Then and Now

It’s been 20 years or so since Sarah started university (21 actually) and it was around that time that both of us got online – me at home and she at Guelph. Internet experiences have sure changed a lot – especially for me as a home user. Let’s take a look.

Equipment to Get Online

  • Then – essentially a desktop or tower with a heavyweight 15 inch CRT screen.
  • Now- you name it – desktops, laptops, tablets, TVs, smartphones, door locks, washing machines, refrigerators…oy.


  • Then – a slow dial up at 28.8 Kbps at home; Sarah was connected to the University Internet backbone via wire. She got a blazing 1.5 Mbps.
  • Now – pretty much wifi over your local network. Speeds of 25 Mbps are routine. If you’re wired in you can easily get 130 Mbps with my ISP’s service. If I wanted to pay for it I could get gigabit speeds.


  • Then – mostly text based. We had email of course using a standalone client. Online we had forums and bulletin boards. You could make your own website if you were tech savvy and learned HTML.
  • Now – it’s the age of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, blogs, vlogs, WordPress – all making online presence easy and full of content. Point and click – you’re an Internet star. This blog – with a custom interface and my own domain – needs less than half the work my old website required. And frankly it is pretty much old school compared to what the millennials are posting today.


  • Then – the browser heavyweights were Netscape and Mosaic. Internet Explorer was just starting to become popular. You could still pay for browser software back then.
  • Now – IE has morphed into Edge and Netscape became Firefox. Google Chrome has come out of nowhere to dominate. If you use a tablet or smartphone you probably use an app to access your favorite site like Facebook.


  • Then – remember hierarchical hypertext search engines like old time Yahoo! ? Remember Excite? Remember Altavista? Gone like a soldier in the Civil War (Bang! Bang!)
  • Now – all you need to know is Google or maybe Bing if you feel masochistic.

Privacy and Security

  • Then – The Age of Innocence – maybe you ran McAfee scans once in a while to check for viruses.
  • Now -The Age of Paranoia – everyone’s out to infect you, scam you, make you part of a bot army, encrypt your data for ransom, hijack your browser, spy on you, steal your ID. You have firewalls, antivirus, antimalware, antispyware, antiphishing, VPNs, incognito browsing – and you still worry about it. Madness I say…madness. That reminds me – I should go check the spam filter on this blog. Only 8 spam comments. Pretty good for something this obscure. How do they find me?


  • Then – There was ricky-tick electronic stuff called MIDI which you could embed on your site to annoy visitors. MP3 was just coming into its own but you needed a lot of bandwidth and storage to get music that way. It was also illegal to pirate music, as many downloaders found out.
  • Now – stream, baby, stream. Spotify is amazing. I don’t think I’ve listened to a DVD in months. Not only can I play an entire album from 1967 by The Doors, I can play it anywhere in the house. “Break on Through to the Other Side.”


  • Then – sure thing, Sherlock. Even the college kids didn’t have enough bandwidth for video. Hardware wasn’t fast enough to render it, storage wasn’t big enough to store it, codecs weren’t mature. You want video in 1997? Go to Blockbuster and rent a cassette.
  • Now – did I mention stream,baby stream? YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix rule the Web. The US is ahead of Canada which seems strangled by regulatory red tape and the telcos / cable guys – but we do OK. Even the social media is obsessed with video – which you can make on a smartphone. It’s a new world out there.


  • Then – shoot your 35 mm film, get it developed and prints made. Put the print in a photo album. Stack up the albums in your basement.
  • Now – capture your photo in digital with a smartphone camera. Attach it to a message, or post it on Facebook or Instagram. Never make prints of anything. If you want to backup your photos locally you can put a zillion of them on today’s storage media. Maybe if you are a dinosaur like me you’ll have an actual digital camera.

Banking and E-commerce

  • Then- you’re kidding right? Try telephone banking if you are desperate.
  • Now – everything goes from paying your tax bills to buying a new pillow from Amazon.

Who’s Online?

  • Then – university students and some geeky early adopters. The vast majority got their news, did their everyday work, made financial transactions the same way they would have in 1950.
  • Now – A tiny minority (mostly in their late 80s) still live an off-the Net analog life. They find it increasingly difficult to do so in an era of 24 hour online access and activity.

I could go on but you must have gotten the idea by now. The last 20 years have revolutionised our everyday life. And artificial intelligence hasn’t even gotten started. Wow.





My First Build

It’s rather strange that after more than 40 years of working with computers, I didn’t actually build one myself until I was a senior citizen. And even that build was a bit unusual. To begin with I didn’t build it to run Windows. Second, my pre-construction planning wasn’t the best. Third, I added to it as time went on. But I was certainly happy with how it turned out. Even today as this home built desktop turns 4 (pretty old in computer terms) I continue to use it and be happy with it. It was a long and winding road though.

My story begins when I inherited an old XP based desktop after my parents passed away in 2009. I still had the old box in 2013 but by then XP was obsolete. I decided to rebuld the desktop with new components, reusing the case and power supply. The old machine had AMD based technology so I decided I would go that way again. Most of the basic parts came from Newegg – a well known supplier of computer hardware.

