Upgrading in 2020

I have done a lot of refurbishing and upgrading of personal computers over the years, but the parameters have changed lately.

When I first started out, my typical upgrade candidate was an older desktop with an obsolete Windows operating system. Usually it ran badly – the primary reason was insufficient memory. It was easy to open the case and pop in a second stick of RAM. Then I usually installed Linux. It was free, no licensing issues and for most folks it was just as good as Windows. Job done.

Things are different now. First of all the machine that needs upgrading will be an older laptop. A typical example is this HP 4730s from 2012 that belongs to my son-in-law. He used it in his business for years but he recently got a new machine. This one was handed over to the kids. But did they want to use it?

Most desktops are worth upgrading but not all laptops are. Some were cheap and underpowered when new, and aren’t worth the effort. This HP Probook is a different matter. It is big and heavy but solidly built. It has a decent processor and a 17 inch HD screen. It was even running Windows 10.

Its major problem was (as usual) barely adequate memory capacity and a slow mechanical hard drive. with Windows and all the security programs it needed, the laptop was taking about 3 minutes to start up. The kids hated it. Who could blame them?

Turns out the laptop was very easy to work on. I didn’t have to tear it apart to get access to the memory slots and hard drive. Bonus!

I had a spare stick of laptop RAM here, so I put it in. This increased the memory capacity to a maximum of 8 GB. Not bad. But it really needed a new solid-state drive.

A 500 GB solid-state drive is pretty cheap these days. I got an entry-level ADATA one from Amazon. After removing the old drive and installing the new one, I decided to go with Linux Mint for the new operating system. The kids won’t care – they use Chromebooks at school and Linux Mint is pretty similar. Plus LM is lighter weight and faster.

I kept the old mechanical drive as is so if my son-in-law needs to retrieve any data from it he can do so.

Everything is working now and the 8-year-old laptop runs like a new machine. It starts up in less than 20 seconds, and programs like Google Chrome launch in under two seconds. Even an impatient kid will be happy with that. Linux provides all the kid-friendly apps like Steam and Spotify – just like Windows.

The main difference between upgrading now and 10 years ago is that you’ll likely have to work on a laptop, and the first thing you’ll want to do is get rid of the old hard drive and install a solid-state one. memory upgrades are still good, but not as essential.

Anyway, the old Probook has a lot of life in it now, and the kids will have another machine for homework and games. They might even want to learn about Linux someday – who knows?

Two Score and Eight Years Ago

48 years ago today, Maria and I embarked on what is arguably life’s greatest adventure. We are still on it, thankfully.

“White lace and promises” as the Carpenters’ song goes.

We’ve gone from young couple to raising our daughter to empty nesters to seniors with grandkids. And we did it one day at a time.

The world has changed from total analog to 24/7 connected digital. We didn’t even have a color TV when we got married; now we can stream video on a smartphone.

We are getting close to the magic 50-year mark. It’ll be 50 years this October that we met.

Through it all we have been best friends and true lovers. If there is one person I can rely on in this world, it is Maria.

With COVID we can’t go out to celebrate. I guess we’ll have to make do with take-out this year. Maybe things will be better if we get to the real half-century mark in a couple of years.

So happy anniversary, dear Maria and hopefully we’ll have a few more to write about.


That is what they call it now – camping off the grid. No water or electrical services available.

It might be in a state or provincial park, or in a Walmart or Cracker Barrel parking lot (if you have an RV.)

In the 1970s we used to go off grid in the Vermont state parks, Their pristine beauty and great locations made up for the lack of services. They had decent washroom and shower facilities but the campsites were rustic. A lot of folks used tents so we were grateful for the off the ground comfort of our Serro Scotty trailer. It would be hugely different today.

Back then: It was like being in a tent on wheels. The only electric lights we had were 12V powered from the battery in our car. The propane tank gave us cooking and limited refrigeration facilities. We had a furnace if it got really cold. No A/C obviously. Generally you went to bed when it got dark, although we had a Coleman lantern for outside use in a dining tent. Mostly all that did was attract bugs. We had no indoor plumbing, although we finally got a small chemical toilet for night-time emergencies.

