Grandpa’s Home

It was 1976. Trudeau and Levesque were debating the future of Canada. Jimmy Carter was squaring off with Gerald Ford in the US. Disco-mania and the leisure suit were rampant. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. And I finally realized a lifelong dream and got a grandfather clock.
It was hand built by my uncle’s old friend Luther Gaylord – Luther was about 68 at the time and had retired from a long career as a cabinetmaker. My uncles delivered it personally to my home in Beaconsfield. They’re all gone now, I’m an old man but the clock remains.
However, the heart and soul of the clock – a Kieninger A60 Westminster movement – had fallen upon hard times. It received an extensive rebuild and re-bushing in 1998, but after 31 years its plates were worn, its bushings were bushed, its cogwheels had all kinds of play in them, it didn’t chime all that well and lubrication by a local clock repair guy couldn’t fix it. After consultation with the repair expert, we decided the movement must be replaced with a new one.
So after six weeks, an order to Germany, some slight modification to a 31 year old pendulum and a week of test bed running, grandpa is back.
Luther was a sensible man with an eye for value, so he chose a reputable and established clock manufacturer for the original installation. Kieninger still makes new movements to this day. In fact it’s now part of the Howard Miller clock group. The fact that Kieninger is still around made replacement relatively easy, actually.
So here’s to Luther – craftsman and overall good guy. I’m sure he’d be glad to hear that after a heart transplant his good old clock is ticking like the well oiled machine it was, is, and hopefully will be.

Let It Be…Naked

Yeah, yeah I’ll admit it. Like most late 40s boomers I have a copy of “Let It Be” in my vinyl collection. However it’s never been one of my favorite Beatles works, at least when compared with “Sgt. Pepper” or the White Album. It’s got a collection of mostly great songs but it just didn’t sound like a Beatles concept record to me when I first got it. Never has. Until now.
I just received a copy of the 2003 remastered and re-engineered “Let It Be – Naked” and it blows me away. I know it’s a tricky proposition to redo a 1970 classic but it has been done beautifully. The sound is crystal clear, the murky Wall of Sound expunged completely. The between tracks chatter has disappeared. Two real pieces of crap are gone, replaced by the John Lennon composition “Don’t Let Me Down”. The order of songs is changed so that “Get Back” opens the compilation and “Let It Be” closes it.
The Beatles minus all the strings and voices sound like well, the Beatles – with an uncanny sort of basic energy that would be right at home in the New Wave to come 10 years later.
It’s probably naive revisionist history to assert that this is the “director’s CD” – the one the Beatles really wanted to make. After all John and George are dead, and we know how much Paul wanted to redo “The Long and Winding Road” without all the dreck. Maybe this remixed CD is a bit of a nod to Paul’s ego – but you know, he was right. “The Long and Winding Road” comes out as a thing of beauty when it gets naked.
I don’t think you could get away with such radical surgery on a truly great Beatles album like “Revolver” or “Magical Mystery Tour” but it certainly has worked with “Let It Be.”

Good Enough

I remember in the 1980s and 90s when PC technology seemed to be improving daily, there was always a reason to get a better computer system:
(1) Processor too slow or obsolete.
(2) Replace tape drive with floppy drive then mini-floppy drive then hard drive.
(3) Hard drive lacking capacity.
(4) Move from text to graphics interface.
(5) Graphics card or graphics interface obsolete.
(6) Monitor too small.
(7) Move from 14.4K to 28.8K to 56K dial-up, then broadband.
(8) Move from Windows 95 to Windows 98 to Windows Me to XP.
Finally, in my world the “era of good enough” arrived around 2001. A machine of that ilk is good enough to run office applications and broadband Net stuff – even Quick Time with enough memory. I’m not a gamer so an obsolete AGP video card is adequate. When Windows 98/Me became obsolete all I had to do was boost the memory on my old PCs up to 512 Mb. That’s plenty to run Linux or XP well. No need to buy a new machine to run Vista.
As long as my hardware holds out, I don’t see the need to ever get a new PC. Even if it doesn’t, I can search for a 2004-2005 era used one, or buy a cheap “ready to go” whitebox unit and install Linux on it.
It must really suck to be a mainstream PC maker these days. What can you offer besides a lame new operating system that really isn’t needed?

Hanging ‘Em Up

After 39 years in the food business, I’ve decided to retire completely.
After I left Unilever and moved to Almonte, I kept busy a couple of days a week working as a volunteer in a small fairtrade coffee company called Equator.
However it became a fairly large physical and temporal commitment and I really need to think about doing something else.
Yesterday was my final day at Equator and in the food industry, a career I began as a summer student in May 1968. It’s been a good run, but even “The Phantom” had to close eventually.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow?

