Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Taking up a Cos

This might surprise you, but as a teenager, I used to idolize Bill Cosby.

Not the Bill Cosby of Cliff Huxtable fame.

Not the Bill Cosby of I Spy fame.

Not the Bill Cosby of alleged sexual assault fame.

Not even the Bill Cosby of Leonard, Part VI fame (gasp!).

No, I'm talkin' 'bout Cos'... the Bill Cosby of "Vooobah, vooobah, vooobah... ( ding!) NOAH!" fame. The Bill Cosby of Old Weird Harold and Fat Albert fame.  The Bill Cosby of Street Football and The Water Bottle fame.

Yeah, I'm talking standup comedian Bill Cosby.  Back when he was still somewhat funny.

When I was a kid, I had all his comedy albums.  200 MPH, To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With, Wonderfulness, and Why Is There Air? were all on heavy rotation on my ancient, school division surplus record player.  The Best of Bill Cosby never left my tape deck.

To say he was a big influence on my sense of humour would be an understatement, much like saying a man who's been struck by lightning is feeling a little under the weather*.  Listening to Bill Cosby taught me how to tell a story, and like Bill Cosby, my stories are generally stories about my life, idealized and embellished to a large extent, with a little bit of improv thrown in.

And I like to tell stories.  If you've known me in person, you've likely heard a few ad nauseum.  If you've been following my blog for any given time, you'll know this, too (albeit to a lesser extent).  And so, I have decided to take the advice some of you have given:  I am finally going to record them.

Seriously, friends and family have been encouraging me for years to record my stories, skits, and anecdotes, and for once, I'm listening to them.  I'll be doing a few test recordings over the next couple of weeks to see how I sound.  As I don't work from a script when I'm telling these stories in person (they tend to change and evolve over time), the recordings will also be done totally unscripted and unrehearsed.

Everything will be posted here, likely as podcasts.  Whether this will be a limited run or ongoing series remains to be seen, but I'll concentrate on getting the first couple out first before committing to anything.

*CJ's Note:  Yes, as a matter of fact, I did watch Dirty Pair: Project Eden recently.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Practical Retromoblogging II: Something Old Meets Something New

By special request, I'm posting an article I wrote for now-defunct retrocomputing magazine, 300 Baud (I also had an article in the first issue).

It's a sort-of companion piece to the original Practical Retromoblogging article I wrote back in 2009, which is also the second most popular article on my blog (second only to an article that included a passing reference to an English porn star).

I present, for your reading pleasure, the original unedited article.

Something Old Meets Something New

By Shaun M. Wheeler

Two of the most exciting computer enhancements I’ve bought in the last few years came to me via the Club 100 website.  They are the manly-named REX and NADSBox, respectively.  Both are recently released add-ons for Tandy’s nearly thirty year old Model 100/102/200 line of portable computers.

The NADSBox (designed by inventor/engineer Ken Petitt) is a modern replacement for Tandy’s aging Portable Disk Drive line. Connecting via the serial port of the Model “T” computer, it enables the use of common (and inexpensive) SD cards for mass storage.  It integrates seamlessly into most applications requiring a TPDD, works beautifully with Tandy’s TS-DOS, and (best of all) the SD cards it uses can then be read (or written to) by any PC/Mac with an SD card reader!

That, for me, was the selling point. It meant no more fooling with null-modem transfers, slow downloads off the net, or unreliable TPDD floppy reader apps on the PC. With the 512Mb SD card included with the NADSBox, it also meant not having stacks upon stacks of floppies cluttering my office, as all of my 200+ TPDD floppies fit on the card.

The NADSBox was truly money well spent. I’ve had mine for over a year now, and (at the risk of sounding cliché) don’t know how I ever did without it.

However, as good as the NADSBox is, it isn’t a hard drive.  Files must still be copied onto the Model 100’s RAM and used from there (there's also a command-line feature, but I have yet to try it out).  If you use a number of apps, you may find yourself running low on available RAM.

This is where Option ROMs came in.  Back in the day, some programs (or suites of programs) were released on ROM boards that plugged into the Option ROM socket in the back of the Model “T”.  The advantage to this is that software on an Option ROM was run directly off the ROM (and not copied to memory), thus saving precious RAM.  Many software packages
such as Tandy’s TS-DOS and Microsoft’s popular Multiplan spreadsheet were released as ROMs, and proved to be popular choices.

The disadvantage, however, was that the Model “T” could only hold one Option ROM at a time.  When you wanted to switch ROMs, you had to “remove” the link to the ROM from memory (in BASIC), then physically remove the ROM, put the new one in, then CALL it from BASIC.  Another disadvantage was the impracticality of carrying several tiny, flimsy, unprotected, easily lost ROM boards with you.

This is where our manly pal REX makes his entrance.

Designed by inventor/engineer Steve Adolph, REX is a Flash memory upgrade for the Model “T”.  It plugs into the Option ROM slot, and gives the Model “T” sixteen banks for Option ROM images, as well as up to sixteen RAM banks. REX essentially gives you up to sixteen virtual Model Ts, with the ability to switch between them on the fly, thanks to the well-written REX Manager app.

I preordered the REX from Club 100 as soon as they were announced, and within a month it too was in my mailbox.  So, how does REX stack up?

Next to the NADSBox, REX is the most useful computer upgrade I’ve purchased in years.  It’s nothing short of phenomenal... let me tell you how.

Currently, I have four “images” on my Model 100: one for blogging, one for work, one for fun, and one “master” image. They are laid out as so:

BLOG: contains an Ultimate ROM-II image (includes T-Base, T-Word, Idea, View80, TB-RPT), a basic program to insert a byline and boilerplate into my writing, a few articles I’m working on, and my Shortwave Log database. Used primarily for writing.

WORK: Contains at times either an Ultimate ROM-II image or a Multiplan image, plus a couple of format conversion apps in BASIC.  Usually used for quick & dirty sales quotes at work, or when I'm trying to prove a point about using what you have to great effect.

FUN: A few games, a few “serious” apps I’m playing around with (currently messing with an emulator for the HP-12C calculator), and the odd text file I downloaded to read. Used primarily for fooling around.

BACKUP: AKA MASTER, a backup of my system in its original state. Never touched.

Without REX, I would have to keep my Model 100 relatively clear of data.  Writing and works-in-progress would have to be shunted to my PC any time I wanted to play a larger game or download a sizeable app or text file.  If I had a lot of work to do for a customer (or managing my household finances), that might mean having to swap out my UR-II and Multiplan ROMs several times in one sitting, then transferring the results to my work PC.  Without my NADSBox, it’d be even more of a chore... Definitely not constructive use of my time.

So, were the NADSBox and REX worth the money?

Yes. I wholeheartedly recommend both... they were worth every penny!  The combination of the NADSBox and REX have made my life so much easier, and have kept my Model 100 a viable, secure, and eminently useful computing platform in these days of cheap Netbooks, and disposable PCs.  (CJ's note 12/01/13: Not to mention tablets!)

If you’re at all serious about using your Model “T” computer in a serious capacity, you’d do well to pay Club 100 a visit and pick up a NADSBox and REX.

Visit http://club100.org for more details.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Movin' on Up!

It's official:  Jillian and I are in the market for a new house.

As much as I love my little abode in West Kildonan, it's a tad... removed... from the amenities we use on a regular basis.  Not to mention a bit small for our needs.

Not to knock West K (or Garden City, for that matter), but we find ourselves constantly driving to other parts of town for, well, pretty much everything.  The lack of a decent coffee shop is one factor (Tim Hortons sucks), and the absence of a book store, higher-end clothing store, and nice restaurants are a few more.

To that end, we've decided to move to a more central area.  We're currently watching a house in Crescentwood near our church, as well as keeping our eyes peeled for anything popping up in St. Boniface, Wolseley, and River Heights.

Hopefully, we'll be out by February.

And speaking of amenities, I've fallen a little behind on the goings-on downtown.  Many of my former haunts are long gone (what with the construction of our new Sports Hub and Entertainment District and all) and, since I no longer take the bus regularily, I have no idea as to what (if anything) has replaced them.

To that end, I've started following Downtown Peggy on Twitter, and have linked to her blog on my left side-bar.

Give her a read and enjoy our downtown!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The End of an Era

After a twelve-year run, Conceited Jerk Dot Com is no more.

