Family Fog

I remember how sad I was when my Grandpa developed cataracts in the 1950s. His world got cloudy and blurry and then totally dark. He lived for 10 years this way.

And so it has come to pass for me – something I expected and now it’s here. My family has a history of cataract disease – my Grandpa, uncle Rocky, my Mother, and my Sister have had a bout of it. Now it’s my turn. But times have changed, thank God.

  • When Grandpa had the problem in the 1950s his case was hopeless. Inoperable. He could not have survived a 48 hour stretch of immobility in bed, his head restrained in a bunch of sandbags. Not in his 80s. So he went blind as so many other generations before him went blind.
  • My Uncle faced a serious operation in the 1970s but he made out alright. They removed the cataracts and his lenses and he lived the rest of his life with Coke-bottle glasses. But he could see.
  • By the time my Mother had this operation in the 1990s it was still surgery with stitches but they could put in a replacement lens. She had to be careful for a while but she was fine.
  • My Sister had her eyes fixed a couple of years ago with a pair of day surgery visits. That’s what I hope is in store for me. I don’t want my grandkids to worry the way I did about my Grandpa.

I had my consultation with the eye doctor this week. he asked me to describe my situation.

“Difficulty with reading road signs. Can’t drive at night. Glare bothers me.”

He chuckled. “An impressive list of symptoms.”

After he looked in my eyes with a bunch of bright lights he said: “Yep. You have cataracts all right.” No kidding, Sherlock.

Bottom line, I’m heading in on Nov. 7 to get my left eye fixed. If that works my right eye follows a month later.

I didn’t go for the deluxe Toric lenses. That may have corrected my distance vision but I would still need glasses to read. Instead I went for a minor upgrade (Tecnis lenses) to give me better contrast in night driving. Up here you need all the night vision you can get with deer all over the place. I’ll still have to wear glasses to drive a car, but after 30 years I don’t care anyway.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

 

 

A Twitchy Experience

I used to be a fan of streaming videos on YouTube, but all that has changed lately. I have become addicted to live streaming on a site called Twitch.

Twitch is now owned by Amazon and I got a free subscription to it because we have Amazon Prime for home shopping.

One of my favorite YouTube video makers switched over to Twitch and I followed him there. On YouTube he made a series of videos where he played a video game called Minecraft. However on Twitch he and his friends often live stream another game called PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG for short.)

PUBG is one of those multiplayer shoot-em-ups that are so popular with Millennials today. It is called a Battle Royale game – 100 matched up players parachute onto a god-forsaken Russian island where they have to find guns and armor and then shoot it out to the last person. It is frightening as heck for a new player – these folks are swept away in the first few moments after they land. The playing terrain keeps getting smaller and smaller and you have to keep moving or die anyway.

I would never be able to play this game well. but like many other voyeurs I find it very addictive to watch some one else go through the ordeal. There are various strategies you can try out. My favorite player doesn’t take it too seriously. He rides around in a car trying to run over other players, or circles the island on a motorcycle. He even tries a totally passive strategy where he hides and lets everyone else kill themselves. Once in a while he wins but most of the time he is happy to make it to the top 10.

He has a colleague who plays the game in squads of 4 or in duos. This guy is more skilled and aggressive and often serves as a team leader. He takes the game more seriously but doesn’t win all that often either. However he is very funny and makes lots of sarcastic comments about his opponents. Great mindless entertainment.

The other day neither of these streamers was on so I searched for who else I might spectate. And I discovered a whole other universe. The world of the professional PUBG gamer.

These guys have huge followings and when it comes to the game they have it all – skills, strategy, instinct.  They are Stone Killers. Assassins. They play in duos usually – a guy at the top of the game’s food chain can’t trust more than one partner to be good enough. They expect to win every game. They have attitudes like professional wrestlers. They know how to find the best weapons. They stalk other players like tigers. They are at the top of the PUBG leaderboards when it comes to wins.

Fortunately for new players the software that matches up a field of 100 players tend to seed these killing machines into very competitive games. A noob wouldn’t last a minute with these guys. I mean a duo like this will get at least 25-30 “kills” in a single game. They have the best playing equipment. They wear earphones to catch the slightest sound. They know all the tricks.

