Wednesday, January 18, 2017

WiFi Art Thou, Romeo?

Some people swear at Dell and others swear by them.  I have used Dell laptops since I got my first one more than 20 years ago.  Only one gave serious trouble and not until after my youngest had taken it over.  She was sleeping on the couch in our basement with the computer on the coffee table beside her when the battery caught fire. For that she got a brand new upgraded laptop. I have replaced a couple of HD but long before they died and destroyed data.

So when I replaced my 5 year old Dell Inspiron it was with another.  Dell Inspiron 15 7000, model 7559.

As our home is about 5 km from and 50 meters below the town, internet is a problem.  A dial up wireless modem was our final go to after trying a number of other approaches.  Then Tanya and I both got smart phones and needed internet access for them.  For about $100 we bought a Huawei portable wireless receiver and WiFi unit (about 6 X 9 X 1 cm).  Top speed about 2.5 mbps but mostly in the 500 kbps.  Slow but functional.

The WiFi on my new laptop worked when I got it and then suddenly didn't work any more. Not a problem as the Huawei plugged into it via USB to charge the battery and also connect to the internet.  The WiFi not working bothered me no end as someday I may want to take my computer with me and connect someplace.

The Wi-Fi adapter is Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 3165 and according to troubleshooting may have driver problems.  According to Google, everyone with this computer and this adapter is very unhappy with it. Since I bought the computer in Canada, I felt guilty about taking it to my local computer shop (another reason to always buy local) so I turned to the internet.

I use the IT services of Online Tech Solutions, who lives in Delhi. He has saved my butt a few times and he is fair and reasonable in his invoicing. A company, formerly known as E-lance now called Upwork, connects free lance consultants to clients around the world.  Anything that can be done via internet is available.  I have used it to find translators and IT assistance which is how I found OTS.

Here is a link to his company profile: He is currently getting sufficient business from repeat clients that he is not actively looking for new work.

He spent a few fruitless hours trying to rescue the WiFi adaptor and finally gave it up.  Replacing it had not worked well for several people according to Google so he recommended TP-Link N150 Wireless Nano USB Adapter (TL-WN725N) which I picked up today for $12 USD from my local computer shop.  Found and downloaded the driver and utility for Windows 10, installed it and I am away to the races.

When you are a one-horse consultancy, you depend on a great many others to get things done.  Having worked in a large government department where the IT branch was there to 'make sure you could not get the hardware and software you needed' (not quite that bad but sometimes close) I sure appreciate an IT person I can talk to and learn from.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Paradise, Kentucky

Michigan is still home to Hell  but in 1967, Paradise disappeared from Kentucky, remaining only as a ghost town. Four years later John Prine wrote a song about it which I was listening to yesterday. My curiosity got the better of me.

Paradise was a small town in Muhlenberg CountyKentucky. It was torn down in 1967 by the Tennessee Valley Authority due to health concerns over its proximity to a nearby coal-burning electric plant, Paradise Fossil Plant.

Paradise was settled in the early nineteenth century. It is postulated the name was descriptive, for settlers who considered the setting to be paradise. A post office was established at Paradise on March 1, 1852; it closed in 1967.

A song about Paradise, Kentucky, called "Paradise", was written and made famous by singer/songwriter John Prine. The lyrics attribute the destruction of Paradise to the Peabody company, and allude to the fact that the town was a site for strip mining. In reality, the town remained in partial form after the Pittsburgh & Midway Coal Mining Company and Peabody Coal Company stripped the coal around it. 

The Paradise Fossil Plant was initially erected with only two units; afterwards, the residents who were left in the village were bought out by the Tennessee Valley Authority after ash fall from the newly opened plant brought health concerns to the area. Soon after the TVA bought the town out, they tore down all the structures and constructed the largest cyclonic fired boiler in the world at the new "Paradise Unit 3". All that remains of the original town is a small cemetery at the top of a hill close to the plant. (abstracted from Wikipedia)

Prine mentions the abandoned old prison down by Airdrie Hill (about 1 mile north of Paradise) in his song.  Found a link to it with some rather fascinating history and a picture of the remaining two stone structures (and also with a link to the Breathitt County Feuds. Fun times in old Kentuck').

Also found this description of the stone structures The Story of Airdrie.

".........A wealthy Scot who lived in Scotland, but who had been born in Kentucky, became aware that Scotland was in a terrible state and the iron ore sources were depleting..........". "..........The Scottish immigrants sailed to the new land in 1854 and immediately began building a city and the iron ore business........" "......Airdrie's furnace was in operation no more than 8 weeks before it would blow a boiler. After three failed attempts to produce quality iron ore, and after 1/3 of a million dollars spent, the owner had enough and called for the ironworks to be closed in the fall of 1857......."

