50 years on: what’s the same and what’s different about computers and technology?

Recently, I wrote a post about what’s the same and what’s different about heading off to university 50 years ago versus now. The 50th anniversary of having graduated from McGill had been the catalyst for this thought process. Shortly after I wrote that post, I had an email out of the blue from a former colleague of mine at IBM in the UK from some 47 years ago. We hadn’t communicated since then; wow, that’s a lot of catching up to do! That got me thinking about what computing was like in the late 60s, and how much has changed since then. Those changes make changes in university life seem pretty trivial by comparison.

When getting ready to leave home for university, one of the things my mother determined I needed was a portable typewriter. She was convinced that I wouldn’t be allowed to submit the many term papers I’d be writing in hand-written form and that a typewriter would be essential. As it turned out, I didn’t have many term papers, being in science, and those I did have could be submitted in hand-written form, but my university readiness kit did indeed include a typewriter. Also among my going-away must-haves were my booklets of log tables and trig tables, critical for making calculations for math and for science experiments. Oh my, how things have changed! Both of those “technical” aids have gone the way of the dodo. Continue reading

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Thanksgiving, refugees, and revisionist history

First of all, writing about Thanksgiving in early October rather than late November may seem strange to those of you not in the know. Thanksgiving is a national holiday in Canada, and is held on the second Monday of every October, as opposed to American Thanksgiving, which is held on the fourth Thursday of every November. [Of course, Americans call their American Thanksgiving just “Thanksgiving” and for those very, very few Americans who even know that Canadians also have Thanksgiving, they would call it Canadian Thanksgiving!]

As is the case with all Canadians, I am getting ready for Thanksgiving, planning for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and, yes, spending time thinking about all that I have to be thankful about. It’s in the air; the harvest here is almost at an end, the leaves are turning rapidly, and the decorative piles of pumpkins and swaths of chrysanthemums everywhere are a stark reminder that Thanksgiving time is indeed here, even though it is extraordinarily warm and dry for this time of year.

Aside from the usual preparations, I have spent some time digging into the historical roots of Thanksgiving in Canada. And the reason I’m doing so may surprise you. It surprised me. My quest came from a chance encounter with a new friend.  This year I have been paired up with a delightful young Syrian family in our community, one of thousands of Syrian refugee families that have been welcomed to Canada, and one of a few hundred that are now enriching our small community in eastern Canada. I spend about two hours with them every week, helping them practice their English. We talk about all kinds of things, from grammar to cooking to how to help their older child succeed as he starts kindergarten. Each week we spend some time going through the materials they have studied at our community Multicultural Centre, learning the English language together with Canadian customs and traditions in an impressive and effective blend of lessons. Continue reading

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Regarding the Las Vegas massacre: too angry to mourn

If you have very strong views about the “sanctity” of being able to own as many dangerous weapons as you want, including automatic ones, you should not read this post. You won’t like it. But for the rest of the world watching on, seeing yet another example of the unnecessary carnage that results purely from open access for weapons, listening to the words of comfort, as if this couldn’t have been completely avoided, is too much to bear. The hypocrisy is just too hard to take. What do you mean, “This is a time for unity, not the time to talk politics”? Unity for what?

Yes, this is the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history – since less than 16 months ago, when 49 people were shot in cold blood in a nightclub in Florida. The headlines should more honestly have read, “The worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history, until next time”.

Yes, this shooter may have used more “sophisticated” automatic weapons, with faster firing speed, than ever before, but the Pulse nightclub shooter still managed to kill 49 people the old-fashioned way.

Yes, as the graphs of the U.S. number of homicides by gun versus all other free democracies in the world show (available in many U.S. and non-U.S. newspapers today), the difference is staggering. And those graphs don’t break down the numbers by category to remind us of the scope: murders, mass-shootings (a “special” kind of murder), suicides, and the accidental gun deaths by guns, such as toddlers accidentally shooting siblings, parents accidentally shooting their children, homeowners “accidentally” shooting people unknown to them who come to their door looking for help, or police shooting innocent people because of the underlying fear that everyone they encounter has a gun. Too many guns. Everyone fearful. A bad combination. And in so many cases, entirely preventable. Continue reading

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50 years on: what’s the same and what’s different when going off to university

This is a year of anniversaries for me. Fifty years since I graduated from university. Fifty years since we were married. It seems like yesterday, but at the same time it’s got me thinking about what’s the same and what’s profoundly different. (It’s also useful to try to think about things other than the state of the world, at least from time to time!)

