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Music I Like

The first type of music that captivated me when I was growing up was folk music.  I listened to it on radio and television.  I bought records by folk musicians.  I went to the local folk festival every year.  That was at the time when folk music was popular.  Soon, however, it was replaced by rock and roll music.  The world had changed.  I went along, but half-heartedly.

Much later, I decided to educate myself in classical music.  I accomplished this by buying collections on CD.  These were often Naxos CDs, generally called “Best of” a particular composer.  I bought ones I thought I might like, and listened to them constantly.  Pretty soon they became familiar to me.  Pretty soon I began to like some of the music.  Like most people, I liked what I knew.  Of course, I thought instead that I knew what I liked.

I started with the simplest classical music, which also turned out to be the oldest.  I soon liked Handel.  Then I gradually moved on to other composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.  I began to like their music too.  After that, I moved on to more recent composers like Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, and Mahler.  I found I liked some of their music too.  Most recently I tried operatic composers, Verdi and Puccini in particular.  At every stage I discovered what I liked and what I didn’t like.  I’m sure my likes and dislikes will change as I educate myself further.

My favorite is now orchestral music.  I like all the Russian composers.  No doubt this fits with my temperament.  I like listening to classical music on CBC radio 2.  I appreciate the tasteful commentary and anecdotes that accompanies their musical selections.  If I wanted music without that, I’d just listen to a CD instead.

I like some operatic music, particularly from Verdi’s operas.  I do like some others as well, but I can’t appreciate Wagner.  I’ve tried, but it only sounds like men shouting to me.

I still appreciate hearing some folk music, old or new.  I also like some jazz, but only the oldest kind.  I’m sure I got to know jazz by hearing my parent’s music.  I also like some old country music, probably because it’s similar to folk music.  Most of the time, though, I listen to classical music.  My attempt to educate myself was clearly successful.


Happy Family

I was recently asked who I would choose if I could have a different mother than the one I have.  I don’t have an active imagination, so I could only answer that this was not possible.  When we are growing up, the only family that we know is our own.  We assume that other families are like our own.  We have no standard for comparison, not even the happy families that appear on television; these are fictional, after all.  If we have an abusive family, we believe that all of them are like that.  If we have a loving family, we believe that all the others are like that too.  My family was a complex mixture, but I have no doubt that both of my parents were doing the best they could do.  I can’t ask for more than that.

I was supposed to choose a celebrity to be my substitute mother.  I don’t follow the lives of celebrities, but I do know that many of them went through a series of marriages and divorces.  They often had several families too.  Those can’t be happy families.  The celebrity might be very wealthy, too.  Having that sort of mother didn’t appeal to me at all.

There is a well-known saying that money doesn’t buy happiness.  This is actually not true.  Just ask people who don’t have any money.  They will tell you that money will bring them happiness.  Here’s what’s really true: an adequate amount of money does bring happiness.  More money will not bring more happiness.

This revised understanding has more to do with the nature of happiness than with the nature of money.  Happiness and unhappiness are not mirror images, one positive and the other negative.  There are many degrees of unhappiness.  You can be somewhat unhappy or desperately unhappy.  There’s only one degree of happiness.  You are either happy or not.  You can’t be more happy.

So, once you have achieved happiness, don’t go looking for more of it.  You won’t find it.  It’s time to think about other people or other things in this world.


Windows XP Upgrade

What should I do with my Windows XP pro desktop, I asked myself.  It’s the only Windows machine on my home network.  I only used it occasionally, for software that only runs on Windows.  I used it to extract audio files from a casette tape, and to operate a slide scanner before that.  Now XP is no longer supported by updates from Microsoft.  Maybe I could upgrade it to a newer version of Windows?  I’d probably have to upgrade the hardware at the same time.  As I reviewed the upgrade costs, I soon found that path to be uneconomical.  What else could I do at a reasonable cost?

Replacing it is the usual solution.  People go out and buy a new computer when their old one stops working or becomes obsolete.  They get the latest Windows that way.  With my limited use, I really didn’t want a new one.  Then I hit on the idea of buying a refurbished computer.  It would come complete with a newer version of Windows.  All I had to do was to transfer all my files from the old one to the new one.  That sounded like a good path to follow.