Location of Power plants and strip mining

Location of Rochester dam mentioned in the last verse of the song

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Rolling Mills of Middletown

Tom T Hall is a story teller in song.  One of his songs, The Rolling Mills of Middletown, released 45 years ago in 1972, tells the story of two friends who moved from Kentucky to work in the ARMCO steel mill in Middletown, Ohio, halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton. The one catches his unhappy wife cheating with "some dayshift guy" and throws himself into a blast furnace.  The song meant nothing to me, other than being another sad country song until I read JD Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy: a memoir of a family and a culture in crisis". Suddenly, I could put the song into both historical context and get a glimpse of a world now long past where good paying factory jobs were readily available to people with highschool or less education. The loss of these jobs is greatly mourned by the white working class of the rust belt who elected Donald Trump.

Middletown is the setting of Hillbilly Elegy, where Vance's grandparents moved from backwoods Kentucky in the 1940s in search of a better life and where Vance grew up. It is the location of the huge steel plant owned by American Rolling Mill Corporation a.k.a. Armco Steel a.k.a. AK Steel. According to the AK Steel website, the plant in Middletown is still in operation.

Middletown Works, located in southwest Ohio, midway between Cincinnati and Dayton, is the nation's most productive integrated steel operation. Its carbon steel melting, casting, hot and cold rolling, and finishing operations cover more than 2,791 acres. Middletown Works' hot strip mill is the only domestic mill equipped with pair-cross rolling technology for improved shape and crown control.

What the website doesn't say is how many jobs were shed through automation in the years between Tom T Hall's song and JD Vance's book. But Vance's book covers it quite well, not so much the numbers but the effect on the town and its people. If you have not read it, I would recommend it highly.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


By now everyone paying attention to the American gong show is aware of the 35 page document Buzzfeed released of unverified accusations that Trump is far more mixed up with the Kremlin than he will admit and furthermore that they have a compromising video of him.  The latter has provided a great deal merriment on the internet from people recognizing that he is, indeed, a Goldwater Republican.

Whether or not anything in the dossier is true, it is nice to see him get a little of his own back after all the problems he gave Obama and Clinton. And if it can be proven that he and his team conspired with the Russians during the campaign, he joins the ranks of Nixon and Reagan in committing treason in order to win an election.

Not sure that a video of the Golden (Showers) Girls is particularly damning to someone like Trump, compared to, say, three 13 year old girls, but since the video was made a few years back, the FSB would have to take what they could get ie what Trump was interested in. Whether it exists or not, Kompromat (Compromising Material) is certainly how the Russians and the Soviets before them do and did business.

Walter Duranty who infamously said that the Ukrainians were hungry but not starving during the Holodomor privately admitted that up to 10 million had died but he vehemently denied it in the press, writing glowingly of Stalin.  Robert Conquest believed it was because he was being blackmailed over his drug use and sexual behaviour.

Brian Whitmore of The Power Vertical podcasts on RFE/RL posted a link on his daily newsletter The Morning Vertical (which you can subscribe to for free here) describing How State-Sponsored Blackmail Works in Russia. Well worth reading to understand how it is done.

My own experience with the Soviet surveillance system occurred in 1991.  My first overseas trip was as part of a Saskatchewan trade mission to Kazakhstan.  It was still the USSR in those days though as t turned out, not for many months longer.  We flew into Moscow via Helsinki in order to fly to Almaty Kazakhstan.  ALL flights into Russia were through Moscow. The in-flight movie, appropriately enough, was The Russia House with Sean Connery and Michelle Pheiffer. 

We may have stayed at the Intourist Hotel or one of its sisters downtown near the Kremlin. Your room key was held by a floor lady and returned to her if you left your room.  Her job was to know who came and when and when and if there were any visitors and report all this to authorities. We did not lock our suitcases as we knew they would be gone through (they were) and if locked, the locks would be broken.

Between each pair of rooms was a small door opening into, we assumed, a narrow room where maintenance could access plumbing and the KGB could eavesdrop either live or with bugs.  We did not expect our rooms would be bugged in Moscow as we were pretty small potatoes.

Kazakhstan was a different matter.  In Tselinograd (now the capital city of Astana) we again stayed at the Intourist Hotel where we ran into another Saskatchewan businessman.  He was working on establishing a swather manufacturing joint-venture and had been staying at the hotel quite a while.  The manager of the hotel finally told him one day to stop talking to himself in the morning as she had to go to the Police station and report everything he said.  He did not believe her until she quoted word for word his morning conversation while he was shaving.

We did not talk business in our rooms.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Christmas Cards and Letters

Our Christmas Letter for 2016 went out this morning.  Some by email, some by Facebook-messenger.  None by mail; I depend on others to make sure that those without computers (like my brother) get a copy. Four pages, of which 2 are photos, with a brief paragraph highlighting something about each person in the family.

People don't do that so much anymore, with Facebook to keep up to date with people and events.  I can count on two hands the number of letters But I like to keep up the tradition.  Partly because some people find it interesting (surviving members of my dad's cousins) and partly because cumulatively these letters contain a mini history of my family. I have letters going back to 1983.  One of my shirt-tail relatives has Christmas letters going back to 1969.

In the '50s, when I was a child, everyone sent Christmas cards, even to their neighbours half a mile down the road.  Letters were 5¢ and Christmas cards, if the envelope wasn't sealed, were 3¢. The cards were mounted on wall racks or strung across the room and 100 or more were not unusual in our farm home. I sold Christmas cards door to door as a youngster to raise money for Christmas presents.

