My Digital Nightmare

My Digital Nightmare

Recently, as in a few weeks back, I had a bunch of nice websites. Good layouts, interesting information, decent design, the requisite number of cats pictures. You get the idea.


Then one day, all the websites disappeared. They were just gone.

Needless to say I was somewhat annoyed.

I tried to approach this in the most professional way possible, and contacted the web hosting company.

It turns out that there had been a recent buying spree on the part of large web hosting companies to acquire smaller web hosting companies. My hosting company had been acquired, likely as a result of one of those “What should I do today?” musings by someone with obscene amounts of money and lots of free time.


As a result my web hosting company changed from a small, dedicated group of people who really knew their stuff to little more than a single cog in a large corporate wheel, and the corporate Big Daddys then outsourced their technical services and web support to an overseas nation which shall remain nameless.


I exchanged emails and support tickets with some very nice people, like Saurabh and Sandip and Sunjit and Sameer and Abhijeet, and although they were unfailingly polite they seemed somewhat completely clueless.

This began 10 days of increasingly frustrating back and forth on-line chatting, discussing about who did what and when, with numerous insightful suggestions from the Support Technicians like, “Did you spell your username correctly“, and “Is your password more than four letters?” They were working some truly cutting edge ideas.

Finally, after a three day period of insisting that the problems was due to a “brute force hack attack” (they loved throwing out that term), the Techs announced they had deduced the root cause of my missing websites. It was due to (and I quote verbatim) “random internet glitches“.


The response I sent to Sandip and his merry band of computer neophytes to discuss this phenomenon of “random internet glitches” was short and consisted of an intense series of four-letter words designed to express my dismay at their level of digital incompetence.  

The next day all of my websites suddenly re-appeared (“Praaaaise Jee-zus! It’s a miracle!”) and I felt the need to make a choice: stay with that company and run the risk that another random internet glitch biting me in the ass or seek the greener pastures of a new hosting company.

I swallowed the blue pill, did some online research and found a good hosting company, and swallowed the blue pill. I went to my hosting company website, re-directed my domain names to the servers of this new web hosting company (“Namaste, dumb-asses!”) and set about checking the status of my websites. Everything seemed OK and I am now BFF’s with the new web hosting company. They seem nice.


I’m not even concerned about the apparent lack of adult supervision in their office. Even if it appears they do their design work with crayons.

But there is a lot of re-building work to do on my websites, some of them pretty much from scratch. And I will get right to work on that after this small break.

The View from Here

The View from Here

How does the world look like from my current perch in the tree of life? Well, I’m a guy in my late-50’s, and rakishly handsome in an Elmer Fudd sort-of-way. My physique is less Mr. Universe and more Mr. Fix-it.

I have two university degrees in science. I also have two cats. The cats like to follow me around all day, purring and laying on the keyboard. The degrees used to sit on a wall, looking important. I like purring cats; the degrees are in a drawer somewhere.

I also have two kids. Not only are they wonderful young ladies who are far prettier and much smarter than I am, but they allow me to use my place on the lofty Parent Pedestal as a soapbox to rail against everything I perceive as not being perfect for the kind of world their generation will inherit.

I drive a compact Toyota, so I can rage about climate change and oil depletion. I recycle regularly, so I can rage about the wasting of our resources. And I (occasionally) drink rye whisky so I can rage about everything else.

I started my career as a wildlife biologist, morphed into a forestry consultant, then a landscape ecologist, then a university professor, then a municipal planner. Now I’m trying to juggle all of them in an attempt to find a career which is both rewarding and free of workplace idiots. That first requirement is probably attainable; I suspect the latter is a pipe-dream.

I live in a small loft apartment on Vancouver Island (British Columbia) which has strangely-shaped walls painted a hideous yellow-beige colour. But it has lots of kitchen counters and it’s the only apartment I’ve ever found which has a picture window in the bathroom with a view of trees in the foreground and the snow-covered Olympic Mountains in the distance. If I can sit on the toilet and look at a glacier, I can put up with the dreadful wall colour.

I live in western Canada, a good perch from which to observe the passing world because the worst thing anybody thinks about us is that, as a people, we Canadians are “very polite”. So other people usually don’t mind when we criticize them.

I thought reality TV was a cool concept when it first came along. But then it evolved into “Here Come the Kardashians” and “Honey Boo Boo”. I can’t believe that the social values of our society can possibly sink any lower. I’m probably wrong.