It’s hard to believe but folks like this actually make a living by streaming video game footage. Their fans subscribe to their channels for a small monthly charge and donate lots of cash to them. They play in tournaments and stream that on Twitch. Not your father’s video game experience to be sure.

Growing up I had a choice of real life careers. I don’t think I would have ever in my wildest dreams think that someone could have a career like this. Virtual mayhem. Go figure.

 

 

 

Life Begins for Sarah

 

They say life begins at …well you know. So for Sarah life begins tomorrow (October 2, 2017.)

I won’t say how old she is but she was born the year Elvis died and NASA launched Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. You can look it up.

We will be looking after our grandkids for a few days while she and Dave celebrate her milestone in New York City. It’s been a long time in the planning but they will get to see Hamilton. Not the city, the hip-hop history lesson.

Doesn’t seem all that long ago she looked like the pic above. Now her younger daughter is older than that. Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.

She hasn’t stopped planning though. Now she is busy with raising 3 active youngsters and even giving them one year of homeschooling (maybe more.) She is active spiritually in the Good Shepherd catechetical program for little kids. Active in her parish community too. I’m proud of her.

So my dear child of God, I wish you a happy birthday and many more. Always your Dad.

 

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.

Connection

  • 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.

Communication

  • 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.

Browsing

  • 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.

Websearch

  • 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?

Music

  • 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.”

Video

  • 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.

Photography

  • 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.

 

My Girl Turns 7

Yesterday (August 24, 2017)  was Veronica’s 7th birthday and she had lots of opportunity to flash her lovely gap toothed smile all kids her age have. Too bad you can’t see it here as this is more her Betty Bacall Look.

She wanted to have Apple Fritters as a special treat and how could we say no? I teased her a bit calling them Apple Critters and she was quick to correct me. She always is – just like her Nonna.

Sometimes you hear that the middle child gets neglected in a family. This will never happen with Veronica. She’s assertive to a “T” and she wants to make sure everyone has a fair share of mommy and daddy’s attention. Maybe she gets a bit more of Grandpa’s but hey…you’re only old once.

I still find her the sweetest and most affectionate of our grandchildren. She has a special spot in her heart for me and I for her. She is the joy of Gunther the tabby cat’s elder years. She feeds him, cuddles him and makes sure he can safely get on and off the couch beside her. She looks out for her older brother and younger sister with passion.

I think Veronica has inherited the musical talents of both her parents. She wants to learn dance and piano and yesterday she was busting a lot of moves in a dance oriented video game – racking up the points as she moved and grooved to “Barbara Ann.” But she’s also a demon karate student – although she’s not a big girl the schoolyard bullies better watch out!

She’s worked hard with her mom to become a proficient reader It didn’t come as easily to her as it did to Teddy but she’s doing well now.

Probably it’s not politically correct to say so but she is a girl’s girl. She loves her dresses and “princess costumes” from the Disney Store. She has a gutsy female character costume from Star Wars to wear for her weekend party when all the kids arrive.

Happy birthday sweet girl. I am sure you’ll be able to twist Grandpa around your little finger for as long as I am able to be twisted.

 

Statues and Values

There seems to be a lot of controversy about the presence of statues in our communities, and it’s not just about the Civil War monuments in the US. Cornwallis is having his problems in Halifax at the moment. But in our tiny community of Almonte there are a few monuments that aren’t going anywhere any time soon. They reflect the values and sentiments of the time they were set up in the town but so far they haven’t been controversial or divisive.

First we have our war memorial which was sculpted in the early 1920s by Dr. Robert Tait-McKenzie at the behest of the Alexander Rosamond family. Mr. Rosamond – Almonte’s primary Edwardian businessman – enlisted in the Army in World War I and was killed at the Battle of Courcelette in 1916. The statue bears a startling resemblance to Lt. Alex – so much so that it shocked his widow.

