Desktop Environment – 1970



This is probably the first photo I ever snapped with my Yashica Electro M5 35mm camera back in 1970. Notable I suppose for historical rather than aesthetic purposes. Here’s my desktop back then.

I didn’t do much real development work here of course. I would do that at the communal lab benches and then repair to my desk to write things up. I was close to the fridge in case of emergency hunger or thirst – and it probably gave a touch of privacy to the place where I sat.

Note how analog a scientist  was close to 50 years ago. Aside from notebooks, a stapler, box of Kleenex, my slide rules and of course my “Executive Yo-Yo” – not much there. No Computer screen, no laptop dock, no smartphone. In fact I don’t even see an old fashioned telephone. Back then we probably had a party line phone in the lab. Nobody could call in without going through the telephone switchboard anyway.

I think I took this photo after hours because my desk looks pretty clean. I would have locked up anything proprietary before going home.


My lab was just across the hallway from the analytical laboratory, where we could get those folks to test competitors’ products if needed. I never worked in there and was glad of it. Not my bag at all.

The analytical lab had the only calculator in the Research Department and it was a Rube Goldberg device with lots of gears and numerical wheels. If I recall correctly it was a Friden mechanical calculator.

Looking at this photo I see a water bath on the far left (maybe used to control temperatures on a refractometer), a couple of Soxhlet fat extractor racks, and a gadget for drilling holes in rubber stoppers. Never know when that might come in handy. 🙂

The Soxhlet fat analysis method was already close to 100 years old in 1970. Some food science testing never dies. My daughter learned about it at the end of the 20th century. Of course Near Infrared spectroscopy is a common alternative to the classic Soxhlet method today.

And now you know the rest of the story.




Once in a great while a person comes into your life that leaves you far more enriched and enlightened than you may have thought possible. Gerrit Willemse was such a person for me.

Gerrit had a long and distinguished career with Unilever Research and during that time was the project leader for a technical effort for Unilever Canada. it was an ambitious one:

  • to come up with a new process to make the special “hardstock” that makes Becel Margarine so special.
  • to do this work in Canada making use of our existing fat fractionating equipment
  • to pioneer a dry fractionation way of getting the hardstock (no solvents -greener.)

Gerrit supervised the project with the help of his colleague Rob Bons. Rob is on the right in the photo above. It went from laboratory to pilot plant in Vlaardingen, then to production trials in Canada. This latter part was where I came in. I helped facilitate the three plus trials in the Rexdale factory and at the end actually made some Becel with the hardstock. In the process I learned a great deal about the thermodynamics and kinetics of fat crystallization, how to control it through microprocessors, and how to analyse the results. It was a highlight of my technical life at Unilever to work with this brilliant yet eminently practical scientist.

We succeeded but at the end never went into full scale production, because of changing economics and Marketing’s reluctance to tamper with a product of such importance to the company.


After retirement Gerrit, Rob and I kept in touch by email and in 2009 Gerrit and I had a reunion in La Coruna Spain. Maria and I arrived by cruise ship. Gerrit and his wife Janny picked us up and we spent a fine afternoon at the campground where they were enjoying their fancy new camper trailer.


This afternoon is how I’ll always remember him.


Gerrit was more than a scientist. He was an accomplished photographer – both in film and digital — and had exhibitions of his art at many craft shows. He was a devoted husband and loving father. I remember how proud he was of the fact that his future son-in-law cared enough to ask him for the hand of his daughter Aniek in marriage. His son Joris is a successful IT manager.

In 2002 Gerrit was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of prostate cancer. He retired early because his prognosis was poor. Nevertheless he soldiered on for another 15 years with courage, grace and dignity. He lived to see his three grandchildren.

Gerrit passed away at the age of 69 on March 28, 2017. He will be sorely missed. Thank you Gerrit for your influence on so many lives. You leave this world a better place for your being in it.


The Scanner – Part Deux

So the scanner has arrived. It’s not made by Nikon or Canon – not even Panasonic. Its brand name is (wait for it) Jumbl. Jumbl is a company that markets different electronic gadgets that are no doubt made in China and co-branded for them.

No matter. The darn thing works pretty well. You can scan in high res in about 5 seconds. In fact the hardest part about the scanning was that we couldn’t find the old slides. Poor Maria spent an afternoon searching through the basement alcove and finally located them right at the front of a pile of boxes under the stairs. I was going to help but she soon got me out of the way.

So I started with a bunch of photo slides taken in May 1981 when I went to Geneva and London with Firmenich – my employer at the time. Here is the way the ski resort town of Zermatt looked back then.


Then I moved on to a bunch of slides taken in 1984/1985 – just before I switched to color print film.

Here are a couple of Cabbage Patch kids from that era.


And here is Sarah in historic Philadelphia ca 1985 – visiting the Liberty Bell.


And finally a picture taken at Sarah’s First Communion with her Nonna and Nonno.

Color slide film can have some weird color casts so I am sure I shall have to do some post scanning work to get every pic looking OK. But I am pleased with the results so far. I have scanned over 200 slides in an afternoon.

And I can’t resist ending with something from my own younger days. This is “Lucky”, our dog who lived from 1961 to 1976 – a photo here taken by my late stepfather Jack Selby that is over 50 years old if it’s a day. What a great pal Lucky was – to everyone.

