Last Year

One year ago today we were winging our way to Vancouver and thence to Sydney for our TransPacific cruise. One couple we met on that cruise is on their way back to Australia soon to repeat the first leg from Sydney to Honolulu. I wish them a great time.

For us, I think this one last year is our cruise of a lifetime. Unforgettable memories, even if they started on a snowy day in Ottawa.

Subtraction Wars

My grandson got a new deck of “Iron Man” playing cards on Sunday, so he taught me a new game called “Subtraction Wars.”

“You turn up a card and I’ll turn up a card. Mine is the subtraction card. The first one to figure out the answer gets to keep the cards. The Jack, Queen and King count as 10.”

“But Teddy, what if my card is a 2 and yours is a 4?”

“Well, Grandpa we’d have a negative number. Negative 2 is the answer.”

I was pretty impressed that a 7 year old was familiar with the concept of negative numbers. On that topic, Teddy is now Negative 4 in the teeth department, although he’s working to make it Negative 3. He made sure the 4th tooth came out here in Almonte, so that Nonna would add a positive amount to his piggy bank. The kid is nobody’s fool when it comes to number lines.

Degrees of Linux Geekdom

Linux is probably the best computer operating system you never heard of – but you do use it.

Linux is an alternative O/S to Windows for PC based desktops, laptops and servers. It rules the Internet – this website runs on Linux.

Linux is the basis for the technology of giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon. Half the Internet servers run on Linux and a derivative called Android runs on millions of smartphones worldwide.

However, as a desktop operating system Linux has been a relative failure. Only a tiny minority of PC users actually have Linux installed on their system. It’s a pity really – since Linux is safe, relatively secure, runs fast, can restore old computers to usefulness, can do just about everything Windows does, gives you tons of free software and above all is totally free to download and use.

We have to face the facts:

  1. You have to be somewhat of a geek to install and maintain Linux. Windows isn’t geek free either but at least you can buy a computer with Windows 10 installed and working.
  2. The naive Windows user doesn’t know anything but Windows and Linux will have a learning curve – steep or slight depending on how it is set up.

But how geeky do you have to be to be a Linux advocate and user? It depends. Let’s take a look.

Unlike the monolithic Windows, Linux comes in a variety of flavors, called distros. Each one may have a different look, feel, desktop appearance and degree of difficulty. I’ll outline a few from the point of view of the geek who would install it and the naive user who might like to surf the Web or write a memo with it.

Uber Geek Distros

Examples: Linux from Scratch, Gentoo

These provide a significant technical and maintenance challenge since you literally build every functioning part of the system from source code. You would have to be very experienced and knowledgeable about the design and function of Linux to get these systems working properly. I have not attempted to do this in close to 10 years of experimentation. I don’t know how a naive user would cope with (say) Gentoo but I don’t think the experience would be pretty.

Heavy Geek Distros

Examples: Arch Linux, Slackware

These provide the element of simplicity in design but not in use. To install (say) Arch you begin with a very simple system and add in what you think is necessary for your own purposes. It’s elegant and fun for a geek to do this. You need to have experience with the available tools in Linux plus know the Command Line (sort of the old DOS prompt way of doing things.) Slackware is a bit more complete in its makeup, but it isn’t easy to install and maintain. I’ve played around with both of them and enjoyed them, although if something breaks I’m often at a loss about how to fix it. The documentation is great for both of these distros so Googling or using their Wiki helps a lot. A naive Windows user would probably hate the lack of graphical tools and the instability if they tried anything new.

Moderate Geek Distros

Examples: Debian, Fedora, Open SUSE

These are the parent distros for some of the more user friendly consumer based ones out there. They do have a variety of graphics based tools and friendly software managers, but often they don’t contain so called “non-free” software needed for such Windows based activities as playing MP3s or Flash videos. You often find that certain wifi adapters don’t work out of the box with these distros and it can be a pain to install them as a result. Once installed they are pretty solid. A naive Windows user would probably be OK with these systems as long as a geek wasn’t too far away. Personally I like Debian as it can be installed easily over the Internet (with a wired connection if needed.)

Mini Geek Distros

Examples: Ubuntu, Linux Mint, PCLinux OS, Mepis

These are the ones you find at the top of the list to install and use as a new Linux geek. They have very user friendly installers, lots of graphical tools to add new software or drivers and generally they’ll do what you want out of the box. Even experienced users like these distros, because they just work and you can get on with things like the Internet or office applications.