This one has 94 years of Almonte history behind it and certainly reflects the values of Remembrance, Courage, Sacrifice and Sorrow that marked the thought in town right after the War. It’s not the friendliest or most approachable monument though. The stone benches are more designed to hold wreaths than people’s bottoms.

A little more whimsical Dr. Tait-McKenzie sculpture. This one uses an old millstone with a bas-relief of his parents in the center. The bench is on the opposite side and gives a peaceful and tranquil view of the river above the falls. This one is from the 1930s and reflects Almonte’s industrial history, traditional side and family heritage. Totally non-controversial.

And here’s my favorite – a masterpiece by by Kansas sculptors Elden and Kim Tefft, it is a duplicate of the one in front of the University of Kansas fieldhouse. James Naismith, the inventor of Basketball, came from Almonte so it’s only fitting that he sits right downtown amid all the historic buildings. This one is fun, informal and welcoming – certainly the way we’d want to look at life in Almonte today.

Just a brief look at some ways that sculpture enhances rather than complicates our lives.

Cell Phone Roulette

We are nothing if not loyal to our wireless provider. That was the first service Rogers Communications ever provided us – way back in 1991 when they were called Cantel.

In the ensuing 26 years we had 3 – count ’em – cell phones:

  1. (1991-2000) Motorola bag phone – plugged into cigar lighter in the car and only worked there.
  2. (2000-2008) Nokia candy bar phone. We’d probably still be using this puppy except Rogers dropped their analog service and forced us to upgrade.
  3. (2008-2017) Nokia flip phone. Great for phone calls but little else.

So today we joined the 21st century I guess. Maria was up visiting my sister this past week and she discovered the convenience of instant messaging on Linda’s smartphone. She was going to try it on the flip phone. It supported it but all you had was an old numerical keypad that took three presses to get the right letter. You could probably write an instant message faster on a stone tablet with a hammer and chisel.

To make a long story short, we were off to Rogers in Carleton Place today and we came back with our 4th cell phone in 26 years – a Samsung Galaxy A5. Not the latest and greatest tech but it does have a nice display and keyboard and yes – she can send messages on it. She’s happy.

The Joy of Tampering

When Dave and Sarah got their HDTV close to a decade ago, they gave us Dave’s old RCA Standard Def TV along with this snazzy Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300 PVR. Since then the PVR and TV have graced our basement where Maria uses it to record soaps as a backup to our upstairs NextBox 3.0 HD-PVR. She often watches the soaps in SDTV down there. I don’t question her choice of soap viewing – nor of format.

All went well until last week the old PVR started to say “Disk Trouble – record and playback are not available.” Not a good sign. I tried to reboot the box and reformat the drive but no joy. All signs pointed to hard drive failure. It happens after 12 years or so. The tuner worked fine but Maria wasn’t happy.

Now this is old technology. Really old. I checked online and found out the hard drive was IDE/PATA – the old fashioned ribbon cable variety. Who has one of those archaic hard drives around today?

Well turns out I do. I checked my junk parts box and sure enough there was a perfectly serviceable 160GB PATA drive I took out of an old desktop PC years ago. Problem solved, right? Not so fast Mac.

I quickly ran into Ray’s First Law of Repair:

  • No matter how many tools you have collected over the years, you’ll never have the right one for the job.

The nimrods who designed the 8300 put three screws into it to hold the case onto the chassis. They were tamperproof Torx – and I did intend to tamper, believe me. I had to go to Home Depot and get a special security screwdriver set. An odd name don’t you think – because I was about to jailbreak the secure appliance. Anyway armed with this screwdriver I got the case off. Then I needed two more types of screwdrivers to remove the drive cage and free up the drive.

The rest was easy – just like replacing an old hard drive in a computer. Plug and pray, as they say.

Once I got the unit reassembled and hooked up, it started the reboot cycle – this time it flashed electronic messages like “HDD+” – which I took as an encouraging sign. When the reboot was finished, the recording capability was back.

Of course I had to reprogram the dam’ thing to record Maria’s soaps and I hope I did that right – we’ll see tomorrow. Old technology and the joy of tampering on a Sunday afternoon – can’t get any better than that.

 

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