Slide Scanning

What I learned about photography I picked up from my Uncle Howard. He used the ugly little Kodak Signet 50 (pictured above) for 25+ years and was living proof that it is not the equipment that makes the photographer. He could make that old manual fixed lens viewfinder just talk. I’ll never make as good images as he did.

Uncle Howard was a 35 mm color slide guy – Kodachrome mostly. So when I could finally afford a decent camera I followed his lead. Starting around 1970 and up until 1985 that’s how I took photos – first with a Yashica Electro M5 viewfinder and later on with a Nikon FE SLR. If it hadn’t been for the desire to have family vacation albums with actual prints, I probably would have used slide film up until the advent of digital.

As a result I have boxes and slide trays of stuff now going back close to 50 years – early work days, meeting Maria, getting married, Sarah’s early childhood. There are some photos I’m really proud of –


like this one from our honeymoon on PEI. Others, not so much. But it’s all there. Hundreds of exposures and they aren’t doing much good sitting in boxes in the closet.

Now I did make an attempt to digitize some of these images back in the day. In 2002 I bought a Minolta DIMAGE Scan Dual III film and negative scanner. I used it to scan a number of slides back then but I am not anxious to use it any further because:

  • The scanner was compatible with Windows 98. Minolta is out of business; there is no scanner driver for Windows 10.
  • There is scanner software that might work but it costs close to $100 Canadian.
  • The scanner scans in BMP format and I had to convert it all to JPG for viewing and upload.
  • The scanner is very slow in high res mode. It would take close to 4 minutes to scan one slide. I did most of my scans in low res 640X480 mode and that’s no good on a modern computer monitor.
  • Technology has improved a bit since 2002. Today’s slide scanners don’t need a computer connection. They put the scans on an SD card just like a digital camera would. They do a high res scan in 4 seconds, not 4 minutes.
  • A new scanner would cost only about $40 more than buying the software for an old one. No-brainer.

So I’m looking seriously into a new scanner unit. If and when it arrives I plan to re-scan all the stuff I did 15 years ago in higher resolution – then I’ll move on to the scads of slides still in the boxes. After that I still have to despeckle and color correct all that aging Kodachrome. But I think it’ll be worth it.




March Break


It was 30 years ago that we took our first family fly-drive holiday at March Break. Over the next 17 years it became an annual event – up until Sarah went to Guelph it was the three of us. After that we had 4 years of just Maria and me. Then Sarah rejoined us for a couple of years, skipped one, then finished with us in 2004.

At first we did the US Southwest – Texas and then Arizona. Then we moved further afield – 4 times to Britain, once to Amsterdam. In 2000 we visited New York City. Then we finished with a flourish – Paris (above,) then Brussels, a week long Italian extravaganza in 2003, and finally back to Paris to help Sarah polish her French for her government training.

Although we enjoyed all our experiences, I must say that travel on March break was a hassle. The airports were crowded, flights were costly and the weather often sucked. In 1993 we just managed to escape before The Storm of the Century and we went to the only place – Arizona – that didn’t get affected by that storm. Once we got stuck in Phoenix because our connection in Chicago was scrubbed by another snow storm. It was better if we went to Europe but sometimes it was still dicey getting away from Toronto.

Since we’ve retired we have gotten a bit more civilized. We try to travel in the shoulder seasons – May/October – and that way the weather is better for flying. Also a lot of our trips these days are by ship so we at least cut down on the amount of air travel. We also have longer holidays – no more cramming everything into a week.

I remember our first Texas holiday we tried to do too much and underestimated the size of the state we were visiting. I think we drove over 1500 Km that week – we hardly got out of the car it seems. Later on we drove less and enjoyed it more. In our European holidays we didn’t drive at all.

Planning wasn’t as easy before the Internet. I can remember buying week old copies of the London Telegraph at the smoke shop in georgetown – just so we could see what was playing in the London West End theaters. What, no Google?

Most of those trips were before digital cameras so I have a lot of photo albums that are bulky but fun to thumb through with our grandkids. It was fun to collect postcards and restaurant bills and put everything together in an album at the end of the holiday. The photo above was taken with my old Nikon FE and scanned back in 2002.

It sure hurts to look at my 30 year younger self though. Time has a habit of doing that to you.

The Diamond


The place where two independent railway lines cross – with no possibility of interchange – is called “The Diamond.” There is such a Diamond in the small town of Navasota ,Texas – where the north-south Union Pacific line crosses the east-west Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

And this unusual set of railway tracks attracted an aspiring  young model from Navasota and her photographer to get some publicity photos. Bad idea.

Things were going well until they spotted an oncoming Santa Fe freight. They thought they had moved safely out of the path but the young model simply exchanged one cause of death for another. She got out of the way of the Santa Fe freight all right; she didn’t see that she had simply moved into the path of a Union Pacific train coming the other way behind her. Her photographer was luckier. She was not.

Her name was Zanie Thompson. She was 19 years old, engaged and expecting her first child. All gone in the blink of an eye – and for no good reason at all.

When I used to take the CPR commuter train 40 years ago, there were posters in the Montreal West station that showed the danger of trespassing on railway tracks. They were titled – Short Cut to Destiny. That pretty much sums it up. A Diamond is sadly not always a girl’s best friend.

cww trust seal