve made many new friends.

If I had been born here, my employment would likely have taken me away since the only thing possible in town would have been to teach math or science. There are some small entrepreneurial food companies around here but I’d have had to start one myself, if that had been my career choice. Many native Almonte types have left, but then retired back here and we have been fortunate enough to join them.

Alls well that ends well – how appropriate that old saying is tonight.



Too Good to be True

If you buy a laptop or desktop computer today, chances are you don’t give much thought to the operating system it runs. And chances are it’ll run Windows. Despite the inroads made in tablets and smartphones by Apple and Android, Windows still reigns supreme in the conventional computer market. About 90% of the so called “x86 based” computers run Windows. Maybe 8% run OSX. And a tiny 2% run something you likely never heard of – Linux. Pity.

For if you thought about it a little, you might conclude that it would be a good thing to use something at home that:

  • Supports the majority of hardware and software that makes up the Internet. Linux dominates in the server universe. This blog runs on WordPress, and WordPress depends on Linux. My website provider is likewise dependent on Linux to function and deliver stuff to your (Windows) desktop.
  • Can run on anything from a tiny micro-PC like Raspberry Pi up to a huge server farm in the Cloud.
  • Forms the basis for Android and Google’s Chromebook O/S and underwrites Google itself, Facebook, and Amazon – giant companies that need Linux.
  • Is freely published, distributed and modified. Bugs are easily found and squashed because any programmer who wants to contribute can contribute. Linux is not secret nor proprietary in nature.
  • Can do essentially all the stuff you want to do – surf the Web, get email, play and record music and video, do Office work, save files to the cloud, read and save most Windows formats, organize your photos and so on.
  • Is relatively safe, secure and free of viruses and malware. You don’t need a suite of CPU sucking security apps to venture out in cyberspace. There are antivirus programs for Linux but they mostly keep your email safe so you don’t send a virus to a Windows user.
  • Is absolutely free and can save you $100 just on a Windows licence alone. In addition to the operating system, all the Web browsers, email programs, music players, Office software, photo organizers and editors, website design software and Linux based games are also absolutely free. That could potentially save you hundreds of dollars.

It all seems too good to be true, and when I first learned about Linux in 2007 or so I thought there had to be a catch. But aside from learning a little geekery, or making friends with a Linux geek to get the system installed there isn’t any catch at all.

You can get Linux easily enough – download a copy of Ubuntu or Linux Mint or one of many other possible distributions you can find at Distrowatch. You’ll need to transfer the file to a DVD or a USB stick and then you can try it on your computer as a “Live” system to see how it looks. After that your Linux geek friend can advise you as to how to install. That might be the tricky part, as Linux doesn’t always come with training wheels!

In fact my advice would be to put Linux on a second, older computer that maybe runs Vista or ran XP at one time. Linux is well suited for older hardware and can often resurrect a computer that otherwise is only good for landfill. You blow off the older Windows install and run Linux from now on.

You can set up Linux to run alongside Windows although this might be tricky with certain versions of Windows (like Windows 8 or Windows 10.) Your geek friend will be invaluable here.

If you want to run Linux on a newer machine (it’ll fly) my advice is to build your own box using slightly trailing edge hardware and install Linux from the get-go. I have two machines like this that have run nothing but Linux from the outset. I saved myself all that cash outlined above, and still have powerful and useful equipment. I expect them to last far beyond the normal working life of a Windows based machine.

Linux is not Windows so there is a learning curve – but it isn’t difficult to use. There are certain things you don’t get – Internet Explorer, Outlook, Microsoft Office, or the latest 3D games – but for most practical uses there are Linux based substitutes. However if you are an out and out gamer there’s no substitute for Windows in the computer world. That’s about the only thing you really need Windows for.

Anything you do with a browser can easily be accomplished with Google Chrome or Firefox in Linux. You probably should be using those browsers in Windows, to be honest.

Fast, safe, secure, versatile, flexible, customizable, and free. What more could you ask? Linux is really too good to be true – and it is true.


