Always Behind the Times

Back when I first got online in the mid-1990s, it was a dial-up, text-based, forum heavy, low graphics and weak audio environment.  We had Internet chat rooms for spontaneity but that was about it.

I wanted to set up my own little corner of the Internet with a personal website, and one of the ways to do that was with a big website integrator called GeoCities. That’s how I got started. Later on, I outgrew the hokey GeoCities format and set up my own site on Delphi Forums. To do that I had to learn HTML and FTP, write my own website code and upload graphics. I got good at the basics and actually was about to get into Cascading Style Sheets (the latest website craze) when I discovered that all that complicated stuff had been superseded by the Content Management System. A good example of a CMS is WordPress which powers this blog. I was behind the times.

Turns out to make a decent website all you had to do now was install WordPress or Drupal on your domain, choose a suitable theme and Bob’s your uncle. I think you can find my old website here, but It’s pretty messy and a lot of the links are dead. It’s ancient history really.

So I got my own domain, installed WordPress, got a nifty little Blog theme and all was well. Well, it was until somebody moved my cheese again.

It seems that blogging as I do it – post the odd pic, write a bit of text – is now as dead as the dodo when it comes to Web hipsters. Now we have Social Media, hashtags, podcasts, YouTube, Twitch streaming, Instagram. You need to do all that stuff to make a buck it seems.

Alas, I am not about to start streaming video nor sharing smartphone photos. Even if my little blog theme isn’t sold anymore, it still works and I have fun writing the odd blog post. I don’t care if it’s profitable or not. I don’t want to sell anything or make a career out of Almontage. And at my age, it’s easy enough to accept that I’ll always be behind the times.

 

Get Stuffed

Well, I have done it! It has taken close to a year but I have finally transferred all my blog images to my own site and domain.

For several years I hosted my images with Photobucket and embedded them on my own blog and elsewhere on the Internet as needed. I did pay a nominal amount and was careful not to abuse the privilege. However, Photobucket decided to shaft its customers and charge them hundreds of dollars for the privilege of so-called 3rd party hosting and embedding. If you didn’t pay the extortion, your images eventually would look like this:

We paying customers got a bit of a reprieve until the end of 2018.

This was really annoying since I hosted a lot of my travel photos and all my blog posts would be messed up. I had no choice but to go through each post and one by one replace the PB link with one to my own domain. And 350 posts later I am finished.

I learned a valuable lesson about Internet real estate. Plus I learned never to trust any photo hosting site. As far as Photobucket goes – I am outta there and they can get stuffed!

Update: To be fair to Photobucket they have now eliminated the silly graphics (they put a watermark on your photos though) and they have announced more affordable options than $399 US per year. However, I don’t trust them any longer and it just makes more sense to control my own graphics.

The Facebook Conundrum

As several of you know I write a little blog to share news and other stuff with family and friends. I started out using a commercial blogger site but after a while decided to have my own domain and blogging software. Doing this let me choose my own theme (look and feel) for the text and photos. Also, I avoid you having to look at advertising. I can also host my own photos to share here plus on other sites around the Web.

Now if you want to read my blog you can simply bookmark the web address (URL) or if you are geeky the blog entry has an RSS which you can read at a site like Feedly.

However, most of you likely follow the links posted on Facebook or maybe Twitter. And it used to be easy for me to set them up. I used a site called IFTTT (If This Then That.) I could set up a small recipe there that checked whenever I posted a new blog entry it automatically got shared on Facebook and Twitter. Twitter still allows this.

Alas, Facebook killed the IFTTT connection a while ago for security reasons (they say.) So I am stuck posting the link manually. One might expect that this would be straightforward but when I tried the text showed up but my picture did not. Instead, I got some Facebook placeholder graphic.

After some googling, I found a Facebook debugger site which helped a bit. Apparently, when you post a shared link on Facebook the site sends its own “spider” over to crawl your site and check that everything is OK. Mine was missing a bunch or O.G. (Open Graph) tags for my photos so they would not show up. Now what?

Turns out I had to install a new plugin called a Search Engine Optimizer (SEO) which fixes the problems. After I got this in place and working my O.G. tags were added and the photos started to show up on Facebook again.

I suppose if I used a commercial blogger site this would all be taken care of, and I wouldn’t have to geek it up to share something on Facebook. But then you’d be stuck looking at ads, and I wouldn’t be able to use my simple blog theme. Why does it always seem so hard to do easy stuff?

Sarah

Maria has advised me that I should cease my annual birthday tribute to the grandchildren when they reach the age of 10, lest my maudlin panegyric somehow embarrass them.

That said, Sarah has reached an age somewhat beyond that so maybe I should stop my tribute to her as well. Just not this year.

My responsibilities as nurturer, mentor and disciplinarian being long in the rearview mirror, all that remains to me as Sarah’s father is to have pride in her personal and spiritual development – as student, teacher, professional, wife, mother, faithful soul in search of sanctity. I continue to marvel at her boundless energy, love of friends and family and her dedication to Christ. She truly embodies that famous quote:

What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.

