It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…

When you’re 70 it’s hard to imagine what life was like when you were 20. As David Crosby said famously – if you remember the 60s you probably weren’t there.

In 1967 I was in my 2nd/3rd years of my university undergraduate degree. For the summer I worked on a construction gang poring concrete for bridges on Highway 401 east of Kingston. And I listened to music. Lots of it.

The Summer of Love marked the convergence of a lot of trends in music – rock became mainstream, the stereo LP took over from the 45 (at least for me it did.) AM top 40 ruled the airways but FM underground broadcasting was a growing trend. And over it all was Psychedelia – pot, LSD and rock n roll.

Let’s go back and look at some seminal LPs from 1967. I owned some of them (they are in bad shape today.) I repurchased a few as digital remasters on CD. And they are available in all their streaming glory on Spotify right now.

Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles

If there is one LP everybody who was young in 1967 would remember – well, this is it. Sergeant Pepper marked the evolution of the world’s most famous rock band from popsters to serious musicians. We often hear of other groups who made their “Sgt. Pepper” LP – like Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), the Stones (Beggars Banquet) or even U2 (Joshua Tree) – but the Beatles did it first.

SP was also one of the first “concept albums” – it introduced the fictional Lonely Hearts Club Band, Billy Shears, and Ringo as front and center vocalist. It was designed to be played start to finish. It featured the Mellotron and all sorts of novel recording effects. It’s a masterpiece.

My personal favorite cut – “A Day in the Life.” This one isn’t for beginners though. You need to warm up by listening to “A Little Help from My Friends” and “Lovely Rita.”

Buffalo Springfield – Again

Buffalo Springfield are arguably more popular now then they were in 1967. At the time they had made a couple of LPs and they were in the process of self-destruction – you know the story. These days BS are more famous as the starting point for Stills and Young, plus Richie Furay who went on to Poco and the country rock scene.

Buffalo Springfield as a group didn’t do much on this album – it’s largely individual solo efforts by Steven Stills and Neil Young, backed up by a bevy of their musical friends and the great LA studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. What’s notable is how psychedelia was creeping into the Buffalo Springfield straight ahead folk-rock. It’s well worth a listen for history’s sake.

My favorite cut – Young’s “Mr. Soul” – a minor hit in the summer of ’67. Neil still plays it in concert. Dark and powerful.

Disraeli Gears – Cream

Now we’re talking. This LP was playing everywhere I went on campus back in ’67. Every one of my artsy friends had it, and a few of my more serious science buddies.

Named after a mispronunciation of the gears on a 10- speed bike, Disraeli Gears was the ultimate underground LP. It got limited airplay on prime time AM but it was a staple of late night underground shows and FM rock.

Baker, Clapton and Bruce feuded all the time but they really had their musical act together here. Pure psychedelia – it sounds as great today as when it was recorded. Clapton’s guitar licks sound rather mainstream today but they were a revolution in 1967.

My favorite cut – I bet you thought I would say “Sunshine of your Love,” but no. “Tales of Brave Ulysses” is the one I always liked best. Still do. Listen to Bruce’s powerful bass and vocals, Clapton’s wah wah artistry, and Baker’s drumming that ties it all together.

Insight Out – The Association

Gotta put one in here for the progressive rock/ easy listening fans – and in 1967 nobody personified that any better than The Association. This six man group was ostensibly a standalone band, but on their studio albums they did the vocals and most of the background music was provided by the fabulous Wrecking Crew. Hal Blaine of the Crew played drums on something like 40 #1 pop hits – amazing!

Anyway this album is a great listen – wonderful harmonies, great arrangements and flawless instrumentation. And some great radio hits. Get the remastered version if you can. It never sounded as good as it does today.

My favorite cut – “Windy” without a doubt. Heard it so many times in the Summer of Love.

Surrealistic Pillow – Jefferson Airplane

Gracie Slick is 77 now – but she was something else in 1967. When Gracie joined Mary Balin on lead vocals the Airplane really took off.

In fact when they did concerts, the guys in the band would warm up the audience without Gracie. Then she’s make a grand entrance right through the crowd, and get up there and sing “White Rabbit.” Left the audience breathless.