I found my dream house on the internet. It has palm trees, blue floor tiles, a blue-felt pool table, a blue-colored swimming pool, blue sky, blue ocean and is owned by a company which rents it to tourists for $7,000 a week. I don’t make $7,000 a week.

I love my kids. Love my family. Love cats, peanut butter and dark Irish beer.

I live in a country that everybody says is the best place in the world to live (Canada) but very few people outside this fine nation can find it on the map, nor wonders why they can’t.

I awake in the mornings as an optimist, have lunch as a realist, finish dinner as a pessimist, and then hit the sack as a cynical optimist.

I was once one word away from completing the Sunday New York Times crossword in less than 45 minutes. One lousy four letter word. Never did figure it out. Oh well, it’s just water off a duck’s back. (And in hindsight, ‘duck’ might have been the right answer).

I like to collect eccentric things, like animal skulls (approaching 150 of those), Canadian RCMP quarters from 1973 (over 200) and traditional Irish Dance costumes (5 so far – they are expensive, as opposed to animal skulls which are generally free and RCMP quarters which cost about a dollar if you buy them – free if you find them unexpectedly in your change).

I’m thinking that I should also collect ironies since I run into so many odd ones. If so, then the crossword puzzle ‘duck’ would be a fine addition since I was once a waterfowl biologist. I would file that one under Iconic Ironies.

I like to watch the International Space Station pass over my house; it reminds me of how far we have come. I don’t like to get hit on by homeless panhandlers; it reminds me of how far we have yet to go.

Five decades into this life and I’m still doing things that wouldn’t have even crossed my mind before. This is fun.

Why I Built a Personal Website

Why I Built a Personal Website

I figured the time had come.

I’ve been using computers and the internet since before the World Wide Web existed, back in the good old ARPAnet days, when Geeks were not cool and computers were the size of refrigerators yet had less computing power or memory than iPods.


Even before Steve Jobs became a hippie or Bill Gates became a nerd I found myself sitting in front of an enormous dot matrix printer playing the very first Star Trek computer game with the Enterprise searching for the evil Klingons. The input was through a clunky keyboard and we used a pen and paper to plot possible locations of the Klingon Bird of Prey in the 2-dimensional grid universe. The output of each flight was the printed location of our new position on the grid. The result of each photon torpedo shot was another printed line, either Hit or Miss.

It was slow, it was unbearably clumsy by today’s standards and it took an entire freakin’ mainframe computer to run the game! But we had so much fun.

In the ensuing years I spent countless hours in Paul and Andrew’s basement, my friends from down the block. Their Dad had bought a computer from Radio Shack; a Tandy 1000. I had no idea how to turn it on or boot it up because only their Dad was allowed to perform that important task. But once it was running, we had three games to choose from, all of them controlled using the keyboard. Hours of fun. Countless hours.

Then Paul and I discovered video game arcades. Space Invaders, Asteroids, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Defender, Missile Command, Galaga and Tron (we were too cool to play Pac Man). Handfuls of quarters. Countless more hours.

Skip forward to my early 20’s when I spent a summer working for a provincial government agency. One day my boss said he would show me how to use the new computer. He pointed to where it sat on a table and told me to fire it up. When he joined me a few minutes later, the monitor screen was still dark.

Ken: “Why didn’t you turn it on?”

Me: “Well….”

Long pause. Followed by a longer pause.

Ken: “Do you know where the power-on switch is?”

Me: “Well….”

He laughed and reached behind the computer. There was a loud ‘ka-chunk!’ followed by a beep, some whirring sounds, another beep and then the screen flickered on. After a few seconds the flickering settled down and I was facing a black screen with a blinking light in the top left corner. The blinking light was the cursor, next to the only other thing on the screen which turned out to be C:/.

That was my introduction to MS DOS 3.0.

This was the era of the massive desktop computers which used floppy disks; memory disks so thin they were actually floppy. They were the latest technology but still held only enough resident memory to save about 20 pages of plain text.


The monitors were the size of mini-fridges and instead of a friendly graphic user interface with Windows and soothing music, all you would get was that very black and intimidating screen, with the blinking cursor which mocked you; “Hey, stop staring and type in a command. Any command. I dare you…” No such thing as a mouse in those days. It was all typed commands.


These days, we have handheld devices that will allow me to simultaneously check my e-mail, add a day-timer entry for an upcoming meeting, send a multi-version document to an entire work team at once, chat with someone on the other side of the planet and have some snot-nosed teen from a different continent destroy my character in an FPS combat game.