These are best for naive Windows users as well. There is always a bit of a learning curve but a new user can figure it out pretty fast. Certain distros like Linux Mint aren’t that far from Windows in initial look and feel. If you use Firefox or Google Chrome on Windows, you’ll feel right at home browsing the Web with Linux Mint or Ubuntu.

So what’s a geek to do? Although I have had a lot of fun with Arch Linux and I love it, I have Linux Mint on all my machines right now. It’s a lot easier for family members who tend to be Windows users most of the time. Being a geek only takes you so far.






On The Beach

We finished up our port calls with a visit to Royal Caribbean’s private resort at Labadee, Haiti.

Labadee is a peninsula in a rugged part of the island. I’m not sure how the locals who work there actually commute; probably by boat as there don’t appear to be any roads over the nearby hills.

The cruise line uses this tender to take passengers over to the other end of the peninsula.

Dave, Sarah and the kids staked out a spot along with a couple of their friends from the Celebrity Fun Factory.

The younger set enjoyed the sand and the water while the old folks went for a tour of Labadee. It was HOT.

More sand and sea.

It was a fun spot for the passengers; not so much for the crew as they had to bring a lot of food and drinks on shore for the BBQ and other events.

Aside from the beach area the shoreline and surrounding area is pretty rugged. The nearby village of Labadie was settled in the late 1600s.

A view of the coastline right astern of the ship.

Too hot out here for me folks. There’s a cold brew waiting for me on Deck 14. See ya later.




Surprising Falmouth

Falmouth is one of the oldest towns in the Caribbean and one of its newest cruise ports. It was founded in the late 18th century as a mercantile port to export sugar and is one of the best preserved Georgian settlements in the world. It is said that Falmouth had running water before New York did.

We didn’t know what to expect from our visit there. Jamaica doesn’t have the greatest reputation for safety and security, so we decided the best thing to do was take an organized tour. We decided to go have tea at the Good Hope Plantation.

On our way to the bus we passed through the port area. It is pretty commercial but the people were friendly and helpful and the cruise line has done a nice job to put it together.

All set for a bus ride.

After about a half hour drive through the country we arrived at the Plantation.

Good Hope was built in 1755 as the home of Col. Thomas Williams and his young bride Elizabeth. Apparently she loved the place. It is about 80 meters higher than the surrounding valley, has a great view and was relatively cool compared to the valley below.

Sadly Elizabeth contracted malaria and died in 1762 at the age of 24. Her grave is just inside the entrance to the house.

Maria was the very friendly and knowledgeable guide who showed us round the property and got us settled in the patio for tea.

Here’s the patio. This is not my photo so unfortunately you don’t get to see all the tea, scones and sandwiches we got later.

Good Hope was later owned by John Tharpe, who constructed this Counting House behind the mansion for dealing with business affairs. Tharpe apparently had a safe room in this blockhouse in case of slave insurrections, but he was quite an enlightened slave owner (if that’s possible.) In any event he was never the target of any revolt.

This is the main kitchen for the house. It was separate to avoid the heat of cooking fires and the threat of fire itself.

Here are the ruins of an even older house that was here before the building of Good Hope mansion itself.

After a nice cup of tea or Blue Mountain coffee, some sandwiches and other goodies, we walked back out through this lovely mansion to our bus and headed back down to the valley and back to Falmouth. It was a lovely day all in all and we enjoyed our visit to Falmouth very much.


The Tender Trap

One thing you can be sure of when you visit George Town Grand Cayman – you ain’t tying up to no dock, baby.

Grand Cayman doesn’t want to spoil its sea views with a bunch of cruise ship quays, and besides that they have a nice little industry and lots of employment in tendering passengers to shore.

Tendering is usually ranked about as high as Nor’easters on my cruising agenda , but it’s different in George Town, The ship didn’t bother even lowering its own tender boats and instead hired the local boys.

Here’s a local tender. They are big and hold a ton of passengers so there’s no lineup or bumpy ride to shore.

Sarah, Dave and the Kids decided to go swimming with stingrays but we thought we’d just putter around downtown George Town since the last time we were there it was Ash Wednesday and the only thing open was a rum cake store. It was different this time. Every possible sort of luxury watch and diamond store was open this time. All you needed was money. But we were after T-shirts and oven mitts (don’t ask.)