As the Beatles were to UK Psychedelia, the Airplane was to the West Coast pop scene. Surrealistic Pillow is the best of the best. Maybe it hasn’t aged as well as Sgt. Pepper but that is because a lot of the Airplane sound has become a ’60s cliche – so identified with the boomers as to lose its power. But try it again in the remastered CD or on Spotify. It’s still where it’s at when it comes to Psychedelic Rock American Style.

My favorite cut – there are a couple of dynamite hits here, but I personally like “She has Funny Cars” – with its Bo Diddley beat and Balin/Slick duet.

The Doors – Debut Album

I wasn’t a big Beatles fan back in ’67 – they grew on me. But The Doors blew me away from the first time I heard them on the radio. Maybe it was because each of them was a great performer in his own right:

  • John Densmore – steady as she goes with the sticks.
  • Robbie Krieger – classically trained, slow hands, master of the blues riff or the power chord.
  • Ray Manzarek – in my view the best keyboard player in rock.
  • And what can you say about The Lizard King – artist, poet, anarchist and primal scream.

The Doors never had a bass player – Manzarek did the honors on stage with key bass – but a number of pros filled in the studio. Larry Knechtel helped out on this album.

They were such a tight ensemble, probably because they had spent so much time as a bar band before they hit the big time. Only Densmore and Krieger are still with us now. But The Doors were everything I loved about 60s rock. Still love them and they live on today on every classic rock station I know.

My favorite cuts – got two here – the rollicking, upbeat “20th Century Fox” and Morrison’s Oedipal masterwork “The End.” Ridiculous and sublime.

So there you go. Maybe you remember the 60s, and you were there. I certainly was, even if it was Fifty Years Ago.






I Don’t Normally Do Politics…


and as a Canadian it’s probably not my place to do so here. But I did watch the Inauguration yesterday.

The vision of America I heard expressed is not one I’ve experienced in my many visits there – including a pilgrimage to that most sacred place above.

My family mostly came to Canada from the USA – some as refugees after the Revolution, some following the railways in the 1840s. Many of these emigrants went back to the US for education or to have professional careers. A lot of my cousins live there today.

Maria’s family came from Italy in the 1950s and they are pretty much equally divided into Canadian and US citizens now. So we are a mixed up bunch.

Add to that the many great American folks I’ve met – in visiting the US, through online forums, on a bus in Italy, sitting beside them in a cruise ship dining room, or getting a ride to the airport and discussing their Thanksgiving plans with them. I love them all.

They seem to be bitterly divided right now. I have friends and relatives on both sides. It pains me to see it. I know who Sullivan Ballou was, and it also pains me to hear his memory and legacy booed because some people didn’t like the US Senator who invoked his words.

Pardon me if I don’t see all these great helpful, friendly, kind friends and relatives as victims of a dark and merciless System. Do they really see themselves that way?

Most Canadians have a great respect and admiration for Barack Obama. I do too – I think he’s a good and decent man, and while in the White House he, his wife and kids were a fine example of family life to many people around the world. I do hope that things will work out with his successor in time. I am willing to wait and see.

In the meantime I want to say again that I really love my dear friends and relatives in the US and I wish them nothing but the best going forward into the next Presidency. We non-American people are counting on you all to carry on the best way you can.


The Long and Winding Road


This past week I received the first payout from my Registered Retirement Income Fund. It marks the end of a 44 year history of accumulation and marks the decumulation and taxpaying phase of my personal pension savings. It’s the end of a long and winding road to be sure.

A RRIF is what you get when at age 71 or earlier you transform your RRSP to pay out regular annual payments. An RRSP is Canada’s equivalent of a US 401(k) or UK SIPP. I got started with an RRSP as early as 1973 – when I was 26. The “other” private retirement instrument – TFSA – wouldn’t exist for another 45 years, so it was never a part of my retirement plan.

An RRSP is tax deferred – you deduct your contributions during your working life and hopefully pay less taxes when you take out the income in your 70s. The taxman is still hanging around though waiting to get a cut of your income.

