Archive for January, 2013

image credit: Woodhull Institute

As a teenager, I was given a copy of the book “The Women’s Room” by American feminist author Marilyn French, published in 1977.  It struck me deeply in a number of areas and for several years I went about as if I was a member of an oppressed group.  (It is funny how women today hasten to separate themselves from the title of feminist, no longer feeling the oppression so apparent to the North American middle-class female in the ’60’s and ’70’s.)  The book’s themes covered everything from how a woman was called (the original cover featured a sign for the “Ladies‘” washroom, with the word “WOMEN’S” painted over in dark marker.  I became a fervent user of “woman” instead of “girl” or “lady” for many years.) to the boredom and loneliness of the traditional female role to the more expected sexism and inequality.  After reading it, I was determined that I would not be trapped with the sole role of wife, but would instead ensure to have a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), in which I could achieve anything a man could. Continue reading


“Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.”

― Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever

Runaway Train

“What the hell is going on?”  The young but formidable vice-president stood waiting for me in my manager’s cubicle, a look of supreme impatience on his face.  He was a tall man, dark, almost swarthy and his intelligent eyes had a hard glint focused at me.  He was a legend at the company, a technical star who had allegedly arrived with “only” a film studies degree under his belt, but together with a few other bright lights, had in the ’70’s and ’80’s coded the custom operating system for our digital switch from scratch.  His genius being recognized, he was quickly moved up the ladder but unlike many technical sorts, he thrived in leadership roles, too, although his aggression was legendary.   On this large project, I was first to arrive among the three software development managers and he knew it, which brought him to wait in my office.  He had obviously been reviewing the daily development metrics and knew they told a sad tale: new defects coming in at twice the rate of fixes for existing ones, and as testing slowly progressed, the number of failed tests increasing instead of decreasing.

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Kwaheri, Uncle

Karen, Kenya (photo by C. Toplis)

Karen, Kenya (photo by C. Toplis)

It was just about dusk as the plane landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport; although a smooth flight from Geneva, I was shattered on arrival, mechanically lining up for Immigration (was my hastily got visa at the Kenyan embassy in Ottawa in order?), waiting for the borrowed red case to appear on the belt and then the final push through customs and into the arrivals area.  I hadn’t seen my aunt (or more properly, my ex-aunt, since she and my late uncle had divorced) for over twenty years and wasn’t sure we’d recognize one another, but sure enough, as I rounded the corner there she was just as I remembered, only silver, a quick smile coming to her face.  But it was Katherine, former wife and universally known from childhood as Pop, who had contacted me with the news of my uncle’s death, and as I came to know, who would be the one at the centre of arranging the final bits and pieces of his life and passing. Continue reading

A cathedral of pines

Towering Conifers at Lake of Two Rivers

Towering Conifers at Lake of Two Rivers

Mid-September, following a week’s rain delay, we made our way to Ontario’s Algonquin Park for some fall camping. It had been over a decade since my husband and I had last camped, certainly before we got our current dog, Hannibal. Our plan was to spend three days in the Lake of Two Rivers campground, our first visit to that park, and enjoy some hiking in the many trails of the Algonquin Park. Situated between Huntsville and Whitney on highway 60, Lake of Two Rivers campground is a cathedral of towering conifers providing dappled sunlit throughout the day.

In preparation for our visit, we pulled out our almost-new tent from the basement to determine if we still had all the pieces, pegs and tie-downs, erecting it on the back lawn. I toiled in the residual summer heat to inflate the air mattress that would serve as our bed, checking for holes. Hannibal promptly crawled inside the tent and went to sleep on the buoyant surface, oblivious to the baking heat of that hot afternoon. Although new to camping, he apparently still knew how to find the most comfortable spot around. Continue reading

With the NHL lockout now over, I am reminded how much I haven’t missed Don Cherry.

With the acquittal of all three defendants in the Nortel fraud case, the final chapter on the company’s sad failing has come to an inevitable if unsatisfactory end.  While the outcome of this trial was pretty much in my mind a foregone conclusion,  many of my former colleagues who toiled with me in what was once a truly great enterprise have been vocal on social media, feeling they have been deprived of some sort of justice. Continue reading

Cool Runnings

Long Island lock near Manotick in winter

A recent warm spell which followed a relentless deluge of snow over the past three weeks had me itching to head outside with my runners on, and it got me thinking about the joys of winter running. Since mid-December we’ve received about 76 cm (30 inches) of snow here in the Manotick area, and the banks at the edge of the road are piled higher than my shoulder in places.  My suburban street is designated third priority for plowing, so the surface of it is still quite snowy, making walking or running feel more like you’re on a soft, sandy beach than a road.  But this day launched with a sparkly sunlight, the light almost bright enough to hurt your eyes.  The just-above-freezing temperature, with a light wind, was perfect for a snowy run, not too cold to make it uncomfortable and that wind helping keep things cool after you got going.  Continue reading

Fitness Apps I love

Since my attempt, after half a century, to become a runner, I’ve also been looking for ways to integrate my love of mobile technology into my fitness regime.  There are no end of applications out there to help you with your fitness goals; here’s a look at my favourite ones – and because I’m allergic to paying for apps, these are all FREE.  I myself use an Android device for a mobile phone, but also have a wifi iPad for tracking training at home.

Running Apps

When I first started running I kind of snickered at all the GPS freaks at training runs that seemingly could never start a run on time because they were cursing at their watches while “waiting for satellites”.  But I’ve grown to appreciate the benefit of automatic tracking and it certainly is useful to have all your training data captured in one spot in the cloud. Continue reading

A browser with fenders

Old Chrome browser logo – still my favourite

The Chrome browser has been a favourite of mine since it was first introduced late in 2008.  Downloading the beta on a whim, I was immediately taken by its Omnibox, an intelligent merged search/address bar, where the browser is smart enough to determine which of these you’ve typed.  Of course, the main reason I kept using it was the speed; compared to the clunky old Internet Explorer (IE), it was lightning fast, even beating its developer-beloved competitor Firefox in independent testing at the time.

I love the minimalistic user interface with its myriad themes and easy-to-use theme creation tool.  Naturally, my Chrome theme sports a lovely image of Hannibal, my dog, at his favourite activity.  The delightful “most visited” page displays your eight most visited web locations with an attractive graphic image of each, making the bookmark bar far less needed.  And I’m always amused when some random browsing takes me somewhere unexpected, and Chrome informs me, “This page is in <choose one of 52 supported languages here>.  Would you like to translate it?”  I always select the “Nope” option with a smile.

Every time I visit my octogenarian mother in Toronto, I have to refrain myself from making Chrome her default browser.  Because, while she’d love the option of faster browsing, the different interface from her familiar IE would just confuse someone who’s such a newcomer to the computer in general.  So when on her computer, I keep things to her familiar environment … at a certain age, change is no longer good. Continue reading