Today: Judging from what a new Class B coach would be like, boondocking seems more like staying in a luxury hotel. You have your own wet bathroom with shower and toilet. The power supply comes from large Lithium batteries which run an inverter for 120V or 12V as needed. The batteries can be charged by the alternator in the coach’s motor, by a separate generator, or even solar panels. A/C is standard as well as heating. Fridges can run off propane or 12V. You can have an electric induction stove, a microwave, a flat-screen TV. Everything is computer-controlled from a touch panel.

Mind you, it will cost a pretty penny for all these modern conveniences. Even after inflation is taken into account, you would pay 5-7 times as much for a Class B motorhome than you would for a simple travel trailer like our 1970s Scotty. In fact, such simplicity isn’t really available in new travel trailers either. A typical 20-foot travel trailer in 2020 would cost twice what our old Scotty did (in today’s currency.) For that extra you’d likely get A/C, furnace, microwave, TV and a washroom of some sort. You’d need to provide a beefy tow vehicle as well – nobody’s hauling a travel trailer today without a big SUV or pickup truck.

Back in 1976 we used to drop off the trailer, set it up and then explore Burlington with our car. We took a few longer trips but it was mostly a point to point thing.

I think that wouldn’t be the case with a Class B since you’d need to drive your camper into the city. Probably we would just stay at the campground unless we went with tow vehicle – travel trailer. That said a Class B would be great for travel vacations. All self-contained, short wheelbase, easy to handle in hilly country. All it would take would be $$$.

But let’s face it folks. Life has passed me by when it comes to any sort of camping or RV travel. In fact, there’s no sort of travel I can do now. I don’t want to have a park model trailer parked at a campground somewhere in rural Ontario – I already live in cottage country, and I have A/C and washroom facilities right at hand.

Just let this COVID nonsense be over, and then point me to the nearest Holiday Inn.


I learned recently that Norm Fairbairn had passed away in January at the age of 94.

Norm was one of the giants I got to know as a young scientist at General Foods in the early 1970s.

He was born in LaTuque QC in 1926 – where his father worked as a plant electrician. Norm was educated as a chemist at Bishops University and McGill. After he got his Master’s degree he joined General Foods and spent his entire career there.

Norm was an expert on applied research, and it was his view that you couldn’t be a real chemist unless you were well acquainted with statistics and experimental design. Thanks to his influence, I was able to study this subject in detail during my GF career – especially when I worked in Quality Assurance at the LaSalle Plant.

Norm was one of the first people to see the potential for microcomputers and had an Apple II in his office long before personal computing became popular.

He was a quiet and cerebral person, and I admired him greatly. I’d like to say that I tried my best to be the kind of scientist he was.

After Norm retired in the early 1990s he moved out to Alberta to be close to his son and family. He was a fanatical fly fisherman and loved the Rivers in Jasper Park.

Norm had a long and productive life – both at work and play. It was my privilege to know him. RIP.


Grab and Go

It’s welcome news for many that Ontario is moving to stage 2 of the COVID-19 reawakening.

Soon it’ll be possible to go into a shopping mall, get a haircut, maybe associate in groups of 10, even go to church if the capacity doesn’t exceed 30 percent.

Restaurants will also reopen – sorta. Up until now, they were takeout only. Come this Friday they will have limited dining options. No sitting inside. Outdoor patios with social distancing. Wear a mask when you order – I assume you’ll be able to remove it when eating. The servers will be wearing PPE of some sort. Tim Horton’s is planning to reopen 1000 stores where you can scoff your coffee and donuts out in the parking lot.

I don’t know how you feel about dining al fresco, but it never has appealed to me. Aside from heat and humidity, there’s the probable presence of yellow jackets while you try. I don’t even like eating outside in my own back yard with these nasty little critters around. A patio in a parking lot next to the drive-through doesn’t turn my crank either.

Years ago when Maria and I were dating, we used to go get a burger at the local Harvey’s and eat it in my car. But there were no indoor tables back then at Harvey’s. Are we going back to the 1970s?

The net effect of this type of dining out is that you’ll have an experience akin to the doctor or dentist. You’d have to be pretty desperate to avoid home cooking to roll this way. It’s one thing to pick up a grocery order in a parking lot; it’s quite another to sit out there and have dinner.

Hopefully, this second stage doesn’t last too long, although I’ve heard that it might be September before indoor dining out becomes a reality. Ah for the good old days of last February.

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