I couldn’t resist another picture of fabulous Fort George. Hopefully the Spanish aren’t coming back to retake Grand Cayman.

No snow or ice in this parking lot.

More crazed passengers were arriving so we headed to the souvenir shops. As usual, Maria got a good deal – even some Stingray City shirts.

We dropped into a local United Church for some shade and spiritual refreshment before heading back to the pier.

One of the other cruise ships was using its own boats to tender. These babies are crowded and bumpy so I was glad Celebrity was being more sensible.

I suppose it could have been worse. At least we didn’t use this craft to tender.

On to Falmouth!

A Day In Cozumel

The first time we visited Cozumel in 2011, we didn’t try to do all that much. It was hot, and we walked from the pier into San Miguel, did some shopping and then walked back. This time Sarah was determined to do something different so she planned a trip to Chankanaab Park for us.

As we got ready to go we saw other cruise ships coming in, so I wasn’t sure how busy it would be at this park. However we had agreed to come along with Sarah, Dave and the kids so off we went.

As we left the ship, Teddy and I walked down the pier hand in hand with the following conversation in progress:

Teddy : Where are we going now, Grandpa?

Grandpa: I’m not sure Teddy. Your Mom is handling the details today.

Teddy (in disbelief): But…she used to be your KID!

Grandpa: Yeah, but she’s the boss now – so we better just follow her.

We took a 7 passenger van out to the park and it turned out to be quite a lovely spot. In addition to the beach area, they had this nice lagoon to look at tropical fish.

As well there was a cool and shady botanical garden.

Then we wandered through a Mayan building and statues area.

And finally we went back to the beach to see how the sunbathers were doing.

Teddy wanted to watch the folks swimming with dolphins, so we went over there.

He wasn’t all that anxious to get close to an iguana, though.

We finished up with watching the younger set get wet all over again in the pool.

By then everyone had experienced enough sun, sand and sightseeing for the day and we had to get back to the ship. We got another taxi and were soon back at the pier and safely aboard.

Here’s a look back at the pier area as we prepare to sail away. On our way to George Town next!

The Gateway

We’ve taken a few cruises in the Caribbean or across the Atlantic, and most of them have started in the gateway port of Fort Lauderdale/Port Everglades. This one was no exception.

It’s a busy spot for sure. The Sunday when we embarked there were 5 ships in the port – Princess, Holland America, two Royal Caribbean including the massive Allure of the Seas, and our Celebrity Silhouette.

We arrived the night before to make sure we didn’t miss our sailaway. Hotel space was at a premium (and expensive) but we had booked in advance to stay at a hotel quite close to the port. We had time to hit Walgreen’s for necessary pharmacy items and a local Mexican grill for burritos. The next day we had breakfast, walked around a bit, went back to Walgreen’s and then got the shuttle over to the ship.

Susannah came with us as we headed back to Walgreen’s one more time.

Once aboard, we had our lunch and wandered around the upper decks looking across the water to the other ships such as the incredible Allure of the Seas.

Then it was time for lifeboat drill and Teddy had to try out his life jacket.

After that we were on our way. Next stop Cozumel!




Pirates of the Caribbean

It surely is a fantasy world, a one week cruise in the Caribbean. After a huge snowfall, you drive through freezing rain to the Ottawa airport. A few hours later you are walking around in shirtsleeves in south Florida. The next day you are off for a week of hot, humid island hopping. Then it’s back to Fort Lauderdale, into the airport and presto! – you return to more ice and another snow dump. It’s hard to believe that one week ago we were shopping for T-shirts in George Town, Grand Cayman.

It was fun though. We had some quality time with the grandkids who enjoyed the Fun Factory on the ship as well as being with the old folks. The two older ones slept in our cabin so we were up early every day. And the ship (Celebrity Silhouette) was familiar to us. It was our second time on her, and we’ve had 5 other cruises on two of her sister ships. In fact it’s pathetic when on the first day you know exactly where to go to get the bread pudding without even a second thought.

Here’s our water taxi in Cozumel.

I plan to write a little bit more about our cruise in the coming days. It’ll probably take me longer to write about it than it was to experience it, but that’s how it goes when you live a fantasy life.

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