Another November and Here I Am


Oh once in a while you get a November day like this, such as the one we had in Auburn NY in 2012. But sadly they are few and far between.

Today was more typical I’m afraid – gloomy and wet and cool. The leaves are gone and so are the songbirds. Baseball is over until spring. It doesn’t get light until 8 AM and it’s dark by 4:30 PM. You need lights on inside the house to do anything useful.

November is in what most travel companies call the “shoulder season.” The kids are in school, summer is a distant memory, and the holiday rush hasn’t got started. It’s really a great time to travel as you probably can fly before the snow makes it a bit dicey around here. Or you can drive through the snowbelt area of northern New York relatively unscathed  – on your way to somewhere agreeable.

It’s cheap too. Trans-oceanic cruises are available, and so are early Caribbean trips. It’s a good time for a Mediterranean holiday as well. We’ve done all of the above since we retired.

So what am I doing here, you ask. Well, we have plans for next year with the grandchildren, plus we had a pretty good trip already this year (it’s our second taste of autumn.) Also Mr. Oates has been settling in nicely and we don’t want to leave him behind right at the moment.

However, something like this will hopefully be in a future November. You gotta believe when the winds howl and the rains fall.

Laptop v. Desktop – No Contest

If you’ve had a personal computer around home for more than 10 years, chances are it started out a desktop with separate screen, speakers, and keyboard. It likely had an wired printer attached and ran Windows XP. You probably had a desk setup for it and plugged a cable into the desktop directly from your ISP’s modem.

If you are an Almonte senior you have likely replaced that machine with a newer slower laptop, a wireless printer, a wifi gateway and maybe you now have a tablet and smartphone you connect to your wireless network.  All these have increased complexity and given you more headaches if something goes awry. But you may still sit at the same desk and maybe even plug in the old desktop screen and keyboard. Go figure.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, frankly. Although it is often said in the media today that a desktop computer is a dinosaur waiting for extinction, if you aren’t traveling outside the home to do most of your Internet stuff a desktop is by far your better choice. I”ll explain why.

I have 3 (count ’em) desktops on the go right now at my place. The major computer both my wife and I use is a Windows 10 desktop in our upstairs den. I have a second wifi equipped desktop in the basement that runs Linux and that I built from scratch. That’s the one you see in the photo. A third Linux desktop plays music in the work room in the basement. They all do their jobs well and have advantages over a laptop, as follows:

  1. Longevity
    My oldest desktop still in use is now 7 years old. The newer units have 2012 technology but work just great. I have a 10 year old desktop sitting in the junk room that I could still use if needed. The older machines run Linux, so they aren’t obsolete or insecure and they still run fast. Compare that to the average laptop which is usually ready for replacement after 4 years.
  2. Performance
    Desktop processors become obsolete much more slowly than laptop processors. In fact the last few generations of die shrink and processor development have lowered power consumption and size but have done little to boost speed and performance. A 2012 era quad core processor on a desktop will still do the job impressively, even if you’re running games on your machine. Desktops use a bit more power but it isn’t really that big a deal when you see how much faster they run.
  3. Fans and Cooling
    Heat is the enemy of any computer system. In a desktop you can add as many cooling fans as you need to keep hard drives, video cards, processors etc. cool and effective. A laptop will have all its components scrunched into a tiny chassis and with one wimpy fan to keep things cool. I recently had a Dell laptop die because eventually heat destroyed the connection between the motherboard and the video chip.
  4. Upgradeability
    You can do just about anything you want with a desktop system if you have a large enough case. Add more storage, put in a solid state drive for your operating system, change the power supply, add a video card, increase memory capacity – it’s up to you to decide. With a laptop generally what you see is what you get. Also it’s a lot easier to work on a desktop as the case is generally easy to open. With a laptop you might have to tear it apart just to replace the hard drive, or add memory.
  5. Peripherals Flexibility
    You might want to get a bigger or sharper video screen and you can do that with a desktop. Try that with a laptop if you don’t want to plug in a secondary screen. On the other hand, you can re-use your keyboard, speaker system, even an old wired printer if you want. It’s all good.
  6. Want Linux?
    It’s much easier to set up Linux only on a desktop when you build it yourself. You don’t have to pay for Windows, figure out how to boot Linux alongside Windows, worry about any of that stuff. Just install Linux and you are in business. You will find it very difficult to get a laptop with Linux installed or with no operating system at all.
    An older desktop system that might not run Windows today can be re-purposed with Linux. One of my “clients” bought an new but slow Windows 7 laptop to replace a fine XP based desktop system. I put Linux on the desktop and it gives him fewer problems than his new laptop does – especially since he upgraded the laptop to Windows 10. The old PC even runs an 2005 era old genealogy program that Windows can’t use any more.