I've wiped all the content, cancelled the domain, and placed a "Goodbye... for now" message on the front page.

It was fun while it lasted, but it's time to move on to other things.

End of an Era

Truth told, I'd become bored with the site.  What was once a source of great enjoyment, pride, and potential for learning had become stale.  I just didn't enjoy working on the site anymore.

I attribute my loss of interest to two things.

First and foremost was the loss of my Amiga 2000.  After a brief attempt (in 2002) at designing a site with Tripod's online SiteBuilder, I built a "proper" website with Microsoft Frontpage Express.  Shortly thereafter, I gave up on Windows altogether and started using my Amiga full time.  One of the first things I did was register MetalWeb, a WYSIWYG HTML editor for the Amiga.  It was a great (but slow and buggy) app, and I enjoyed proving to friends that my 1986 tank of a computer could be used to great effect.  I used the A2000 to design the web pages, as well as designing the graphics used on the site.  The original handwritten title page was scanned with the Amiga scanning app ScanQuix, while the imagemap was applied using MetalMap, which came bundled with MetalWeb.  Digital pics were at first captured using a capture device called the DCTV, but that proved to be excessively slow, so I invested in an old Olympus D460-Z digital camera... which had a serial cable and was supported by the Amiga.  Photos were edited using OpalPaint at first, then by ImageFX once I upgraded to a Picasso-II video card.  Unfortunately, during another upgrade, my A2000 died a rather permanent death.  A component on the motherboard had gone, and I couldn't figure out which.  The cost of replacing the motherboard was more than I could justify, so I let her die with dignity.

My Linux machines have filled the void functionally and, while head-and-shoulders above my old Amiga's capabilities, the magic wasn't there.  Suddenly, it wasn't fun anymore... which is why no new graphics have been posted to the site.

The second factor was my own growing abilities.  I made the switch to Linux and Solaris (as my main operating systems) almost ten years ago.  I've learned a lot, and I've come to feel... constrained... by the company that does my web hosting.  Too many limitations on what I can do, and their own tools suck.  Essentially, I've outgrown them.

... and the Beginning of the Next

You think I'd be sad... pulling the plug on what had been a source of pride for many years.  But no, in all honesty, I was more upset by the death of Brian on last night's episode of Family Guy (I mean, seriously!).  I'm not sad at all, because I'll be starting a new project in the new year.

I'll be building up my own Linux server soon, whether physical or VPS, with a target of March/April.  I won't go into details at the moment, but I can tell you it will be geared toward rekindling the good ol' days, with a dash of the new thrown in for good measure.

I may even migrate this blog over...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Vintage CJ: How Courteous is that Courtesy Flush?

With the recent Boil Water Advisory announced today for parts of Winnipeg, and with Blog Action Day coming up next week, I was reminded of something I wrote a few years ago.

The article in question was my entry for Blog Action Day 2010.  The subject was water.  It was handled with my trademark misguidedness and usual lack of research.

For your reading pleasure, I present to you the following stinker:

How Courteous is that Courtesy Flush?

Conceited Jerk Dot Com's Entry for

Blog Action Day 2010

Whew, just made it...

I tell you, there's no worse feeling in the world than being in the middle of an hour-long bus commute and suddenly having to go to the bathroom. You can't get off the bus, because you'll be late for work... the next bus comes in half an hour! All you can do is sit there in your seat, writhing in agony while daggers and needles seemingly tear at your bowels from within, regretting that cup of Fair Trade coffee you grabbed at the 7-Eleven. There's nothing you can do to ease the pain, short of breaking wind on a crowded bus, which you are not keen on doing lest you be known as the bastard who gassed and nauseated an entire busload of people. I mean, chances are you'll have to see these people again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day (repeat ad nauseum), so why take a chance?

I found myself in this situation again yesterday. Halfway through my commute, my guts started churning and let out a wicked gurgle. The cup of Seattle's Best Certified Organic Fair Trade Etc coffee I'd bought at Mac's had reacted with something I'd eaten the night before, which caused quite the abdominal cataclysm. Knowing I had a half-hour to go until I reached my stop, I did my best to hold it all in while trying to maintain my composure. Despite the pain (and the fact I was, by then, sweating bullets), I somehow made it to work. I don't think I've ever run the distance from my bus stop to work that quickly!

Suffice it to say, I made it to the bathroom right in the nick of time. The moment I sat on the throne, the Earth trembled... and I'm pretty sure I set off a couple of car alarms in the parking lot!

Anyway, I'd like to apologize to my regular readers. You know I'm not normally one for toilet humour, and I honestly don't find bodily functions all that funny... but trust me, I'm going somewhere with this.

As a gesture of goodwill to my coworkers, halfway through the ordeal I gave what is called a "Courtesy Flush", a process the Urban Dictionary defines as "A flush in the middle of the toilet-sitting process in order to reduce the aroma". Considering the poor ventilation in our office, I'm sure the gesture was greatly appreciated. However, as round two approached, I began to think about what I'd done.

"You know, CJ," I said to myself, "You just wasted upwards of 6 litres of water, and for what?"

"Er," I muttered, "to save a bit of embarassment?"

"Is that all?" I demanded.

"Well, no," I admitted sheepishly, "I guess I didn't want my coworkers and/or customers to have to deal with the aftermath."

"So, now you're going to flush the toilet at least once more," I continued, "a toilet that already wastes a great deal of water due to faulty seals. That's at least six more litres. Who has to pay for that?"

"Uhhh," I stammered, "Angie in Accounts Payable?"

"No, Dumbass!" I screamed, "We ALL will when we run out of clean drinking water!"

"Now, wait just a minute," I argued, "Aren't you being just a tad melodramatic?"

"NO!" I screamed, "How many people in this city, this province, this COUNTRYare doing the same thing? How many courtesy flushes and how many inefficient toilets? How much of our potable water is going down the drain because people can't come to grips with the fact that SHIT DOES STINK?!"

I hate to admit it, but I had a point. I hate it when I'm right.

The above is a dramatization of a true story. It took place at the end of September 2010 while en route to work.

I've been doing the courtesy flush thing for years, and never really questioned the water usage until recently. The toilet mentioned in the story (our real life office toilet) wastes water. The seals leak, and it will sometimes continue to "run" until someone jiggles the handle to reset the stopper... on one occasion, the toilet ran all weekend long, because nobody bothered to check it before they locked up shop for the weekend. I shudder to think how much water went down the drain...

When I pointed out the problem, it was met with general apathy. "Water wasteage? Who cares?! So a bunch of Africans run out of water, let the aid agencies take care of it!"

I shook my head at the ignorance. After all, not ten years ago, the Walkerton tragedy had hit the news. This wasn't some isolated event in a Third World country you couldn't find on a map... this happened in our own country of Canada! CANADA! One of the fucking G8 countries!

Not long after that (Walkerton), the CBC broadcast a few segments on The National that dealt with the lack of potable water in many of our First Nations communities (Indian Reservations, to you Americans). It was around this time that I first heard of what was called a Boil Water Advisory. After perusing a few government websites, it seemed as though the problem was more widespread than had first appeared...

After the usual Offices, Departments, and Ministers got involved, much was pledged... more money for this, more infrastructure to be put in place for that, and it seemed as though progress was being made. The situation stopped being front-page news, and we summarily put it out of our minds.

So, fast forward back to today.

I decided to do a little checking, to see exactly what's been done. God knows, we can't trust the government to look after our best interests, can we? Well, apparently we can...

A quick perusal of the Manitoba Water Stewardship's website offers up the following listof communities still under Boil Water Advisory. The first line offers up some encouraging news: "To date, 164 Boil Water Advisories issued in Manitoba have been satisfactorily addressed and lifted". Seems pretty respectable, doesn't it? The communities still on the list (some of which are justoutside my own city of Winnipeg!) are either seasonal or rely on groundwater/wells for their water supply where infrastructure has not been put in place.

As for our First Nations friends, a quick glance at the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada site gleaned the following pronouncement: "Since the March 2006 Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nation Communities, real progress has been made and tangible results achieved. For example, at that time there were 193 high-risk First Nation drinking water systems across Canada - as of April 2010 this number has been reduced to 49 systems". As for my home province of Manitoba, the site goes on to say "According to the Manitoba Office of Drinking Water , there are approximately 70 communities (non-First Nation) in the province with boil-water advisories as of February 2010. By comparison, just one of the 63 First Nations in the province is under a boil-water advisory, one of the lowest rates in the country". Something to be proud of.