I found a Canadian company that had a wide stock of refurbished business desktop computers, mostly from Dell and HP.  The prices were reasonable.  The one I chose had more memory and a faster CPU than my XP computer.  It was also newer and came with Windows 7 pro.  I ordered a small form factor HP model, just so I wouldn’t be getting another large box that was mostly empty.  I didn’t expect to add any components, but I was pleased to see that it had three low-profile PCI-E slots.

My new computer was shipped by UPS, arriving at my front door in about five days.  It included a keyboard and mouse.  The keyboard looked fine, although I didn’t use it.  The mouse, though, was smashed into many pieces.  I suppose I was unlucky, but I didn’t need another mouse.  The computer itself was in excellent condition.  It was about half the size of a conventional tower, but just as heavy.  It was quite easy to configure on my network.  Once I answered the usual questions that a new installation of Windows 7 asks, it was ready to go.

I used Windows easy file transfer to transfer files from my XP pro computer to my new Windows 7 pro computer.  The file transfer software was already present on Windows 7.  I had to download and install it on Windows XP.  I had already purchased a 32-gig flash drive to do the transfer, but I never needed it.  Both computers were connected to my home network.  Transfer using the network worked, so I used that instead.  It was pretty easy, although it did take several hours to copy 60 GB of data.  It copied all of my settings too.  My new computer looked just like the old one.  Even the SMB share from a non-Windows server on the network was there.

I’m quite impressed with the whole thing.  It couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  No doubt I’ll only use the new Windows 7 pro computer occasionally, just like the old one.  At least it will be supported with Microsoft updates for some time to come.  I shut down the XP pro computer almost immediately, and took it apart about a week later.  The replacement is complete!


Fat or Sugar

From the viewpoint of nutrition, all foods are the same.  Our body is remarkable in that it can build all the tissues it requires and power itself from any food.  Inputs and outputs balance, of course.  The input can be carbohydrate, fat, or protein.  The output can be exertion or heat.  Any excess input accumulates in our bodies as fat.  These facts are the background that we require to understand other viewpoints.

Looking in more detail, there are differences in types of foods.  Proteins need to be kept in balance.  We require certain vitamins and certain minerals to prevent disease and promote health.  As well, some types of food can cause disease, usually only when we eat them in excess.  Some types are implicated in heart disease or obesity.

Does saturated fat cause heart disease?  Recent research has challenged this strongly-held belief.  Three articles that I’ve read recently describe the origin of the belief and point out that evidence of a link between saturated fat and heart disease has mostly disappeared.  Some studies show no association whatsoever.  They also state that some unsaturated fat provides no protection, but that trans fats are linked to heart disease.

Unsaturated fat is not just one thing, but several.  I found three articles that describe the different types, although they focus on omega-6 fatty acid.  Just substituting margarine for butter may not be effective if the margarine contains the wrong kinds of fatty acids.

It does seem that sugar is the new villain.  Barry Popkin, an American food science researcher, and Robert Lustig, an American pediatric endocrinologist, have featured in many articles that I’ve read.  Robert Lustig is the author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar.  Most of the articles focus on the diabetes and obesity risk from sugar.  Some point out the high fructose level in soft drinks and fruit juices.  Even though fruit juice has a healthy image, it contains the same amount of sugar as soft drinks.

I conclude first of all that the links between saturated fats and heart disease are very complex, certainly more complex than we used to believe.  Spreading butter on your toast may not be a problem after all.  Margarine and vegetable oils are healthy too, provided that they contain the proper mixture of fatty acids.  Trans fats are looking like the bad guys; avoiding them seems like a good idea.

Excess sugar in the diet is a major contributor to obesity, mostly because the sugar is hidden.  We do need to reduce our intake of sugar, and food in general, and increase our activity in order to avoid obesity.


Boil Water Order

What a relief to drink tap water again!  What a relief to stop drinking boiled water.  What a relief to return to my routine.

A few days ago, I was at a meeting at a community centre when one of the employees handed us a notice from the city and told us not to drink the water.  The notice said that E coli had been found in several samples of city water, and that the entire city was under a boil water order.  That’s over half a million people.  We took this order quite seriously.  We didn’t make coffee for our coffee break.  I’m sure we all thought of the Walkerton incident, where several people died because of E coli in the drinking water.

At home after the meeting, I read about what had happened in our city.  Stores sold out of bottled water right after the announcement.  I started emptying my kettle into a glass container right after I made tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.  When it had cooled, I poured it into a plastic bottle that I kept in the fridge.  Even cold, the water had a wretched taste.  At least it was safe to drink.  The next morning, I got into a new routine of maintaining a litre of boiled water in the fridge.  I even used it to make a jug of orange juice from the frozen concentrate.