Today we see a lot of criticism of Millennials as being financially illiterate, economically challenged and risk averse. But looking back at what I knew then and the mistakes I made, I can hardly claim any better knowledge. For example:

  • I started out my RRSP by setting up an endowment insurance policy (gah!) and later on converting it to some brain-dead mutual funds which I eventually sold.
  • I did not stay long enough with any employer in my early years to get vested in a good Defined Benefit plan. Mind you it wasn’t like today when 2 years is enough to “vest” the employer contributions. In fact one of my employers didn’t even deduct anything for pension plans – and as a result I got nothing. At least a couple of the other companies gave me back my contributions with interest.
    One would think I didn’t lose anything with the employer who “funded” the pension plan for me – but I lost valuable headroom in my RRSP that I never got back – as a result I contributed less than I would have liked.
  • When I had to invest my own returned pension money in an RRSP I went to the bank and bought bond funds at a time when interest rates had started to climb and the value of the funds fell. No advice back in those days, or at least I didn’t pay attention if there was.
  • Eventually in my mid 30s I got a financial advisor and my RRSP was somewhat straightened out. However I didn’t listen to him all the time and at least once gave in to emotion and converted all my equity assets to fixed income for a while. Eventually I came to my senses before it was too late.
  • My advisor was a pretty good guy but looking back on it I am not sure every decision he made was in my best interests and that his interests were secondary.
  • I never consolidated my retirement and non-retirement savings with the same financial advisor so I missed out on some holistic tax structuring that could have been done.
  • Fortunately for me I did get a job with Unilever and had close to 20 years in a decent Defined Benefit pension scheme. My RRSP grew over that time – I was careful to maximize my contribution every year – and during my retirement years I didn’t collapse it to a RRIF until this year. But at the end of the day I probably could have done better if I had been smarter.

Today I would likely use a robo-advisor and start off maximizing my TFSA. And no insurance thank you.

In spite of all my stupidity, my RRIF can provide us with some useful inflation protection and possible chronic health insurance as we get into our dotage. So at the end of the long and winding road I’m glad I did something positive with what I knew at the time. Hindsight is sure 20/20 though.



Our Boy


He’s growing into a tall young man, leaving his small boy years in the dust. He’s almost 8 you know – will be in a few days.

Unlike his blonde and blue eyed sisters, Teddy is the most like me in physical appearance. He has some of my mental predelictions too – he is intensely focused on things that interest him, he’s a voracious and high functioning reader and he loves science. Unlike prickly, introverted Grandpa he is more like his mother – sunny disposition and optimistic, very much the extrovert. He wears his heart on his sleeve for sure, but he carries around a jokebook.

If you haven’t guessed by now, his favorite color is orange.

He cares deeply about his sisters, protects them and wants them to be happy. He takes it personally sometimes when they are not.

He loves his Nonna very much, and he is her special boy and always will be.

He is anxious to learn new things but at times he finds it hard to keep in “the zone.” His mom is working hard with the teachers to give him some strategies to stay focused for longer periods of time.

He really enjoys his karate classes but I suspect his intense 6 year old sister will eventually overcome his size and strength advantage – and then watch out!

Teddy is a kind and loving young boy and I wish him much love and happiness as he continues to grow into a man we’ll all be proud to know. Happy birthday Teddy!

Dear Mr. President


Your Inauguration day in 2009 was historic in more ways than one.


It was also the birthday of my grandson and first grandchild.

As Teddy celebrates his 8th birthday and as you leave office, I would like to thank you for your service to the United States and to the world.

Your presence in the White House has always exemplified the hopes I had and continue to have for Teddy – and for that matter all people of good will.

  • The hope that he will grow up in a world where peace and love drive out fear and hatred.
  • The hope that all people may have the right to decent health care without catastrophic loss.
  • The hope that there may be continuing understanding and co-operation between our two countries – that we may trade with and visit each other in freedom.
  • The hope that family life will continue to be the cornerstone of our respective countries’ well being.
  • The hope that honesty and decency will still count for something as Teddy becomes a man.

I’m not sure the way ahead is as clear for me as it was in 2009. Maybe I’ll need to lean a bit more on Merton’s Prayer of Trust.