So we Canadians know our Government is living up to its responsibilities (never thought I'd say that!). Now, how about us? What can we do to do our part?

Personally, I'm replacing the old toilets in my home with more efficient dual-flush models. After that, I'm looking into a greywater recovery system. But most importantly, I'm educating myself on smart water usage and conservation.

My fellow Manitobans can find an excellent guide here. My international friends can probably find a localized version here.

This has been a Blog Action Day post.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Around this Blogosphere

It has been reported to me by the crackhead C&S4.0 staff that some of the links in my Blogroll were out of date.  Some blogs are gone, some changed addresses, one was hijacked (blogjacked?), and some no longer amuse me.

So, with that in mind, I warmed up my deletin' finger (I'll leave to your imagination which) and purged the offenders from the list.

One change in particular should be pointed out: Derick, the Blogger Formerly Known as Cherenkov, has wrapped up his widely read blog Anybody Want A Peanut after six years.  His new blog Around This Town has already made the Winnipeg Free Press' Blog of the Week, so with that in mind, you'd be wise to check it out.  As longtime fans, we here at C&S4.0 wish Derick much success.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Brown Suede Blues

Back in July, my new doctor gave me my first full "Turn-Your-Head-and-Cough" physical exam.  A week later, at the followup exam, he expressed concern over my weight (226lbs) and elevated cholesterol/tri-glycerides.

My doctor is not a pill-pusher by any means, rather extolling the virtues of diet and exercise.  He expressed confidence that we could solve my problems through dietary changes and changes to my daily routine, which is something I've done before and know works.

He gave me a goal, "I want you to lose twenty pounds by your next appointment in December".

Easy enough.

It's three months since that appointment, and I'm sorry to say I've gone in the other direction.  This morning, the scale read 237lbs.

I won't make excuses, I've been laissez-faire with regards to my diet, and downright lazy concerning exercise.  It shows, too... I get winded easily, I'm always tired, and tying my shoes is an unnecessarily difficult ordeal.  So, with two months to go until my next appointment, I find myself in worse shape than when I began.  Two months in which to lose thirty pounds.

This has been, pardon the pun, weighing on me for the past couple of weeks.  Which is unusual, because I don't normally suffer from body image issues.  Ultimately, I decided to say fuck it, status quo, and I'm happy the way I am.  That is, until this morning.

With early morning temperatures on the cool side, I decided it was time to break out the autumn wardrobe.  I found most things to be a bit snug... my Mario Serrani coat uncomfortably so.  It's wearable if I leave the buttons undone, however if temperatures drop, I'd need something I can close up.  My long pea coat still fits, as I bought it a size too big in order to accomodate a wool sweater, sport coat, or blazer underneath.  Sadly, I no longer need to wear a blazer to fill it out.

I thought to myself, "CJ, I think it's time to reconsider your diet and exercise regimen."

After politely telling myself to fuck off, I tried on a few more coats.  Most of them fit, some didn't.  A number of the ones that fit my size no longer fit my taste, so I threw them on the pile to be donated.  Of the coats that didn't fit, all but one were of no value to me and would also be donated.  That one remaining coat was a brown suede coat of late Sixties/early Seventies vintage, one of my favourites.

CJ, three years and thirty pounds ago

It broke my heart when I couldn't fit into the coat.  It may not be the most stylish, but it was the most me, and together we turned some heads.  While I no longer care about turning heads these days (marriage to one's soul mate will do that), I do care about looking good.  I'm vain that way.

So, in order to fit the coat again, I changed my diet.  I ignored the doughnuts gifted us this morning by a customer.  On my lunch break, I skipped McDonalds & 7-Eleven and opted for low-calorie tomato soup.  I had water instead of pop, and I walked to the store to buy it all.

I've vowed to drop the pounds, not for my health, but for vanity's sake.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Dove Has Left the Hat

Effective immediately, Dove Grace Design is no more.

I'd have loved to have been able to say "has closed its doors for good", but in all honesty, they were never really open.  Bad timing, really... besides which, I make a better hacker than a designer any day.

I have deleted the site, corresponding Twitter account, my blog State of Grace, and the domain will expire mid-October.

Priority has shifted to family and household, and free time will be focused on a new research project already underway.  Details to follow.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Have a Secret (Part One): Those who don't know history...

One day, They came a-callin'.

A dozen armed men, brandishing automatic weapons and a warrant still hot off the press, stormed the front door and moved throughout the house.

They grabbed Dad's briefcase and threw him to the ground.

Mom screamed in terror as two large men piled on top of him.

Another grabbed Mom roughly and slapped her across the face, telling her to shut up before throwing her to the ground as well.

Sis was dragged screaming from her room into the main hallway.  "What's happening?!" she cried.

The remaining eight men charged into the bedroom at the end of the hall.  The sole teenaged occupant cowered in a corner.

"Where is it?" barked the leader, "Where's the computer?"

The teenager leapt to his feet, intending to show them the way.  Instead, he felt his ribs crack as the rifle butt hit him in his side.

"Don't fucking move!", yelled the nearest agent.

Crumpling to the floor, he lay in a fetal position, gurgling... possibly from a punctured lung.

"I asked you a question!", the leader screamed, "Where's the fucking computer?!"

"B..b..basement...", the kid gurgled.

"Watch him!", the leader ordered two of his men, while he and his remaining men headed to the basement.


The family was gathered and told to keep silent as they were held at gunpoint, prisoners in their own living room.  The teenager held his side in agony as he leaned against his mother on the couch.

Twenty minutes later, the men emerged.  They each carried armloads of computer and electronic equipment, storage media, books, notes, and pages-upon-pages of printouts.

While the equipment was being loaded into a waiting armored car, a man entered the house.  He identified himself as a member of the FBI.

"Young man," he said, "I am placing you under arrest."

"Why?" cried Mom hysterically, "What could he have possibly have done?!  He's just a kid!"

"Madam, this 'kid' is engaging in serious criminal activity online," the man explained, "We've been monitoring his computer traffic online and, based on what we've seen, he may be facing a lengthy sentence."

Paranoid fantasy?

In light of the recent Ed Snowden case, revelations of NSA spying, and tech companies such as Cisco, Apple, Facebook et al collaborating with spying efforts, you could accuse me of being paranoid.

Yeah, ol' CJ must have been reading Orwell again.

No, upon first hearing the news that the NSA has been spying on the general populace, actively cracking SSL encryption, VPN, TOR, and secure communications, and coercing the tech giants into helping their cause, my reaction was a complete lack of surprise.

You see, it's happened before.  The incident at the beginning of this post actually took place, many times over.

Back in the late 80s, there was a perceived increase in so-called computer crime: the unauthorized copying (and illegal distribution) of copyrighted software, the electronic trading of stolen credit card numbers, generation of fake credit card numbers, the dissemination of information on how to defraud the phone company by manipulating the phone system itself, and info on how to hack into corporate computer systems.

While some of the software and information was exchanged between people in person, via the disk or by samizdat, the vast majority of information was exchanged electronically via the phone lines on Bulletin Board Systems (BBS for short).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with (or too young to have experienced) BBSes, they ran on modest hardware on most of the computers of the day.  Most had message bases (forums) to converse with other users, online games, and file sections to upload and download files.

There were literally thousands of BBSes worldwide... most were stand-alone affairs, while others were parts of larger interconnected networks.

BBSes made it easy to disseminate information and trade files and, while the vast majority of BBS operators and users were using the systems legally (a term interpreted loosely here), there was a small section of people using the systems for more salient purposes.

It didn't take long for the authorities to catch on.  Task forces were formed, and the FBI and Secret Service (hereafter referred to as the nebulous They or Them), with the backing of the phone company, began surveillance in earnest.  They would join BBSes surreptitiously to monitor communications, gather evidence, and to learn how these people were plying their trade.  In rare occasions, They did so with the tacit approval or support of the BBS's Sysop (SYStem OPerator).

Once enough evidence was gathered, the raids began.  Computers were seized, Sysops and users were jailed, and many more scrutinized and/or cautioned.  While many such raids occurred, one of the most (in)famous raids in the hacker world was Operation Sundevil, which you can read about here.