This Goffin – King masterpiece was first charted as a #1 hit by the Shirelles in 1961. Since then it’s been remade a few times – by Carole herself, the Bee Gees, Roberta Flack, Laura Branigan, Cher, Melanie, Dusty Springfield, Joe Walsh, Bryan Ferry, Neil Diamond, Shawn Colvin, and Red Hot Chili Peppers to name a few.
But the best remake in my view is Dave Mason’s rendition from his underrated and out of distribution 1978 album “Mariposa de Oro.”
Late 70s purists will hate it; it’s one of the last of the great “Wall of Sound” hits before the New Wavers brought rock back to the basics.
However for those who appreciate the New Romantic sounds of the 1980s, this lovely recording is a must. It’s got it all: 12 string guitar melding into silky strings, electric organ, doo-wop harmonies, Mason’s straightforward vocal, a superb electric guitar solo, and a brilliant conclusion where the famous question is repeated a couple of times and then morphs into a bittersweet minor key. This great song by a great artist is available on “Dave Mason’s Greatest Hits” and is well worth a listen.

The Kids Are Alright

One of the cool things about getting old and having adult children is watching them make those lifestyle decisions you had to make 30 years ago, and vicariously reliving the moment.
Dave and Sarah have been looking for a house near Ottawa for a few months now. They wanted a place close to town with public transit available. They decided to concentrate on a community just east of downtown called Blackburn Hamlet.
This enclave of mostly 60s and 70s homes is quite self contained, closer to the city than similar locations in the west end and best of all – surrounded by Capital Region greenbelt. No new development means lots of parkland, but basically what you see is what you get- limited supply and high demand. Only about 40 homes a year go on the market.
After viewing about 10 homes, they saw one they liked. It was an OK two storey with 4 bedrooms. They tried an offer but a bidding war ensued and they lost out.
They continued looking and I must admit we were advising them to broaden their horizons. It didn’t seem that anything would come up in Blackburn Hamlet. Then about a week ago they got what they were looking for. Side split, 4 bedrooms, parklike setting – a real home lovingly maintained by the original owner. Their offer did the job and they are homeowners as of August 15. Well done kids. You showed me (again) that Father doesn’t always know best.

Still A Dinosaur

I’ve been using Nikon SLR film cameras for 25 years so you’d expect I’d have switched to digital with a D50, D80, or D200 camera body by now. You’d expect that, but you’d be wrong. When it comes to SLRs I’m still a dinosaur.
Oh I have a digicam alright. It’s a Nikon Coolpix 5000 from 2001 or so. Takes nice 5Mp pics for my computer or email. And it works with my older Nikon Speedlights.
However a DSLR is another matter.
First of all, there’s the question of crap getting on the sensor. That’s no problem with a sealed digital camera like the Coolpix, but dust and dirt is a fact of life with a digital SLR. Cleaning off the sensor is about as appealing to me as washing a speck of dust off my eyeball.
Second, a DSLR has a crop factor that effectively multiplies the focal length of interchangeable lenses. Almost every one of my compact and fast fixed focal length lenses gets hosed. My 50 mm normal lens becomes an 75mm telephoto. What’s worse, my 24mm wide angle becomes a 36mm equivalent lens. To get wide angle capability back with a DSLR I’d need to buy a 12-24 DX zoom lens – another $1200.
Third, my Nikon Speedlights are incompatible with a DSLR. I’d have to get a new one for $400 or so.
Finally, I’d need more CF cards, batteries, chargers and adapters to take the DSLR to Euope or any other overseas holiday.
Net cost to go digital with an SLR is close to $2500. That is a lot to pay just to do what I can still accomplish with film.
No, as long as 35mm film can be purchased and processed, I’ll stick with film for holiday photography. I just get a CD made from the negatives when the prints are made, and I’m all set with both analog and digital.

Achilles Heel

This post is being written and published wirelessly from a laptop running Linux – which in itself is a minor miracle of sorts.
If there is one area where Windows kicks Linux butt it is in wifi – especially if the wireless uses WPA encryption.
My son-in-law came over a few weeks ago with his XP laptop and wanted to connect to my router. I gave him the encryption passphrase, he typed it in and 15 seconds later he was connected and surfing the Web.
To get this Linux machine to do the same thing:
(1) I needed to get a proper PCMCIA card that is compatible with Linux. There are many wifi adapters that are not – you can usually wrap up a Windows driver so it’ll work with any given card but that takes a bit of programming. Or you can build a driver using Linux source code (assuming you can find it). In my case I planned ahead and bought the proper card.
(2) I needed to teach the machine to recognize the fact that my router is sending out WPA encrypted wifi information. Again some programming of configuration files in Linux was needed.
(3) I then had to tell the machine to get a local network address for the wireless connection when it starts up. More programming was needed.
Steps 2 and 3 required some additional research to figure out precisely how the programming needed to be done and where the steps were placed in the Linux configuration files.
The result is that a 30 second connection in Windows required a day or so of research and futzing around in Linux. And that’s with a wifi adapter that works.
Until Linux development gets this stuff sorted out better, most folks will just want to use Windows for wifi. If Linux has an achilles heel it is wireless.

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