Be that as it may, it has been a privilege to watch Teddy grow up during your time in office, and to have followed your progress as American President.

I know this is a tiny corner of the Internet in a small town in a neighboring country, so you’ll likely never get the chance to read this – but thanks again and God bless you anyway.

Better Off?


I read an RBC economics report about Millennials recently. The gist of the argument is that they are doing just fine – in many ways they have better economic opportunities now than their Boomer parents had when said parents were young.

I agree with a lot of the report – but the statement that Millennials are superior worker bee material because they grew up with computers, the Internet and mobile technology – say what?

The last truly computer illiterate generation – folks who need bricks and mortar banks with teller service, who pay bills by cheque or at the municipal office – these people are now in their 80s. Even this generation has exceptions – my mother learned basic dial-up and email and in 2003 she had a desktop you could run a small business on. She would have been 100 today.

From what I can see the early Boomers are pretty darn computer literate – I see lots of them texting and tapping on smartphones and tablets – even streaming video with a Roku or Google stick.

As for any Boomer who worked in a math/science job – those folks have had contact with computers basically since university. The first Apple II I saw in business was in 1980 – and the forward looking guy who used it was in his 50s then. Things have changed since punch cards and mainframes it’s true – but you had to keep up. So we did.

The Millennials are masters of social media and probably know more about Instagram and Facebook than the Boomers – but that is a life skill, not a technical advantage.

The other day I was having trouble with an ebook app. The tech service department at Kobo asked for a screen shot. It took me all of 5 minutes to figure out how to do this on a tablet, upload it to Google Drive. I already knew how to retrieve it from the cloud and attach it to an email. And I am a long way from being a Millennial.

In some ways trying to make the argument that Millennials are more computer savvy (hence employable)  because they can post a photo on Instagram is like saying that the early boomers were more work ready because they could drive a car with an automatic and power steering, used FM radio, or – for later Boomers – could program a VCR. Those are simply life skills of the age one lives in – that anyone can pick up if they want to.

Certainly I can’t argue that the Millennials have more opportunities to get out there, see and do things and become more rounded – with a higher Emotional Quotient than their parents. One of my nieces has worked at Walt Disney World and now is aboard a Princess Cruises ship on the Cruise Director’s staff. Her sister is getting her CPA but had a school term in Scotland.

The article makes more sense when it states that the Millennial generation has more women in it who are educated in Science and Mathematics, is more entrepreneurial, more diverse – and those things make for a better workforce. But more computer savvy – nah.


Good China

Probably there’s nothing in this modern world that labels you as quaint, eccentric, old school, a dinosaur – nothing quite as much as admitting you are a collector of fine china. That in fact you have a set of “good” china. Alas, we do.

We started back around 1975 – that was the time I got some money back from a Thrift Investment Plan I had to cash in when I left General Foods. We thought we’d start on a set of good china, and so we went to Birks in Pointe-Claire and got our starter four place setting of Royal Worcester Evesham.

Evesham was an old style pattern back then but we liked the fruit and veggies on the plates and the gold trim. We asked for pieces for Christmas and birthdays, put in a bit more of our own cash over the years. Now we have a 12 place setting with a bunch of baking and serving dishes. Even have some egg coddlers (don’t ask.)

And does this “good china” get used? Well – not much. The gold trim precludes heating the dishes in a microwave, and we are a bit queasy about dumping everything into the dishwasher.

This past Christmas we had a large family gathering and the good stuff stayed in the cupboard again. We used our everyday plates and cups and for extras we also have a complete set of 1980 vintage Johnson Brothers crockery that is dishwasher safe. Maria picked it up for a song at the charity shop where she works.

As a guess I’d be surprised if you could get 20% of what we paid for our Evesham set in an auction. Folks just do not set out good china, or entertain at home with it nowadays. Our daughter says she likes it so maybe it’ll be a reluctant heirloom for her in the not so far distant future.

Now everyday china – that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Sarah would take this stuff in a heartbeat – but that won’t happen any time soon.