- End Part One -

CJ's note:  This is only the first part of a multi-part post.  It'll be ongoing for the next week or so.  Please refrain from commenting, either here or via social media, until the final part has been posted.  Chances are, any questions, concerns, or rebukes will have been dealt with by the time all is said and done.

CJ's note 12/15/17:  As I've completely forgotten where I was going with this series, Part Two might not be forthcoming.  I may revisit this one again if I remember the original plan, find my notes, or decide to take it in another direction.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where Were You..?

I remember the terror.

We were sent home early that day, in light of the news.  Dad was at work across town, and Mom was occupied with my baby brother and couldn't walk over to get me.

No, I had to walk home alone.

I remember the fear that overtook me, making my walk home that much longer.  My legs shook as I fought to process the news.  My hands clutching the white envelope I was to give my mother.  I wished it were the sun causing me to sweat so bad.

I had nightmares of debris raining down on me for days afterwards.  I would wake up in a cold sweat, shivering.

The day was July 10th, 1979.

I was six years old.

My stomach was queasy that morning.

For some reason, it was especially bad that day.

I remember thinking how I should have had a couple of slices of toast instead of that second helping of Corn Flakes.

I walked to my locker, grabbed my Social Studies and Science notebooks, and headed to homeroom.  As both subjects were taught by our homeroom teacher, we'd be spending all morning there.

I was rather excited because, as a special treat, we were going to watch the big event (or at least parts of it) on TV.  The big TV cart was set up at the front of the class, the custodian just getting ready to plug it in.

Everyone was standing around talking.  I remember thinking something was wrong, because Mr. Sawiak would have our heads if we weren't sitting in our seats when he walked into class.

My friend Byron saw me enter the room, raised his arms in a victory pose, and exclaimed, "The world's a better place,"  his porcine face turning red with excitement, "Another teacher is dead!"

My heart sank.  I knew what he meant.

My alarm clock didn't go off.

It was nearly 8am, and I instantly regretted the previous night.

I ran to the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, and tried my best to rinse the taste of the previous night's martinis from my mouth.

I struggled to remember where last night's companion was... vaguely remembering a taxi, a sloppy kiss goodnight, and a slight twinge of guilt.

I got dressed in a hurry and grabbed my keys.  The last thing I heard before shutting off the TV was news of a terrible accident involving a passenger jet.

I sprinted to my Daytona, popped in a CD, and sped off to work.

Traffic seemed to be on the light side... unusual for this time of year, what with the kids back in school and all.

I pulled into the parking lot and, as I walked to the building, I overheard two of the guys from the coffee roaster next door... something about another plane.

The boss didn't seem to notice that I was fifteen minutes late.  Again.

My warehouse co-hort quickly brought me up to speed.  We spent the day glued to the TV and internet, hungry for more information.

It would prove to be our slowest business day ever.

Our power of recall is a funny thing.

It amuses me how we can all recall "where we were" and "what we were doing" on "that fateful day", usually in great detail... but rarely what we were doing on any other day of our lives.  I could delve into the inner workings of our psyche and possibly tie it into our collective consciousness, but I'm tired and really can't be bothered with research.


Skylab de-orbitted and fell to Earth in July of 1979.  Nobody seemed to know where it would land... in a panic, our daycare called each of our parents to let them know we were being sent home early.  The daycare was at my elementary school a couple of blocks from our house, so I was to walk home.  I'd made the same walk all year, so it wasn't a big deal.

I was terrified...  the likelihood of Skylab falling on my head (let alone Winnipeg) was infinitessimal, but to a six year old with an overactive imagination it was a very real, near certain, possibility.  Why else would they have sent us home?  I barely ate that evening, and it took forever to get me to sleep.

Skylab eventually fell that night... on parts of Australia.  No doubt giving some Aussie kids nightmares as well.

I was in the 7th grade at Ken Seaford Junior High when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch.  We were going to watch the event live on TV, as one of the crew, American teacher Christa McAuliffe, was part of an educational program called Teachers in Space.  Our teacher thought it would be a neat experience, as a tie-in to the unit we were working on in Science class.

Unfortunately, we ended up watching news footage of the disaster instead.  The sense of shock was palpable, and I don't think any of us left that classroom the same.

I remember feeling for years afterwards that the disaster robbed us of a great learning opportunity in the Teachers In Space project.  I mean, how cool would it have been to spend our Junior and High School lives watching lessons taught from SPACE?!

Assuming, of course, the Seven Oaks School Division #10 would have splurged... as it stands, the only other memorable event of my high school years was the Meech Lake Accord.

Today, we mark the 12th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

If it weren't for the terrorist attacks,  I'd probably have forgotten the previous night's date (an unremarkable one night stand).  I'd probably forget buying and assembling a microwave cart I'd bought at Wal-Mart that day, and the stylist probably wouldn't have given me a loving "Take care of yourself, now" after cutting my hair.

I remember a lot of rumours, speculation, and out-and-out bat-shittery being broadcast that day.  I remember the only outrage I felt was when a woman requested the April Wine song Enough is Enough in order to send the terrorists a message...

Because lines like:

You fill me up, until I get enough
Oh girl you fill me up, can't you see that
You're my girl, and enough is enough
Baby, you're my girl, and enough is enough 

are totally in context, and a strong rebuke from a local yokel will result in the terrorists giving pause to reflect.

I remember the conspiracy theories hatching and propagating, the near-complete lack of activity in our business complex, and the traffic snarl on Brookside Blvd as the Mounties fought to keep the gawkers, enticed by the marked increase in air traffic, away from the airport.

I remember watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN as I put together my microwave cart, my internet connection being slowed to a crawl, ordering a pizza that took several hours to arrive, and the horror I felt as I watched, for the first time, footage of people jumping from the Twin Towers to their deaths.

Some flapping their arms wildly as if, by some miracle, they'd be able to fly.  It was then that it all hit me... the human cost of the tragedy.

I'll never forget.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On New Responsibilities

Things have gotten interesting in the five months since pulling the plug on this blog.

Jillian and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our lives.  Astrid Suzanne Wheeler was born on June 28th, and we couldn't be happier.

Astrid will be nine weeks old tomorrow, and she's already ahead of the curve as far as baby milestones go.  She recognized (and responded to) my voice mere minutes after birth, was able to hold her head up on her own at two weeks, became aware of her surroundings at four weeks, can now recognize objects and people on sight, and spoke her first word a couple of days ago.

The word was apple... damn you, Steve Jobs!

And to top it off, she's started teething.  At nine weeks.

And to think we've complained about sleepless nights before...

Asti and daddy, enjoying a nap together

Seriously though, Asti has been a bundle of joy and a source of happiness for all around her.  She has a cute laugh, an infectious smile, and is an attention-grabber.  Old ladies seem to be especially affected by her charm.

Old lady magnet and her Daddy

She's been a lot of work, as most newborns are... perhaps more so given her advanced development.  We have a feeling she'll be walking at six months, speaking full sentences by ten months, and hacking mainframes by 12 months.  However we'll let her develop normally (and at her own pace) without pushing her.

It's a weird feeling, knowing that you're responsible for another human being's life and welfare... especially when you haven't been overly concerned about your own for years.  Plans, projects, and priorities have to be shifted around, changed, or dropped entirely, and decompression time is a rare and valued commodity.

I look at parenthood not so much as a new project or goal, but rather as an investment: we put our time, effort, money, and love into our little girl so that she grows up to be a well-rounded, educated, and well-adjusted individual.  One capable of making her own decisions, carving her own path, and living her own life.

Hopefully, she stays off the Terrorism Watch List until she's at least thirteen.

You Can't Keep A Good Man Down

I just can't leave well enough alone...

... and so, for the fourth time in its history, Conceit and Sociopathy returns from its slumber.

I've found myself wanting a more instantaneous outlet when it came to venting.  My original intent was to blog over at my so-called "professional" site, while saving the more... interesting... stuff for my personal website.  While a good idea in theory, the practice would prove to be a bad idea.  As Dove Grace Design is (eventually) meant to be my professional site, I wanted to keep it relatively clean and controversy-free.  Which meant saving the mean-spirited, questionable, and/or cringe-worthy stuff for Conceited Jerk Dot Com.

I found this arrangement lacking.  Having to censor myself for "professional" reasons proved to be taxing, and having to hand-code HTML (as is my mandate) for my personal site took too much time and did little to foster the spontaneity and off-the-cuff/knee-jerk philosophy of my old blog.