The next day, I read about a press conference that the city held the previous evening.  It provided some information, but didn’t answer some basic questions I had.  They kept talking about E coli, but exactly what did they find in the water?  How often do they sample our drinking water?  When asked about the cause of the high readings, they implied that they were either sampling errors or analysis errors.  What are the usual causes of E coli contamination?  They told us that re-sampling 24 hours later would tell us if we had a real problem.  They also said that hospitals had not reported any cases of gastrointestinal distress, the typical result of drinking water contamination.

That afternoon, the city announced the results of the second round of testing.  All samples had come back clean.  We didn’t have a problem.  Still, the boil water advisory remained in place.  The province required one more set of clean test results, 24 hours later, before they would lift the boil water order.  Like most people, I resigned myself to one more day of boiling water.  The next day, they told us what we had all been expecting:  tests were clean again.  The boil water order was lifted.

Our water comes from Shoal Lake in Ontario, through an aqueduct.  It is contained in a reservoir before being pumped into the water mains and water lines for the city.  It is chlorinated before entering the water mains.  That should be sufficient to kill any bacteria or other organisms in the water.  The pressure in the water mains is also a safety measure.  It should ensure that even with a leak, clean water will leak out but dirty water won’t leak into the water mains.  The city does sampling of water from domestic water lines once a week, receiving test results the next day.  Until a few days ago, they have never had enough high results to issue a city wide boil water order.

Apparently, what they found in the water this time was extremely low levels of coliform bacteria.  This is a class of bacteria that includes E coli.  These bacteria are usually not dangerous.  In fact, they are a normal component of everybody’s colon bacteria, and are always present in human waste and sewage.  There’s also a rare strain of E coli that has several numbers and letters after the name.  This one is often present in agricultural waste, and is dangerous.

Coliform bacteria in drinking water is an indicator that the water has been contaminated with sewage.  It’s not dangerous in itself, but dangerous bacteria or viruses may accompany the E coli.  It’s fairly easy for water wells to become contaminated, either through seepage or flooding.  That’s what happened in the notorious London pump incident of 1854.  It’s almost impossible for a pressurized water distribution system like ours to become contaminated.

I was quite alarmed when the city first announced this boil water order.  Once I got more information, and once I thought about it a bit, I was convinced that it had to be a false alarm.  I suspect that most people in the city thought the same thing.  Still, everybody respected the order and followed the instructions, at least for the first day.  Restaurants served coffee or tea, but no glasses of water.  It did turn out to be a false alarm.  Now we are all waiting to find out how such a thing could have happened to us.


URLs and Domain Names

I’ve watched the evolution of URLs and domain names from the time they were invented.  The latest versions of both of these show up in advertizing everywhere.

The URL is often called a web link or a web address.  They were invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 to fill a need apparent at the time.  Here’s an example:

The first part, `http’ indicates the protocol to be used.  Next comes the domain name, `’ in this case.  The final component, `/this/that.html’, is the path to the actual web page.  There’s also punction characters within and between components.  Tim wanted a format that could describe any data object available on the Internet.  URLs could be long and complicated for some types of data objects.  He intended URLs to be descriptions used internally by web browsers, but not to be visible to people using those browsers.  In fact, he said:

I had assumed, as an absolute pre-condition, that nobody would have to do HTML or deal with URLs.

Tim expected some higher-level system to supply the URLs that were actually used by web browsers.

What part of a URL indicates a web site?  At first, it was the protocol with its punction, usually `http://’.  People soon ignored that component, since it was always there.  Next, it was the domain prefix, usually `www.’.  People assumed it was always there even as web sites began to dispense with it.  Now people have adjusted to web sites that don’t use that prefix.  What’s left?  In all of the advertizing I’ve seen lately, it’s the top-level domain, usually `.com’ that indicates a web site.  Does everybody that has a `.com’ domain operate a web site?  I suppose they do now.

Judging by advertizing and by how people talk about URLs, most people want URLs to be as simple as possible.  I do too, although I do send long ones in e-mail messages.  People can just click on those, or paste them into their browser.  The protocol and the path were the first things to disappear, leaving only the domain name.  That also eliminated most of the punctuation.  Only the dots within the domain name remained.  Those are disappearing too.