My darling daughter, I hope you can find a little time in your busy schedule tomorrow to enjoy your birthday. Maybe the Guardian Angels can work it out so you can.

 

 

 

October

It’s a month of contrasts – October. Early on, it’s only 10 days removed from summer and a sunny warm day can be a spectacular sight here in the Valley. Later on, as it segues into cold and gloomy November, you can really sense the chill in the air.

The baseball season winds down while the hockey and basketball seasons spool up. Football is in full swing but there’s a lot to be decided in October.

October marks some anniversaries of joy and sorrow,  Maria and I met in October. There are birthdays of Maria, Sarah and granddaughter Susannah. Also, there is the anniversary of my mother’s passing.

Now that we have retired I suppose we could take a holiday in October and we have – although usually we waited until the end of the month so we could miss a bit of November in a more agreeable clime.

Cool nights and late rising sun means that sleeping in gets easier – and that isn’t a big problem for a retiree. But it seems it’s dark too soon at night as we head for the Winter Solstice.

Tomorrow is the birthday of a beloved daughter and I can never mark the end of a baseball season without being reminded of that day. It was a wet and cool October 2 but I didn’t mind a bit!

All in all, October is a good month to be thankful – for the joys, the sorrows, the memories.

 

 

The Days of Film and Pixels

I’ve been a hobby photographer for at least 55 years. Forty of those years were with film and fifteen with digital and maybe 4 years of overlap. I have made images with paper backed roll film, 35mm slide and print film, various and sundry electronic sensors. I’ve used box cameras, rangefinders, single-lens reflex, compact digital with fixed zooms, bridge cameras, DSLRs, travel zooms. I have learned a great deal. And much of it doesn’t apply anymore.

So what conclusions can I draw from my days of film and pixels? Well…

  • I probably lived through the golden age of film. This would have been in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century. I know many Kodachrome devotees would say the golden age was earlier, but they didn’t have the good equipment. In 2002 when I got my Nikon F80 system both Kodak and Fuji made great films in slide and print format. They were getting faster and had better dynamic range, And my consumer grade F80 featured easy film loading, auto-wind, automatic focus, program mode, and superb flash performance. It was compatible with a huge range of excellent optics. And the whole film industry would go pear-shaped within five years.
  • When I started with digital equipment it was not as good as film for vacation or serious photography, but it is now. In fact, it’s better. On a 2006 cruise holiday, I took along a film body, 4 lenses and 24 rolls of film. I had to carry this heavy pack everywhere off the ship, worry whether I had enough film with me. I had to sweat whether the X-ray machines at the airport would fog my film. Then I had to get prints and scans of all my 473 images when I came back. And I didn’t know until a week after that whether I had anything worthwhile. By 2018, I was carrying a Lumix travel zoom the size of a deck of cards. I had more range, more low light capability, optical stabilization and way more image capacity with no film to worry about. I backed up the photos every day on my laptop and enjoyed them on the spot.
  • The giants of film technology might become the dinosaurs of digital. 20 years ago most people buying a new camera system were choosing between Nikon and Canon. But the big boys stumbled. Canon dominates the professional DSLR market today and Nikon is well respected. But they both misjudged the mirrorless market – which is on track to take over from DSLRs. Sony and Panasonic are the major players here. Panasonic is also the leader in compact travel zoom cameras – another growth segment.
  • Are we now in the twilight of the digital camera golden age? Maybe. A lot of younger shooters don’t want a separate camera at all – the one in their smartphone takes perfectly adequate images for texts and posting on social media. In fact, the smartphone does it easier, faster and more reliably. The smartphone has sounded the death knell of the simpler, cheaper compact digital camera. On my last trip I was one of the few people walking ’round with any sort of camera – and mine was lightweight and designed for vacation photography. The folks with DSLR kits were nowhere to be found.
  • And what of my personal digital future? Well, my DSLR is small and lightweight enough for use on family occasions and short trips. I don’t see the need to change it for a mirrorless system. I have a decent enough compact travel zoom, although I probably could use one with a bit better and larger sensor. But if I don’t get one I can live with it. The biggest photographic change for me is my own improved optics thanks to cataract surgery. I can see so much better to take pics that any camera gives now much better results.

The days of film are over. The days of pixels carry on.

Rites of Passage

I’ve written about this before – how for 50 years Labor Day marked some rite of passage in my life. Whether it was going back to school or university myself, Maria returning to her teacher’s job, Sarah going back to elementary school, secondary school or university – Labor Day indicated that change was here once more.

Now it’s less of a milestone – although the grandchildren are ready to go back, that’s more of a parental than a grandpa issue.

Now Labor Day marks the time of cooler weather (hopefully) and less crowded venues. It’s time for memories such as the one above from Labor Day 1982. And the fact that it’s been 22 years (!) since we took Sarah up to Guelph for her freshman orientation.

This year Maria’s sister Patricia will not be returning to school – she’s retired, and soon will be on her way to a Hawaiian holiday. She’s still sending kids off to uni though – her youngest just enrolled at McMaster. Rites of passage.