We live in a university town, very close to campus. With the start of a new school year a few weeks ago, cars with out-of-province license plates started arriving back in town, some of them parents bringing students to residence for the first time and others returning students arriving to rented digs with friends.

It’s been 54 years since I was one of the kids being driven to my first year in university by my parents, but as those of you close to my age will appreciate, I remember it all so clearly. What’s the same and what’s different? Well, many aspects of getting ready to leave home in a big way for the first time haven’t changed too much, except for styles. Other things have changed dramatically, mostly having to do with how technology has transformed our lives, after decades of there not having been that much change at all. Continue reading

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JFK and my mom both would have turned 100 this week: how much has changed, how much has not

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born 100 years ago this Monday and my mother, Clare Wood Currie, was born 100 years ago this coming Sunday. When JFK was assassinated in 1963 – the shot that stunned a country and most of the world – my parents grieved. Someone bringing so much hope, tragically cut down in his prime, leaving a country to mourn. They were not to know that their lives would be cut short as well, my Dad in 1965 and my mother in 1974. Though obviously the loss of my parents did not change the course of history for many people besides immediate family and friends, they share the status of remaining in my memory at the age at which they died, just as JFK has remained forever in people’s memory as the young president with so much potential. As well, they share the era in which they died.

My Mom, Grand Central Station, 1945

I have often thought about what my mother would have to say about what has changed in the world since 1974 and what has not changed. Needless to say, technology has changed in extraordinary ways. People can communicate relatively cheaply and frequently (aka incessantly) through Internet- and broadband-enabled media. We can be entertained on HD screens of all sizes, all the time. We can shop online, bank online, order food online, make travel arrangements, you name it. This has allowed us to connect better with each other – if that’s what we choose to use the technology for. It also allows people to invade your privacy.  It changes business models, putting some operations out of business while spurring new ones … I suppose just as previous waves of technological changes have done. It was JFK who challenged the U.S. to go to the moon, and in those days the computers they used wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful as a MacBook today. Continue reading

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Why are some blog posts so much more popular than others?!

Like many bloggers – call us recreational bloggers – I write for myself more than for a readership.  After more than 5 years in the blogosphere, some years writing my heart out and other years trying to wean myself from spending too much time at it, I have come to learn that having a platform for sharing my thoughts or experiences from time to time is important to me. As I explained in one of my past blogs, for me, to write is to think.

Of course, when you’re writing, you are writing for an audience, whether it’s an essay for your teacher, a long message to your friend, posts on the blogosphere, or articles or books for the greater reading public. One question that’s probably worth asking as a blogger is: what posts attract your readers? This may or may not matter to you as a writer; to a large extent you may be, as I am, writing mainly for yourself. However, it’s still an interesting question. In my case, looking for that answer muddied more than it clarified. It turns out that many of my personal favourites are clearly of no interest to the casual reader, while others that I wouldn’t have expected to generate more than passing interest have become impressive draws. How do these things happen?! Continue reading

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On Mother’s Day, life lessons from my mother-in-law

Mother’s Day, 2017. Considering that I had more time with my mother-in-law (38 years) than with my Mom (28 years, until her untimely death), it seems fitting that, along with my own mother, I think of our family’s Mum/Grandma/Great Grandma on Mother’s Day weekend. To be honest, what made me think of her last night was the wooden spoon I use for stir-frying. I pulled it out of the drawer, took a look at the worn-down, stained, even scorched spoon and thought of her. It looked just like her spoons, not to mention many of the other items in her very well-used kitchen.

As I age – rapidly, it feels like – I am reminded more and more of Mum. The way I wear the same few clothes over and over again remind me of Mum. The way I wear the same shoes year after year, rather than getting new ones (except for sneakers, of course!), remind me of Mum. The way I don’t want to throw away my (very) old pots just because they’re discoloured remind me of Mum. The way I find myself stuffing a Kleenex in my sleeve (despite questioning remarks from the males in my family) remind me of Mum. The interesting thing is that we (my husband and I) always noticed these practices of Mum, and we always spoke of them affectionately but with a slight shake of our heads. But now that I have reached the stage of life that the media likes to call “senior”, I not only get it, I find myself following the same path. Continue reading

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