Automation is the reason for some of these changes.  Web servers can change protocols and rewrite URLs, so that your browser doesn’t have to do it.  Links on a web page can specify URLs with paths because these URLs are indeed only used internally.  Web browsers can fill in missing components, so that you only have to type in a partial URL.  They can also offer suggestions, allowing you to type even less.

The new style seems to be long domain names.  Everybody knows that they have no spaces and no punctuation.  Every product and every project seems to have a domain name in this style now.  Let’s say your new product is `The New Fuzzy Widget’.  You only have to type `thenewfuzzywidget’ into your web browser to have it show the page at `’.  Of course, you still have to advertize your new domain name in all the traditional ways to get people to visit your web site.

No doubt the people who sell domain names will benefit by this proliferation of names.  They’ll be happy to sell you as many as possible.  It’s like printing money or selling real estate on the moon, except of course, you pay an annual fee for a domain name.

Now there’s a new scheme for top-level domains that proposes many more of them.  Apparently, it’s not very popular among domain name customers, although it is an opportunity for sellers to sell more names.  For millions of people who use web browsers, it’s just one more thing to remember.  They’d be happier with no top-level domains at all.  They seem to be satisfied with one country code, like `.ca’ for Canada, and `.com’ for everything else.

It looks as if what Tim Berners-Lee wanted is coming true, although perhaps not in the way he envisioned it.  URLs are certainly visible to web browser users, except that they are greatly simplified.  This change is mainly a result of the new style of domain names with minimal punctuation.  The concept of one domain name per organization has disappeared.


Computer Upgrade

A few years ago, I decided to try something different.  I’d never owned an x86 PC.  I was familiar with SPARC equipment at work.  I also had a SPARC workstation at home.  I ran Solaris and Opensolaris on it.  I wanted to learn about x86 PC hardware.  I wanted to know if upgrades were possible on these computers.  I even had thoughts of selling the upgraded computers.

I found a web site that claimed to be a liquidator of personal computers.  They had some x86 PC desktops at very attractive prices.  I began to make a few purchases from them, over a period of several years, learning as I went.  These were Dell and IBM desktop computers.  One I recall must have been somebody’s unsold stock.  It was an enormous Dell box that was mostly empty inside.  It asked me a series of questions when I first powered it up, finally giving me a Windows NT login screen.  I also bid on a few desktop computers from work, and took home some of them.  Almost everthing I bought needed an upgrade of some sort.

Memory was the easiest thing to upgrade.  It’s also the easiest way to improve performance of a PC.  The difficult part is finding the right memory for the computer.  Fortunately, most of the information I needed was available on the web.  Old computers often had only a CD reader and a small disk.  CD and DVD burners, and larger disks were available at reasonable prices.  They were even easier to install.  Often I needed to upgrade Windows to the current version.  I purchased upgrade kits or OEM versions, whichever was cheaper.  Windows is a major cost.

Along the way, I learned a few things.  I was impressed with how easy it was to replace components in x86 PC desktop computers.  You can always upgrade the disk or optical drive in these.  Replacements are relatively inexpensive.  Other components do have limitations.  I never upgraded a CPU, even though it would be easy to do.  That’s because the motherboard will only accept a few CPU models, none of which are much faster than the one already installed.  The motherboard also limited the amount of memory that could be installed.  Older motherboards could not be upgraded to have sufficient memory.  Some computers had non-standard components that were not available in the retail market.  I recall having to discard one rather nice computer because I could not find a replacement power supply for it.

Some components are available, but their cost is too high.  One is the CPU, of course.  You’d have to replace the entire motherboard to get sufficient performance increase and memory capacity.  In effect, you’d only be reusing the case and power supply.  That sort of upgrade is not reasonable.

I soon determined that the economics of upgrading old computers were all negative.  Even with the upgrade, it would still have a slow CPU, a part that can’t be upgraded cheaply.  Nobody would buy the upgraded computer when they could buy a brand new one for only one or two hundred dollars more.  It just doesn’t make economic sense.  Even if I got the old computer for free, it would still cost me too much to upgrade it.

An upgrade might make economic sense if you do it yourself, but only for low-cost components.  If you have a service shop do the upgrade, you will surely lose money.  Always compare the value left in your old computer to the cost of a new one.  Always consider the age of your computer.  Particularly if you have to upgrade the Windows version, your best option is generally to replace it with a new one.  Old computers are worth practically nothing.



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