Tom

I first met Tom Abraham 50 years ago when I worked as a summer student (lab assistant) in General Foods Research Cobourg. I had the privilege to work closely with him for five more years as my food technology career got underway. Tom had a vital role in the transformation of a rookie chemist into a decent food scientist. Maybe *the* vital role.

Tom made his reputation at GF with the development and maintenance of Canadian Orange Tang – a different (and better product) and package than the jar-based US Tang.

However, he had an equally vital role as leader of the GF Research Taste Panel and custodian of the lab’s flavor library. Tom was quick to see my talent as a taster, my interest in learning more, and my insight into how important that was for a food scientist. I was soon invited to be trained in the GF Flavor and Texture Profile Method. This technical way of tasting was originally developed by consultants Arthur D Little and refined and improved by the scientists at General Foods Laboratories in Tarrytown NY. Once trained and tested I was invited to join the Taste Panel. We did everything from profiling new products to evaluating the competition.

A major role we had was to evaluate new flavors proposed to us by the flavor companies serving our market. Tom had us evaluate these products blind and give a rating. The highest ranked samples were placed in the flavor library, so if I needed say a peach flavor I could choose from the best. Tom being Tom he occasionally put in a zinger to keep us on our toes – like Naringin replacers.

Tom was funny. He had a devastating sense of humor and took no prisoners when it came to ego or status. Most people in the lab ended up with a nickname which wasn’t always flattering – Kiwi, Polish, Animal, Part Time, John Eskritti, Willard, Hairlip (he had a mustache.) Tom himself was The King – he loved Elvis. I had a couple of nicknames myself. First I was The Meddler because I got into civic politics on behalf of the Cobourg library. Later on, when I started going out with Maria I became Luigi.

Tom was a devoted family man to his wife Laura and their three sons. Maria was always impressed by how handsome these young men were. One of my best memories was being invited for dinner at Laura and Tom’s new place just outside Cobourg and later watching one of the Canada-Russia Super Series hockey games. A quick Google Search shows that to be September 24, 1972.

Later on, when I worked in the flavor industry I called on Tom as a client and I was pleased to discover he had just as good a reputation for fairness and impartiality outside the company as he did inside it. We never used our friendship for any commercial advantage – always treated each other with respect and decency. My firm didn’t get all the business but I never felt that we were dealt with unfairly.

In the early 1990s we lost contact after General Foods was sold and they closed the Cobourg Research lab. The last time I talked in depth with Tom was after he accepted a position in Tarrytown. I understand his kids stayed in Canada and pursued professional careers here. Tom and Laura ended up in Florida after he retired.

It was a pleasure for me to discover Tom’s son Stephen on Facebook earlier this year and through him to reconnect with Laura. Her first message. “So nice to hear from you again Ray – or should I say Luigi.” Some things never changed with Tom.

Tom and Laura were in Canada recently to attend their son Scott’s wedding. They returned safely to Florida. So it was shocking and saddening to hear yesterday that Tom has passed away.

RIP my old friend. This is one colleague who will never forget you.

 

 

Wait..Wait..She’s Eight?

The second decade of the 21st Century belongs to Veronica, born this day in 2010. It’s as significant in her life as the 1950s were to her grandparents and the 1980s to her parents.

As the decade winds down, Veronica leaves behind her baby years and her baby teeth (#8 lost yesterday) and embarks on the journey to the fine young woman she is destined to be. In grandpa’s biased opinion she is already a wonderfully kind and sweet girl – always looking out for the welfare of an older brother and younger sister, and making sure life is right and just for all – well, as much as she can as an eight-year-old.

She is also the McLean family’s cat whisperer. She looks after a crusty old tuxedo kitty at home and through patience and kindness has earned the undying love and trust of an uber-cautious ginger tabby at our place. He misses her when she goes home after a visit.

This week marks the annual Veronica International Birthday Festival – which started last Saturday with a birthday party, had a family get-together yesterday and ends today with a trip to a water park. I suppose when you turn 8 you deserve no less.

Happy birthday sweet girl – and it is Grandpa’s hope that we can have our very special friendship for many years to come.

 

Thirteen Years On

The way we were. 13 years ago today we moved into our new home in Almonte. The day before we closed the door on our 26 years in Georgetown – in the rain, with a few tears. After an overnight stay in Peterborough, we arrived.

Here’s how things look now.

We have been here the second longest length of time we’ve lived anywhere – long enough to get another gas grill and a new roof. We’ve known family sadness and joy. Our grandkids were born and are growing up not too far away. We’ve grown old.

But all in all, we’ve loved it here. The town is beautiful and historic. The air is clear, the skies are dark and filled with stars at night. We are close enough to an airport (or two) if we want to fly away and not too far from the US border if we choose to visit there. Maria is close to her mother’s place in Kingston. I am close to my Eastern Ontario roots.

There’s not much in the way of suburbia here – if you get out of town, you have the leafy countryside to deal with in every direction. It still delights me to have to do this. There are times when I still cannot believe how lucky we are to have our sunset years in a place with real honest to God sunsets.

Thirteen years on – and still going. Sometimes you just have to be grateful for blessings received.

 

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