As I chiefly write for an audience of one (myself), I looked into keeping a journal.  Journalling is the new scrapbooking, you know!  I tried keeping a daily journal (on paper) but found carrying it around with me everywhere to be inconvenient.  I tried using DayNotez* on my Palm Treo 650 as my daily journal (along with its Desktop counterpart) and found it a bit more convenient, as my phone is always with me.  However, I found I couldn't write for an extended period of time - the small keyboard wreaked havoc on my 40-year-old fingers.

After a bit of research, I discovered online journal site Evernote.  I tried it (and it's mobile equivalent for Blackberry) for a few weeks, but pretty much gave up after my Blackberry died.

With all options proving unsatisfactory, I made the decision to revive Conceit and Sociopathy.

So... let's get down to it!

*Seriously, if you still use a PalmOS device in this day and age, you'd do well to check out Natara's Smartphone Bundle, still available for purchase, which includes their DayNotez journal, the Comet call logger, and Bonsai outliner.  Each of the three will interact with each other, which makes for a handy combination.  I use these (in conjunction with their Windows Desktop counterparts) in both my personal and professional life.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

...and That's a Wrap!

Well, gang, I'm calling my blogging career quits after all.

I simply don't have time anymore, and the time I do spend blogging could be spent more productively elsewhere.

I'll be focusing my creative energies elsewhere, and the rest of my energies on my family, health, and household.

Thanks for following along all these years.

-Shaun aka Conceited Jerk

Thursday, March 7, 2013

L-L-L-Last Call, Folks!

It's Last Call for CJ.

No, I'm not calling my blogging career quits (or a career, for that matter).

I've given up alcohol (and carbonated beverages) for the foreseeable future, possibly forever.  I've had a recurring gastric issue for years, and I've finally decided to make a few lifestyle changes to prevent it altogether.  I was never going to be an Epicure or Sommelier anyway.

In addition to my self-imposed prohibition, I've slowly started to wean myself from greasy, fatty foods, really spicy foods, and so on.  I have noticed a difference, so that's a sure sign my plan is working.

The only real downside is that I'm a lot more creative (and motivated) after a couple of drinks.  Ah well, perhaps an attitude adjustment is in order as well.

So, with the dietary change came a name change.  The third of my three "main" blogs, written under my other pseudonym Dove Grace, will no longer be titled It's Last Call, Folks!.  It's new title will be State of Grace.

While I only update that particular blog (and the supposed design outfit it represents) a couple of times a year, it will be seeing a lot more in terms of updates in the coming months.  I've embraced the idea of GPLed, "Open Source" Furniture!

I have a few works in progress (some furniture pieces, some structural), and once I have the designs finalised and drawn up in QCad, I'll be posting them on Dove Grace Design for all to enjoy and/or improve.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Catching Up, and Amazing Grace

I'm a week-and-a-half behind schedule regarding my daily posting.

However, unlike falling behind on bill payments, nobody's going to be phoning us several times a day to post something!

I've been a tad busy with all things domestic, electronic, and culinary, some of which I will share with you in  future posts.

In the meantime, I've repaired and tweaked a $25 Gateway laptop (aka Grace) I bought at the Salvation Army thrift store.  I couldn't get any version of Linux to recognize the wired or wireless network cards even with 3rd party drivers (and the snarky, elitist fucks on the Linux forums were of no help, as per usual), so I said "Fuck it!" and installed Windows XP.  Downloaded the drivers from Gateway's website and everything worked, so I grabbed all the open-source apps I use on my main design machine (for compatibility and financial purposes) and went to town.

The problem is that the battery is dead (common with used laptops of any vintage), and the lower case is cracked where the battery sits, so the battery wouldn't charge properly anyway.  A short trip to eBay and five bucks later, I found and bought a replacement lower case.  With my experience taking apart Nadia on a regular basis, it should be a quick and easy fix.

The only other issue is, because of its vintage, Grace has no USB2.0 or Bluetooth capabilities.  I had a spare Bluetooth dongle and mouse left over from Nadia, and so made do with that for the time being.  However, come payday I'll be splurging for a combination USB2.0/Firewire/Bluetooth card for the machine ($13 on eBay) and possibly a new battery and port replicator.

After that, I'll have a whole new mobile blogging/design machine, and I'll be back in action!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Well, I Feel Pretty Good, and I Guess That I Could Get Crazy Now, Baby...

I've been reminiscing a lot lately, mostly about my friend Karl and our old computer group The Thugs, and all the hijinks and mischief we got into on a daily basis.

One of the other things that Karl, myself, and our friend Fry had in common was our love of music, and one tune in particular became our theme song (apart from the drug references, we never did that stuff), which I present for your listening pleasure.

Turn it up!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Everything Was State-of-the-art Once...

As part of the amalgamation of my blogs and web-projects, I am killing off two of my more neglected blogs for good.

Both blogs focused on retrocomputing, a subject near and dear to my heart.  Neither one has been updated in years, so it was time to purge them from human memory.

The first one to go was Archaic Online, published under the pseudonym SparcIPX... which is also the model of computer I was using at the time.  Archaic Online was originally started out of spite.  In the previous decade, I was a regular contributor to a fan-based, low-print run Zine also called Archaic Online.  Its print run lasted twenty quarterly issues, and my articles on retrocomputing appeared in eighteen of those issues.  Things were great until the gentleman who started the zine appointed his girlfriend as Editor-in-chief.  She had no experience whatsoever in writing, editing, publishing, or even computers, her only qualifications were that she'd minored in English Lit in college.  Couldn't even make the claim that she "worked on the school paper".

She also had no people skills and treated her "position" as though she was running a major publication (or kingdom).  Several regular contributors were told they "no longer fit the direction the magazine was taking", others like myself had to constantly rewrite and re-tool submissions until they met with her approval.  The nineteenth issue was the last to feature myself or many of the other regulars... and after the twentieth issue the zine went bust.

When I found out they wanted to move to a blog style publication, I grabbed the name for myself, just to be a cock... and when you google "Archaic Online", you won't find a single mention of that particular Zine.  I am now relinquishing the name, as I never really posted anything there, and my spite has largely dried up.

Killing off the other blog was a bit of a heartbreak...

The Thugs were a computer group started by my friend Karl (aka Slam) and I.  We grew up together and shared a lifelong fascination with computers.  We weren't your stereotypical 80s computer nerds though... by all accounts we were kinda scary looking.  Karl was a large neanderthal-looking man, while I was a skinny Irish punk.  Scary enough that we were branded "a bunch of thugs" by the manager of the restaurant where we worked.

We met in the seventh grade and were pretty much joined at the hip well into adulthood.  When I bought my house in 2002, we converted a corner of the unfinished basement into The Lab.  As we both held good paying jobs, and with the burst of the Dot-Com bubble, more and more computer hardware found its way into our hands.  We made it all work somehow, and were constantly amazed at what we could make these things do.  All it took was a little ingenuity and patience.

We adopted the philosophy, one that I still hold, that everything was state-of-the-art once.  I won't expand upon that philosophy here, as I'd be at the keyboard all week.

Unfortunately, life took its toll on Karl.  He disappeared sometime in 2007 and hasn't been around since.  He'd contacted me a couple of times over the years to let us know he's alright, but needed to sort things out.  We hope he's doing alright.

Our (now ad-laden) website can be found here for the time being... if I can remember the password to our Tripod account, I'll be archiving what I can, backing it up, then hopefully merging it with the retrocomputing section of the main site.  After which the Tripod site will be deleted.

Speaking of retro... I've been warned about taking an expensive digital camera with me on my lunchtime photo jags along Logan Ave and Keewatin St... it has a reputation for being crime-ridden.

While I work in the area and yes, certain parts of the area are indeed crime-ridden, most are not.  I will however be dusting off my older camera, an Olympus D-460Z, for my excursions.  It was a great camera for its time, and has a few features my current digital camera doesn't have. 

Plus, if it gets stolen or broken, I'm out the $15 I paid several years ago for it.

Hell, I've spent money more on batteries (it takes four AA batteries) for the thing over the years.

You'd think I would have invested in rechargeables...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Intake Outtakes

"You're far too young for that," the lady said.

This time, however, she wasn't denying something illicit.

She was telling me that my blood pressure was far too high for someone my age.

I don't remember the exact reading, but it was enough to cause the triage nurse to do a double-take.