The price of postage went up and the number of cards dropped off.  When Ella and I were married in 1974, we only sent cards to people when a letter was included.  Ella was a prolific correspondent and often spent Sunday afternoons cranking out handwritten letters to friends and relatives.  Christmas letters were merely continuations of on-going correspondence and were individually composed. About 10 years in, that got to be too much so we began with mass mailing a standard letter.  From that time on, I have copies.

Eight years ago, I blogged about Christmas letters also.

Letters run from the sublime to the ridiculous but I can honestly say we never got one like this:

We did write one of our own like that, loosely based on letters we received over the years. The guilty parties are since deceased but are fondly remembered.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 - My Year in Books

According to Goodreads, I read 101 books in 2016.  Of these about 21 qualify as 'real' books.  The remainder are westerns, mainly Louis L'Amour, of which I have all his works in digital format.  I have hundreds of books on my e-reader but my brain was worn out so I gave it most of the year off.

Currently, I am reading The Black Count, a biography of Alexander Dumas' father, who was the original Count of Monte Cristo.  Rather fascinating account of racism and politics in late 18th century, early 19th century France.

Also reading Set Adrift Upon the World, the Sutherland clearances.  Commonly referred to as the Highland Clearances, this history covers one particular region and land owner. With the best of intentions, the landowners set out to 'resettle' the crofters with terrible unintended consequences.

My goal this year is 50 'real' books.  We shall see.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Christmas Dinner at our House

What a marathon December turned into.  Tanya was already down with the flu (temps of 40+) on Dec 10 when I went rolling in the mud of a plowed garden trying to keep separate my dog Volk and the neighbour's dog, Ronald, who were intent on killing each other. Volk deserved a good beating but not necessarily being killed.  I had one collar in one hand and one in the other for it seemed like 20 minutes until the neighbour came and got his dog. The next day I was in bed, too.  Flu and Bronchitis for both of us.

Tanya's niece, Sveta, an absolute angel, packed her toothbrush, her cat Murashka, and dog Limonka, and moved in with us for two weeks. We could not have managed without her.

Tanya and I were both on injectable antibiotic, morning and night.  I was supposed to roll one way in the morning and the other at night to even out the injection sites but could never remember which.  Sveta said both ways looked the same anyhow. I was the first human Sveta had injected but she had lots of practice on dogs.  She nursed Limonka for a couple months through a disease that kills most dogs.  She should have been a vet instead of a corn breeder.

My youngest daughter, Lynmara, was arriving from London on Dec 22nd.  I was supposed to meet her in Kyiv at the airport.  Not going to happen, so we called a taxi driver friend of ours in Kyiv and he met my daughter and her friend, Mark, and got them safely to the train station.  Sveta went to meet them in P'yatikhatki and they were at our place by 11:00 pm.  We filled them full of borshch and stew and sent them to their beds.

Next day, Tanya was well enough to supervise daughter-in-law Lina and Sveta to get things moving for Christmas. I was well enough to lose three straight games of cribbage.  By Christmas Eve, Tanya and I were both 90% mended and spent the day cooking and baking.

My Ukrainian family's gift to me, which I greatly appreciate, is to celebrate Christmas December 25th (we also celebrate Jan 7th too) so I will not miss my family in Canada too much.  So we have a big Christmas dinner and exchange gifts.  Andrei was running a fever so he dropped off Tania and the two girls and Tania's mother and went home to bed (he was well in a couple days). So with Lynmara, Mark, Sveta, Lina, Tanya and I we had 10 people around the table.  With enough food for twenty.

The dinner table
Just in case you doubt me, here is the menu:

  • Green tossed salad
  • Kholodets (jellied meat, made from half a 6 kg farm raised chicken)
  • Salad Olivier (Russian Potato Salad)
  • Broccoli spears and dip 
  • Roast turkey (half a 10 kg farm raised bird) and cranberry sauce.
  • Poached salmon steaks
  • Kutleta (Ukrainian meatballs), mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Cold sliced roast beef
  • Cold sliced roast pork loin
  • Black and green olives
  • Pickled mushrooms
  • Dill pickles
  • Blue cheese and crackers
  • Grapes, mandarin oranges
  • Cookies and muffins

After dinner we exchanged gifts.  Lynmara had something for everyone, including packages of OLD cheddar cheese which we cannot get in Ukraine (though we can get many wonderful kinds of European cheese). Then we did pictures.

Mark, Sveta, Lynmara, Lina
Lynmara, Dasha, Masha

Dasha loves to come to our place because she has room to run and she loves to run.  So we went up to the office and she asked for 'good music' which means Rossini's William Tell Overture Finale.  We had moved her trampoline into the attic so she just ran circuits around the room.  Where do kids get so much energy?


Mark had to fly home next day as he had people coming so Lynmara, being familiar with the system, went with him to show him the ropes on the night train and make sure he got to the airport. Then she came back on the express that evening.

Lynmara flew home on the 31st and Tanya and I settled back into the routine of just the two of us, three cats and two dogs.  We had a quiet New Year's Eve supper in front of the TV and went to bed about 1:00 am.