If you decide to eschew a laptop and go with a desktop, you have to be careful what you buy today though. Many low cost consumer grade desktops – especially those in “small form factor” i.e. tiny cases – are little more than laptops in disguise. They have mobile processors, small motherboards, laptop style power supplies, and limited space for upgrades or additional cooling. If you plan to buy a desktop, I would advise getting a full width commercial grade desktop from a good manufacturer. You might still have to upgrade the power supply if you want to add in a better video card – I had to do so with my Acer Veriton desktop. Otherwise it has excellent specifications and quality components.

If you are building your own desktop you can spec it out to suit yourself. I did that with my Linux box and even with a supposedly inferior AMD quad core processor at the heart of the machine, it flies.

My desktops do everything you’d expect – surf the Web, do office work, play videos, music and games, and they do so with power and speed. They are better in every way to a laptop except if I want to travel. I do have a laptop to take away with me, but I could probably get by with a tablet for those occasions. As a senior I do probably 95% of my computing from home and a desktop is the obvious solution. The big keyboard,  23 inch screen and the excellent speaker system featured on each desktop are just icing on the cake.

The Lion in Springtime


In human terms a cat year of life averages out to about 5 years, but it isn’t that simple to calculate. Cats mature far more quickly, and so it transpires that in the first year of existence kittenhood is left quickly behind and it’s headlong into adolescence (approximately age 15.) The next year takes your kitty pal up to approximately 25 in human terms. After that a cat ages pretty much on a 4 to 1 yearly basis compared to a person.

Senior cats are usually 13 or older and even then they can be pretty frisky. A cat always has a “never let ’em see you sweat” mentality and hence clues of life threatening disease or very old age are subtle. Most of the time it’s only the last week or so – when they won’t eat or drink – that you really know the end is in sight.

Mr. Oates is a week or so away from his first birthday so he’s now a teenager. He’s grown quite a lot in just 4+ months and we are pretty sure he’ll be a solid medium sized male – a middleweight class bruiser. Not as big and formidable as Sammy but heavier and stronger than the wisp that was Brio.

And oh my, the Glory Days of a young cat. I had forgotten what that’s like. Oates has boundless energy still – he hammers his mouse wand toy every morning and evening and he can jump to the top of a bedroom closet shelf without a second look. His orange coat gleams and his coppery eyes sparkle with mischief.

He’s a vocal fellow – not quite a Siamese but he gets his point across when he wants something. He loves his cat treats and they better be ready for him every morning when you get up – or else. He appreciates his creature comforts – when we saw him at the shelter he had laid claim to a cat bed, so we accommodated him with a similar one here. He likes the sunny mornings at the south side of the house and then it’s off to the spare bedroom and his bed in the afternoon.

He’s not a real lap cat. He will hang out with you but he doesn’t cuddle that much until bedtime. Then he’s a definite bed guy – especially with Maria who is his favorite person in the whole world. He cuddles up close to her face, and when she’s had enough he comes down and snuggles right behind my knees like a hot water bottle. It’s not a bad thing in November.

He loves to be brushed with an old bristle hairbrush, and grabs a bag of catnip while it’s going on.

He’s not quite the greeter cat (yet) that Sammy was but he’s not running away from the grandkids any longer. Well, maybe Susannah still can jerk his chain a bit.

Oates had a very tough act to follow here coming into our lives after one of the greatest companions that ever graced a home, but he’s on his way.

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