"What's your blood pressure like, normally?" she asked.

"Horrible," I said honestly.

"Diet?", she asked while raising an eyebrow.

"Diet, mostly," I answered, "but I'm also under a lot of stress."

As I was at Urgent Care due to a horrible cough (which turned out to be an upper respiratory tract infection), we didn't get into cardiovascular details.  Suffice it to say, her words really hit me like an Acme anvil.

The Wheeler Curse is creeping up on me.

Many health issues run rampant through my paternal lineage.  Heart disease, Diabetes, Alcoholism, Manic Depression, to name the worst.  While I have a (relatively) clean bill of mental health, and my drinking is limited to a couple of cocktails a week, I am still a high-risk candidate for the other two.

In fact, considering my lifestyle until recently, I'm surprised I'm not already afflicted.

In just under three weeks, I'll be turning 40, and Jill and I have a baby on the way.  At the rate I'm going, I may not live long enough to see my child graduate high school, land their first real job, have children of their own, win the Nobel Prize, or become the most wanted terrorist in the world.

So, changes were needed, and for a change, I've stuck with the changes.

I've been eating a bit better, avoiding the huge bags of chips, chocolate bars, processed foods, and litres of soda I'd normally take in over the course of a week.  It's tough when I work next to a Tim Hortons and a convenience store - snacks and unhealthy lunches are a few footsteps away.  My lunch hour is fraught with temptation, so in order to stave it off, I had to come up with a plan.

Remember my now-cancelled plan to turn my garage into a four-season gazebo, complete with wet bar?

While the plan may have fallen through, there were a few things I'd acquired in the meantime... such as a bar fridge.

One that would fit perfectly under my desk at work.

Pictured:  Room for a bar fridge

The idea is to stock the fridge with fruit, juices, bread, sandwich fixins, and healthier snacks.  If nothing else, it'll eliminate the urge to run out to buy crap I don't need to be eating.

The downside is it'll eliminate the exercise I get by running to buy the aforementioned crap.  I guess the solution is to take walks after I've finished eating.  While I've pretty much tapped the immediate vicinity out in terms of photography subjects, there are a lot of old buildings and examples of walkability in the blocks to the northeast of here... and the area (Logan Ave. east of Keewatin St.) isn't one that's photographed too often.

That's the beginning of my new health scheme, and if it works, I'll build on it and go from there.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fait Accompli


It took all day, but I've tagged all three hundred or so posts on C&S.

I tried to be creative when naming each tag, to keep things somewhat interesting.  Feel free to explore the tag cloud in the right sidebar, you may uncover a hidden gem.  Then again, you may not.

Speaking of hidden gems, there are a number of older posts I'm going to delete in the next few days.  Some were little more than single line posts that were announcing future posts I never got around to writing, some were incomplete thoughts, some were meant to stay as drafts, and others... well...

Going through my older posts was educational.  It's really interesting to see how I've matured and grown as a person, how my interests have changed, and mostly how much I've calmed down.  It'll be more interesting reading these posts in December 2016, when this blog celebrates its tenth anniversary.

I'm sure the kids will give me plenty to write about...

This weekend I'm planning to design a proper C&S logo for the Google+ page, as well as a graphical title banner.  Not sure if I'm going to use GIMP and Inkscape on my Linux box, or if I'm going to rebuild my Amiga 1200 so I can use ImageFX again (I do rather miss using it).

Either way, I'll come up with something.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tag! You're It!

Lately, I've been asking myself, "If I had to do it all over again, what would I do different?"

This time, the context wasn't my job, my hobbies, or my life.  No, this time it was about blogging.  Apart from the usual things like post more, attempt to be interesting, study English grammar, use proper tenses, et cetera, I came up with a short list of things related to the user experience, of functionality.  Some actually made sense, so I've decided to implement some of the changes.

Tomorrow, I'm starting something I should have years ago...

Tagging my posts!

As I am killing off some of my other blogs and continuing them here, it'll be easier to find which posts pertain to certain subject matter.  It'll also help me with organization.

I've also started tinkering with the layout of the site.  One thing you'll notice is the button bar underneath the Conceit and Sociopathy banner, with links to the FAQ, my main website, my design project, etc.  I'll be putting other links of prominence there when they present themselves.

Also, as I mentioned, I've now stopped using Twitter altogether, as well as LinkedIn, although that wasn't as big a deal.  I'll be on Google+ from here on in.

Blog updates will be announced via Google+, and will continue to be announced via the good old-fashioned RSS feed... or readers can check back daily, as I'll be posting pretty much every day anyway.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Plus One

I've left Facebook pretty much for good.

I got really tired of having to wade through my friends' and family's posts, filtering out all their game accomplishments, smarmy and snarky e-cards, etc.  Twitter isn't too far from being dumped, too.  I'm getting tired of the constant babbling about hockey and politics... so I moved over to Google+.

It's been alright so far, if a little boring.  Since I'm keeping my circles small and organized into tightly packed units, I don't have to wade through a lot of crap to find something interesting or relevant... and it's easier to ignore people this way.

Call me a control freak, but it's much better this way.

I've spent a bit of time fooling around with the features of Google+, and in doing so, came across a free ebook showing how to get the most (or make the most) out of Plus.

It can be found here:  http://goo.gl/eRy6z

A few more tips can be found here, and if you're interested, you can add me to your circles (even if it's the "pointless blogs" circle) by clicking the +1 widget on the right sidebar.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some circles to expand... the G+ Architecture and Design community beckons.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rooted to the Spot (Intro)

I've never been able to leave this city.

I've never known why.

I've taken vacations, I've travelled on business, I've even worked in the US off-and-on for a couple of years.  I've had ample opportunity to pick up stakes and settle somewhere else.  But something keeps me here in Winnipeg, that God-forsaken Hellhole I dearly love.

It's not the familiarity of routine... most of my old hangouts have either closed or "switched focus", at least the ones I haven't outgrown.

It's not my job.  I can sell hose & fittings or fasteners pretty much anywhere there's a need.  My wife can be a social worker pretty much anywhere.

It's not my friends... I hardly have the time these days to hang out.  And family will always be family no matter where I am in the world.

So why the Hell am I still here?

In the coming weeks, I will explore that very question.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Seriously Serial

I'm gonna need a plan.

A week ago, I announced that I was going to blog every day for the next year.  It's become painfully apparent that I can't keep coming up with random crap on a daily basis to make up my numbers.  I also can't rely on my backcatalog and collection of half-and unfinished posts, as most of them require a lot of work.  I spent part of Tuesday evening going through the archives (some dating back to the mid-90s), and came to the conclusion that much of it will be of little value to me.  Some of the articles were so topical that they are woefully out of date, and some - well, let's just say I've matured a lot since they were written.

It's like sticking your arms almost shoulder-deep in a pile of manure, searching for that million-dollar gold ring you know is in there.

Rather than rely on the shitpile, I'll have to come up with fresh... material.

After thirty whole seconds of brainstorming, I came up with the idea of doing a series of ongoing posts, to be published at least once or twice a week, concerning a certain subject.

So far, I have three in the works.

The first one is a series of posts that was not meant to be a series initially.  The House That Jerk Built will detail our home renovations as they happen.  We're getting the house ready for our child, who is due to spring forth near the beginning of July.  The previous owner of the house was a serial do-it-yourselfer, and not a particularily good one at that... so watch as we try to undo everything he did.

The second series will be the continuation of Getting In Touch With My Feminine Side (etc).  Originally intended as a three part post, I've scrapped the remaining two parts as I was not satisfied with the finished product.  I've decided to rework it as a larger series, and may even get the Missus involved.

The third series is called Rooted to the Spot.  I've been asking myself why I (we) stay in this city, and this series will have us exploring the city and doing some soul-searching as we attempt to answer the question.

Now... time to get to planning.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Handi-capable II: Electric Bugaloo

I blame the medication.  Specifically the one containing Codeine... I was warned by the attending physician (and later, by the pharmacist) not to drive or operate machinery while under the effects of the drugs.

I haven't been driving, which is good news for you jaywalkers out there, but apparently I shouldn't be using a computer, either... I somehow edited several paragraphs out of today's previous post.

Which isn't a bad thing, mind you, as I thought of several other things I should have added.  With that in mind, I give you the unplanned sequel to Handi-capable:

Handi-capable II: Electric Bugaloo

How long should electronics manufacturers and software developers support their products?