This robust set of Royal Doulton Mayfair Lambethware is something we started to collect after I went to work at Lipton in the mid 80s. It replaced a couple of cheap Japanese stoneware sets that I ended up taking into the lab to use in product showings. It’s probably not worth much either but it gets used and abused everyday. After more than 30 years it’s still going strong

The classic Evesham pattern is still produced by Royal Worcester’s parent company and I believe in one of the last operating potteries in the UK. The Royal Doulton Lambethware is out of production but again you can pick up used pieces on the cheap if you need to replace anything.

And besides these three sets of English china we have a complete set of German crockery that Maria’s parents bought for her before we got married. And that doesn’t even count a bunch of Paragon teacups and Gibson teapots and Royal Doulton figurines that hang around our place. Dinosaurs and proud of it.



Afternoon Nap


Let’s face it – at the end of the day Mr. Oates is Maria’s cat. He loves her best.

He and I have our moments though. A key one every day is our afternoon nap.

Oates waits until he hears me pull down the blind in the bedroom. Then he rushes in meowing and hops on the bed.

He waits until I get an old comfy blanket unfolded, and as soon as I lie down and cover myself up he picks out a cozy spot just behind my knees. He’s a hot water bottle in a furry ginger tabby costume – not bad in these wintry afternoons. And so we doze off.

A catnap with an actual cat. Who could have imagined the luxury of it all?



Soren Kierkegaard famously said that life must be lived forward but understood backward. And there’s no better place to do that than in a person’s working career. I can look back close to 48 years now – more if you include my work in high school and university summer jobs.

Work in my dad’s store or as an office boy or construction laborer – those were jobs. Getting my degree and a couple of qualifying years enabled my profession as a chemist  and food technologist. I suppose there were days when my work life seemed like a Vocation – like the interview at Queen’s in 1968 that got me started at General Foods Research. My whole life seemed to turn in that one hour when I talked to Keith Torrie.

I think the whole concept of how you label your career is tied up in our old pal Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A job gives you the basic necessities – or at least it used to. Having a profession – even though it might not be a doctor or lawyer type with social and individual responsibility – gives some status and sense of belonging. And a Vocation brings out the self-actualization and self-giving parts of a working life.

When I felt I was making a difference in the lives of my customers – internal or external – that’s when I had a Vocation. When I used my math and science skills to create a new product it was certainly a profession. But when I had to deal with corporate politics, dumb projects, Theory X based performance management – well… that was a job. All part of the same career. Towards the end there was always more job than Vocation – so I got out as early as I could.

BTW this lovely little pilot plant above was in Baltimore and I had quite a few professional moments working there. It became a victim of corporate re-organization shortly before I retired. The plant it was located in is closed today as well. Jobs, professions, Vocations – all gonzo.

After 12 years of retirement about all I have left now is some elements of professional skill and the concept of Vocation. I use that concept to try and keep my friends out of computer trouble. And of course there’s the ongoing Vocation of Grandpa. I get plenty of opportunities to practice that. Saved the best for last.

When It Gets Personal

When a mass murder scene happens – as it does all too often nowadays – I can usually objectively detach myself from the situation. After all I wouldn’t normally be in a gay bar in Orlando, a night club in Istanbul, a Christmas party in San Bernadino, an elementary school in Connecticut, a theater in Paris.

Today was different. I’ve been in Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale airport many times, picked up my bags at that fatal baggage claim, stood outside the doors waiting for a hotel shuttle. I probably smiled and said hi to the very security guys who put their lives on the line today. It was only about 6 weeks ago that I checked in at Terminal 2 to go back to Montreal. The images are all to familiar to me.

Not only that but my niece was in Fort Lauderdale today. Her ship is still there – the port entrance was closed for a while. I didn’t know if she may have gone ashore on turnaround day and couldn’t get back – but she’s fine. Apparently today was a day to stay aboard. I don’t envy her the job of welcoming a bunch of jittery cruisers tonight.

I like Fort Lauderdale – a lot. It’s sad to see a cool familiar place be so messed up. And innocent people died today picking up a suitcase.

We can never be happy to see evil happen – terrorist evil or just plain old craziness evil. It’s worse when it gets as personal as it did today. Pray for everyone involved.

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