Category: Technology


I donated blood last week and it got me thinking about how much the process of blood donation has changed over the years.  My first donation was in high school, in the ’70’s, when a clinic came to our school.   The process back then was pretty simple, as I recall: the biggest barrier for most students was that you had first to want to give blood; the notion of having a large needle inserted into the arm was off-putting for many of my classmates.   Once committed, you were asked if you’d eaten breakfast and then female students were given a test to check iron levels.  If all was well, you moved over to a cot where a nurse tied a rubber band a bit like a soft rubber hose around your arm and poked you with the needle.  Some ten to twenty minutes later, you were done, and got to move over to the table where they plied you with juice, cookies and doughnuts – almost making the donation worth it.   Continue reading

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The Beer Strike

near Gander, NL

Terra Nova Tel was a Newfoundland-based telecommunications company headquartered in Gander when I got the call to fix their multiplexer. The equipment had been in place a number of years, and the faulty line in question was a 56 kbps dataport, one of my firm’s newer pieces of hardware.  The year was 1985 and I was part of the Customer Engineering department in Ottawa, where one of our responsibilities was field support.  My colleague had tried all the usual things to resolve the problem over the phone, but had determined that a site visit was in order since the problem remained.   Being the newest in the group, I won the short straw to make the trip. Continue reading

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

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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A neck to choke

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

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

The demise of the PC

The evolution of mobile computing

It was an interesting read, going through Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker’s recent presentation on Internet trends.  The piece covered the expected stats about growth in internet, smartphone and tablet users by country and provided an interesting split on trends.   A fascinating fact was that mobile internet traffic has already exceeded land-based in India, and I loved her section on thinking like a 25-year-old.   As a user, I wasn’t ecstatic about the news that mobile ad revenue is way under-subscribed, but I guess that is inevitable with these trends.

Meek’s re-imagination, as she puts it, of knowledge, photography and navigation are spot-on.  The camera in my two-year old Android phone is more powerful than the digital one I bought a decade or so ago.  And when was the last time you asked someone to give you directions to somewhere?  In fact a whole industry has arisen not only to show you how to get somewhere, but also to track where you’ve been, whether it is employers who want, ostensibly, to optimize vehicle mileage, or individuals who want to know how far they went in their Sunday morning run. Continue reading

Dumbing down the newspaper

PaywallWith much flourish and a quite beautiful marketing campaign, my newspaper recently introduced a paid on-line option, following over the pay wall such esteemed titles such as The Wall Street Journal and The Times. As an iPad owner, I was keen to experience the paper’s digital version with new “subscriber-only” content, and explore both the web- and tablet-based experiences. But after a few days, I returned to my paper version. There’s something unfortunate that happens in the transition from paper to digital, and it isn’t good news for newspapers; the very rendering of content in today’s digital formats serves to dumb it down. Or so it appears to me.

There are three reasons I can see for this. Firstly, in appearing on-line, paper copy gets tarred by the Internet’s brush. Our writing quality expectations are lower for the Internet; everyone’s a journalist on-line, no one has an editor to remind them their piece is nonsensical, belligerent, boring, or imagine that, spelt imperfectly. And while this isn’t to say there is no good quality writing on the web, it is just so overwhelmed by the volumes of bad stuff.  We’re used to the poor quality on-line and expect nothing more; I assert in fact that we judge in advance based on medium. Continue reading