This is something that's been on my mind for a long time, and something I've written about many times over the years.  Longtime readers and old Usenet friends are no doubt familiar with my angry rants about planned obsolescence, and the rapid march of technology which has left countless numbers of dead and wounded devices in its wake.

My typical answer to the question has, for the longest time, been "At least ten years".  After all, nobody wants to spend a ton of money on a smartphone, tablet, computer, piece of software, or gadget that's going to be next to useless in a year or two.

Why hast Thou forsaken me?

I've been burned like this a number of times.  I've been an early-adopter of several pieces of hardware (and software) that have failed in the marketplace, been discontinued, or abandoned by developers within the first year.  Each time it stung a little more.

In my more melodramatic moments, I would take a page from The Bible and tear my shirt, screaming "Why hast thou forsaken me?!" at the developers/manufacturers, "I placed my trust, my faith in you!  How can you leave me hanging?  It can't end like this!"

All too often though, it did end like that.  Stuck with a useless, unsupported piece of electronic detritus that probably cost me more than it was worth.

Around the time of my last electronic heartbreak, I read an expression on the net.  It came from a textfile called "Cowboy Zen" or something similar... "Good judgement comes from experience, which usually comes from poor judgement".

If nothing else, I learned to wait until a product had matured and developed a significant user base before diving into waters unknown.  Never be an early-adopter in the Tech World, more often than not, you'll end up broke and disappointed.

You have to grow up sometime

Which brings us back to the previous post. In January of 2011, at the age of thirty-eight, I broke down and bought my first cellphone... a Palm Treo 650 smartphone.  I'd been an avid user of Palm OS devices for many years and was used to the platform.  I had spent several hundred dollars over the years on apps and software for my Palm Pilots and Handspring Visors, most of which were used on a regular basis.  I went with the Treo because it could run all my old, familiar apps... and in some cases, newer and better versions of the apps I had.  To me, buying the Treo just made sense.

The Treo was already seven years old when I bought it for $15 (incl. shipping) on eBay.  The battery held a decent charge (and still does to this day), and I was able to transfer my apps to the phone without issue.  It was a Telus branded phone, so I took it to Telus to see if they still supported it - and they did.

Another factor in my decision to buy the Treo was the fact that, despite both the phone and Palm OS being long discontinued (and Palm Inc no longer in existence), there was still an active Palm community, and most importantly there was still third-party support!  I could still buy apps at several online stores, and several of my apps (Agendus, Fotogather) were still being actively developed.

With a little research, I bought a mature product with an installed userbase and active community support.  And it worked well.  I used the Treo for just over a year, however during that year, nearly all of the online app stores had dropped support for the device.  My needs had also grown by this point, and the Treo was becoming increasingly unable to deliver.

Shortly after my wedding in May 2012, my mother-in-law had given me a broken Blackberry Bold that she'd salvaged from a phone recycling drive.  As I had started to outgrow my Treo, I was looking to upgrade, and decided that fixing the Blackberry might be educational.  After all, the Blackberry was still a popular platform with a huge userbase, and was still relatively current.  So I gambled and bought a replacement screen, battery, and charger.  It took me all of fifteen minutes to fix the Blackberry, and was pleased to see it boot up when I plugged it in.  For thirty bucks and a bit of effort, I had a current smartphone, and it was compatible with the Bluetooth earpiece and stereo headphones I'd bought for my Treo!  A trip to Rogers ensued, and my Blackberry all but replaced my Treo.

I was still using the Treo for Ebooks, as I found its screen easier to read, and I was unable to find a comparable outliner program on the Blackberry.  Around this time, Chapters began clearing out their Kobo Vox e-readers and, knowing that the Vox was essentially a stripped-down Android tablet, I bought one without hesitation.  It had Gmail and Facebook apps already installed, and I was able to find an outliner app in the Google Play store that was compatible with the one I had on my Treo!

Unfortunately, in retrospect, I really should have hesitated.  You see, it wasn't that I needed or really wanted an e-reader.  What I really wanted was an Android tablet.  The Vox represented the cheapest option at the moment and, while I'm happy with what it does, I'm not happy with what it can't do.

The Vox was never intended to be a full-fledged, fully functional iPad-beating Android tablet.  Therefore it has no built-in camera, no Bluetooth capability, and a USB port that's used solely for charging and syncing with a PC... can't use external devices such as keyboards or Bluetooth dongles.  Hell, I can't even upgrade the version of Android on the machine without a ton of risky hacking.

While the Android OS and tablets are what I'd consider mature products, the Vox's growth was stunted - an evolutionary dead-end.  But it'll have to do until, as I said in the previous post, I find a new partner.

Now that I've brought the previous post full-circle in my own longwinded way, it's time I revisit the question I asked at the beginning of this post... How long should electronics manufacturers and software developers support their products?

I've come to the conclusion that they should support their products as long as they have a large enough userbase and it is financially/practically viable to do so.  If the vast majority of your userbase has moved on (or was never there to begin with), it makes no sense to keep a dead product on life support.

At that point, it's up to the community and third party developers/manufacturers to keep the dream alive.  I have only to point to the Commodore 64, Amiga, MSX, and TRS-80 Model 100 communities as examples.

Handi-capable: Your Device is Not Supported

"Your Device Is Not Supported"

I've been seeing this a lot lately while searching for apps...  Device Not Supported, This Version Is Incompatible With Your Device/OS Version, Upgrade Required.

That is, if a particular app is even available for my chosen platform.

You'd think I'd be used to it.  After all, the vast majority of my computer or communications gear is out of date or completely obsolete.  However, with a bit of creativity, nine times out of ten I'm able to come up with a workaround to accomplish a specific task.

Years ago, I was able to post pictures to Facebook and Twitter from a coffee shop, using my ancient 1994-vintage Powerbook 540c running at a brisk 25MHz.  I had the rare PCMCIA slot adapter for the machine, as well as a supported WIFI card and software, and figured "Why not?".  Not even the most up-to-date browser for the 540c can render Facebook's or Twitter's sites, however it will display the mobile versions of each site, provided you enter the correct URL (m.twitter.com, or m.facebook.com).  I also had an old Kodak DC-210 digital camera with a Compact Flash-to-PCMCIA adapter, so getting pictures off the camera to my old laptop was easy, and Photoshop 3 (68k version) installed so I could edit the photos.

It wasn't the fastest, prettiest, lightest, or most elegant solution, but it worked.  It was like a retro-version of Instagram - a testament to ingenuity and creativity.  As a proof-of-concept/test-of-endurance it was an interesting experiment, however, it wasn't something I'd recommend doing on a daily basis, unless you have the patience of a saint... it was slloooowwww.  Slower than a tranquilized snail sliding uphill in Winter.

Saaaaay "Cheeeeese!"

My wife recently got hooked on Instagram, and yesterday I decided I wanted to try it out for myself.  Unfortunately for me, there's no Instagram app for Blackberry, and my Android Tablet (a Kobo Vox e-reader) lacks a camera (its version of Android is also unsupported).

Right away, my brain sprung into action.

I could try to hack the Kobo to run the latest (or at least a newer) release of Android, then download Instagram.  Take pictures with my regular digital camera, save 'em to a Micro SD card, then upload via the Kobo!

But that's risky, and I may lose all the ebooks I've purchased by trying to update...

Instead, I checked Blackberry App World for something similar to Instagram... nada!  There was an unofficial Instagram app that didn't seem to work, and a few photo editing apps that claimed to produce "Instagram-like" results.  I bought one called "CAMultimate", which isn't bad for what it does, and the price of $2.99 can't be beat.

But it's no Instagram.

Gettin' too old for this shit

Another thing on my wishlist was a decent blogging app.  There's no official Blogger app for Blackberry, not even any third-party apps that use the Blogger API.  There is an official Blogger app for Android, but it's not compatible with my Kobo.  There are a few third-party apps that'll work with Blogger's API, but they uniformly suck.

So, in order to blog on the go, I'm stuck with using Blogger's Email-To-Blog interface.  I can either type out posts using my Blackberry's cramped keyboard, or my Kobo's onscreen keyboard that'll obscure half the screen while I'm trying to type, edit, etc.

While I can do everything I need to do with the equipment I have at hand, things are starting to require too many workarounds and compromises for my liking.  Much like the straight-man in a buddy cop movie, I'm gettin' too old for this shit.  Time for a new partner.