However as I began to disassemble the older system it was immediately apparent that the case and power supply were going to be woefully inadequate. The old case was big and heavy but was a bear to work inside. The motherboard was mounted in a way that I didn’t want to duplicate in a new build. The power supply was antiquated and weak. And the case lacked proper cables to connect things up.

So I had to do some scrambling before building. I went to a local computer store where I got a new case and power supply. My case (shown above) was more brutalist / gamer oriented than businesslike but it was the right size to fit on my desk, and featured 3 dimensional (convex) side panels that made it easy to run wires behind the motherboard. The power supply was modular – I only had to run the cables I needed and did not have to stash a bunch of unused cabling somewhere inside. Off to a better start now.

I splurged a bit on the motherboard – got a higher quality one than I arguably needed but it gave me all the modern features and future proofed me a bit.

The build was pretty easy. I used the stock cooler for the processor (didn’t try to fit anything difficult.) The processor I chose was called an APU – it combined graphics and computing technology in one chip. I didn’t have to put in a graphics card.

I added a hard drive and optical drive. I got 8GB of fast memory. After I screwed it all together and connected up the cables everything worked the first time. Amazing. I installed Linux and was off to the races.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. I installed in a wifi card to communicate with my router upstairs. I decided I’d be better off with 16 GB of RAM so I got another 8GB stick for dual channel operation. And solid state drives were coming down in price, so not long after that I added one to boot the operating system. I used the mechanical drive for storage of photos and documents. That was the first SSD I ever had. There was a convenient spot to screw it down in the bottom of the case. Cooler Master is a very thoughtful case maker. That SSD addition completed my build in 2013. Not well planned but it worked great.

A couple of years later I found that my graphics solution wasn’t all that well supported any longer by AMD – even in Linux – so I put in a newer discrete graphics card. This improved performance again – to the point that even with essentially four year old hardware my machine is fast and powerful. I expect with Linux I’ll be able to extend its life for another 5 years or so.

I was sorry I couldn’t honor the memory of my parents by re-using their old computer case. But I think of them every time I turn my first computer build on and hear that satisfying “beep.”

No Economy for Old Folks

I was reading recently that consumer spending accounts for 56% of Canada’s economy. How much of that is represented by the Boomers I don’t know. But we Boomers are all becoming old folks (both men and women) so if we are typical in our spending patterns it doesn’t look that good for future growth.

So what are some of the things consumers spend on and how do we personally fit into the pattern?

  • Shelter and Real Estate – this is a biggie but not for us. We have owned a house for many years, no mortgage and we have most of the stuff like landscaping taken care of. We might need some major repairs in the years to come like roofing and heating but that isn’t an ongoing thing.
  • Autos and Transportation – We have 2 cars right now (both older models.) We still can’t get down to one – not while we are in the sandwich generation. However we don’t put a lot of Km on either car. We don’t have to commute anywhere daily at least.
  • Food and Restaurant Fare – Nothing fancy. Maria is a demon bargain hunter when it comes to groceries and as far as eating out goes, we can have lunch in a local family restaurant or take the grandkids to McDonald’s once in a while. That’s it.
  • Clothing – we can get our “foundation garments” at Walmart and other things at the Hub – our thrift shop in Almonte. I suppose I bought some slacks a few years ago at Mark’s Work Warehouse. Don’t need fancy duds when you aren’t working.
  • Travel and Entertainment – We have had some cruise holidays over the years but those are mostly outside Canada. We didn’t travel at all in 2017 – not even to Syracuse NY. I guess we are getting into our “Go Slow” phase.
  • Health Care – some paid by our government health care but we have to ante up for dental, hearing aids and of course vet care for Mr. Oates. So far we can cope with that. I have some cataract surgery coming up but that shouldn’t break the bank. We have to plan for the future though.
  • Gifts – we can afford to be generous and we are. That sort of cash gift often gets saved or at the very least someone else spends it so we aren’t responsible for boosting the economy directly.
  • Electronics – our TVs and computers are old (the newest TV is from 2009.) I can fix a lot of stuff like old PCs anyway. No need to buy new, and with Linux a 10-12 year computer lifespan is normal. We have one smartphone which mostly gets used for talk and text.
  • Taxes and Pensions – Well can’t get away from that although we take advantage of the seniors tax breaks – certainly we pay less than we used to. We are receiving pensions, not paying into them.
  • Furniture and other stuff – we collected our art years ago. Our household furniture is still going strong and we can pick up the odd knick-knack at the Hub. Like most old folks we have more crap than we will ever need. Well, I did buy a new pillow the other day.
  • End of Life – got that taken are of, hopefully won’t need it soon. My grandfather bought our “final resting place” back in the 1930s and still lots of room there.

Sorry all you sales and service entrepreneurs out there. Unless you are selling geriatric stuff you’ll have to rely on someone else to keep you in business. Canada appears to have no economy for old folks, and there will be a lot of us in the years ahead. Maybe we could learn to gamble.


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