I'm looking at buying a new Android tablet, one with a camera and Bluetooth capabilities.  One that'll stay somewhat supported for a couple of years.

Time to do a bit of research.

My current machines are one day away from retirement.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

And On The Seventh Day He Rested

Wow, today marks my 300th post on Conceit and Sociopathy.  300 posts since I started this blog just over six years ago... not really a good average, I guess.  What's funny is that I will more than double that amount if I stick to my Quantity Over Quality plan of posting every day.  As with everything I do, however, there's a snag...

As Sundays 'round the palatial Mattrèssor Manor are typically busy with church, chores, and family time, I won't be doing any blogging... not that it'll break anyone's heart.

Of course, putting my blogging aside every Sunday for the next year will leave me woefully short of my self-imposed goal of 365 blog posts by the end of the year.

I suppose the only solutions are to either write a post in advance and tell Blogger's scheduler to post it Sunday on my behalf, or to make the post up during the week by posting twice on a particular day.  Both would work, and I have enough half- or mostly-finished crap in my draft and archive folders that I should be good for material for the coming weeks.

Anyhow, I'm off to bed.  I spent seven hours at Misericordia's Urgent Care last night (7:45pm - 2:45am) due to a wicked cough... and was diagnosed with an upper respiratory tract infection.  After a few hours of sleep, I was up sanding and prepping the floor in our storage room then putting down tile.  Had to quit after nine hours due to fatigue.

Suffice it to say, my body's not too happy with me right now.

Good night.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Jaywalkers of the World, Unite!

My wife and I were out for a ride on New Year's Day, just to get out of the house for a while.  We were cruising west on Broadway, and as we entered the intersection at Fort St, two men sauntered out into traffic against the lights.  Jaywalking.

The car in front of us slammed on its brakes, narrowly missing the first guy, while his companion jumped back just enough to avoid getting hit.  The driver of the car in front of us leaned on his horn, and the first jaywalker turned around, gave the guy the finger, yelled "Fuck You!", and laughed.  Spurred on by his compatriot, the second guy decided to continue on his merry way in front of the first car to catch up to his buddy.

As for us, we barely managed to avoid hitting the first car.  I managed to swerve into the parking lane while braking, ending up not ten feet from the first guy.  My first thought was, "I could kill you right now, you arrogant, entitled fuck!", but cooler heads prevailed.  I shook my head and let the idiots pass.  The first guy flashed me a smug, toothy grin, and all the while I thought how I held this man's life in the palm of my hand... one touch of the gas pedal could ruin all our lives forever...

Ordinarily, I'd have just muttered "What an asshole!" to myself without the thought of vehicular homicide entering my head.  Ordinarily.  That afternoon, however, was different.  These two sons-of-bitches weren't the only jaywalkers we'd encountered on that drive.

No, in the space of the twenty minutes it took for us to drive south down Main St from West Kildonan to that point on Broadway, we'd encountered several people sauntering into moving traffic like lemmings.  Just walking in front of cars, sometimes with only a couple of car lengths between them and certain death, laughing while the drivers are forced to maneuver to keep from killing them.

I'm not exaggerating.  These people made a conscious decision to step out into oncoming traffic, in the middle of the block, putting themselves and all the drivers in traffic at considerable risk, and laughing about it as though it were a huge joke.

And if they were hit by one of the cars in oncoming traffic, they (or their next of kin) would whine and cry to the media about the evil, careless automobile drivers.

Suffice it to say, by the time the incident on Broadway took place, I was ready to kill.

But, as I said, cooler heads prevail, and I let it slide.  Some people are assholes, and jaywalking has existed forever.  I wish the cops would start cracking down on these people as they did recently in Halifax, but I have a feeling it'll take a few deaths and a number of broken lives before anything happens.

**EDIT 01/05/13:  I have since been informed, by several of you, that Jaywalking is not illegal in Winnipeg (I never bother with research), which is why the cops don't seem to bother with these people.  Perhaps I should lobby for change..?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Getting In Touch With Your Feminine Side and Making It Your Bitch (part one)

I've been thinking a lot lately about traditional gender roles in society, specifically how much they've changed in the last half-century or so.

It started a couple of months ago.  Jillian and I were taking a nice leisurely drive down River Road, after having lunch at Skinner's in Lockport.  We had the oldies channel playing on the radio, when one of Jill's favourite songs, "Mother's Little Helper" by the Rolling Stones, came on.  We both sang along, and afterwards discussed how domestic life has changed since the song came out.

I wondered if the stereotype of the "Harried Housewife" really applied anymore in this era of dual-income-no-kids-and-an-SUV-on-the-side, or is it a quaint (or patriarchal, depending on your stance) reminder of a bygone age?

As I pondered the question, I remembered an article I'd started back in 2006 that, true to fashion, I'd meant to finish but never did.  I dug it out of the archive, dusted it off, and embellished it a bit.  It'll seem really sexist and horribly wrongheaded at first (for which I'll apologize in advance), but it ends with everyone learning a good lesson, myself included, in the third part.  Please refrain from commenting until the third and final act.

Getting In Touch With Your Feminine Side and Making it Your Bitch

Part One

What a weekend!

After several weeks without a day off (we're in our busy season at work), the housework has really suffered.  My typical day follows the same pattern:

  • Wake up at 5am
  • Shower, feed cats, etc
  • Catch the 5:55 bus
  • Work until 8 or 9pm
  • Catch 8:35 or 9:10 bus home
  • Arrive home at 9:30 or 10pm
  • Feed cats, feed self
  • Check email
  • Go to bed by 11
Suffice it to say, the house is a disaster!  There's a pile of moldy dishes in the sink, old fast food wrappers littering the kitchen, half-full Big Gulp cups in the office and lab, and I'm pretty sure one of the cats has pooped somewhere difficult to reach.

I told the guys last Thursday that there'd be no overtime this weekend... that I was leaving work at 5pm on Friday and not coming back until today (Monday) at 8am.  Not that it mattered, they rarely stay to work overtime anyway (it's usually just me).

True to my word, I caught the 5:10 bus home on Friday.  I hit 7-Eleven on the way home for a Delissio pizza and a Double Gulp, and planned to spend the entire weekend cleaning the place up.

And clean I did.  I woke up at 7am Saturday, and cleaned like I'd never cleaned before.  I gathered up all the garbage, cleared the tables and countertops, did the dishes, mopped the floors, vacuumed the rugs, scrubbed out the litterboxes, did a couple months' worth of laundry, wiped down the walls, dusted the furniture, cleaned and disinfected the bathroom... and even cleaned behind the fridge and stove!

I went nonstop until 2-3am Sunday morning, when I could no longer stand.  I fell asleep with an immense feeling of satisfaction.

I woke up around noon Sunday surrounded by purring cats.  I guess they missed their daddy!

I spent the day lounging, listening to music, and playing video games (A guy needs his downtime!).  I also managed to write some more material for "Bloody Knuckles", my upcoming podcast... hope to have a couple of episodes done by the end of the month!  Made myself a nice dinner and headed to bed at 10pm.

I went back to work this morning at my normal time (8am), and it was nice to have that extra hour of sleep.  The day was mercifully uneventful... one of the few slow days in our busy season.  I actually had time to start the preparations for our annual inventory coming up in a month and a half!

At lunch, we had our usual banter.  We discussed our respective weekends, and when my turn came, I mentioned how I'd spent all weekend cleaning the house.  One of the dullards piped up, "Fuck that! That shit is womens' work!"

Now, in the lad's defense, he's not that bright (honestly, I've stepped in smarter things), so I let it go.  But one of the (somewhat) less moronic guys chimed in, "You gettin' in touch with your feminine side, CJ?".

I looked at them and gave a resigned sigh.  "Yes, boys," I said in my most dryly unamused tone, "I got in touch with my feminine side and made it my bitch."  The boys cheered and high-fived each other, oblivious to the fact I was mocking them.

"You gotta find yourself a woman!" the dullard said.

"Why is it a woman's job to clean up after me?" I asked.

"Huh?" one said, rapidly looking at his counterpart, confused.

"I said, why should it be a woman's job to clean up after me?" I asked again, getting angry.

They looked at each other again, not really having an answer.

To be continued...

I'll be continuing the story in the next couple of days.  Please refrain from commenting until the end of the third act.