From a slow mainframe with paper printer instead of a monitor to smartphones with genius capabilities. Mindboggling.

After all that time spent staring at a computer screen, I figured it was time I did something more useful with the internet than just more games.

Something other than writing boring technical documents that no one will ever read, or editing environmental plans that the construction company is just going to ignore anyway in favour of their ‘ screw the wetlands; gotta git ‘er done!‘ approach.

Something more productive than forwarding videos of cats doing funny things on YouTube. Something more permanent than Facebook entries that begin with, “Hey everybody. Look what I had for lunch!

I mean it’s not like I didn’t gain any real computer experience along the way. I’ve spent lifetimes working my way through DOS 3.0, DOS 3.2, DOS 4.0, and DOS 6.1. Then Windows 95, WIN 98, Windows ME (the horror!), Windows XP (the promised land), Windows 8 (Aaargh, my eyes!), WIN 8.1 and Windows 10. And lately, Apple iOS 8, iOS 9 and iOS 10. In short, I am a digital bad ass (maybe).

I’ve decided the time has come to claim my own bit of digital real estate and so, with this website, I hereby plant my flag on the virtual landscape.

Social Engineering in the Workplace

Social Engineering in the Workplace

I used to work for the town of [redacted] in northern Alberta, Canada, as the town’s Municipal Development Planner. It was a pretty small town so everybody knew where the town office was and most of the residents had the same low regard for the people who worked there. After all, town employees didn’t have real jobs but they sure got paid as if they did.

One day the town council came up with the brilliant idea that putting the bios of senior staff in the local paper was a great way to convince the residents that the town’s employees were well qualified and working hard on their benefit.

Council brought this to the town manager and assistant town manager who also thought it was brilliant. The rest of the staff were ambivalent about being more ‘visible’ in a town where animosity towards civic employees ran pretty high.

As for me I hated the idea. Since I regularly made decisions about granting or denying permits for all developments in town, I held the one position that residents universally saw as “potential ass hat”. So no, I did not want to do anything to increase the size of the target on my back.

I demurred when the idea was first dumped on the staff. Then came the deadline to have our bios ready for the town manager to review. Then a second deadline specifically for me when the first one whizzed by. Then came the closed door meeting at which I was the guest of honor; apparently providing a bio was not optional. I was given a new deadline: noon the following day.

When I asked about the format for the bio the reply was “enough detail to give the residents a good feel for your qualifications but not so long that it cost very much to put it in the paper. No more than one page.”

A single page bio showing my most outstanding qualifications? I could do that. Next morning a copy of my bio was on the town manager’s desk. And also emailed to every town employee to, you know, get their input.

Andre Legris (Palmarius non fecit)

Andre Legris was born in Edmonton, Alberta. He immediately looked around and thought, “Well, this will all have to change”.

He speaks multiple languages: English, French and Quebecois. Can curse in all three.

He grew up in west Edmonton (Canada) one block from where Wayne Gretzky first lived. He convinced Gretzky to stay with hockey despite The Great One’s desire to play bass guitar in a folk-rock band.

When he was 23, a chance meeting with Bill Gates in a dingy cantina in Tijuana, Mexico, lead to a boozy afternoon during which he convinced Gates that Portals was a lousy name for a computer program and that Windows sounded better.

He has multiple academic degrees but prefers doing cool stuff.

One day during winter, he made time stand still. It was only for a nanosecond but nonetheless, it was cool stuff.

He was accepted into the NASA Astronaut program but declined the invitation when he realized that you can’t actually fly the International Space Station anywhere but around and around in endless circles.

He was offered the Nobel Peace Prize for his international work, but decided not to accept, citing the inevitable requirement to talk to an endless stream of journalists, politicians and other vermin. That, and his preference to ‘fly under the radar’.

He once finished the New York Time’s Sunday crossword in less than ten minutes but left a single four letter word unfilled, just because.

He has seen the future and does not approve. Not one damn bit.

After a lifetime of observation of human nature in all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, he has decided that the optimal companion on this journey through life is a cat.

Andre became a Development Planner for the opportunity to both play God with people’s lives and meet hot women. He has succeeded magnificently with one of those goals; not so much with the other.

Andre’s time working for the Town of [redacted] so far has been an eclectic mix of shuffling paper, playing internet solitaire, drawing cool maps and plotting the quickest escape route to somewhere else.

So there it was, on a single page. Oddly enough not only was it not published in the newspaper but the subject of staff bios never resurfaced after that. A few of the staff were miffed that their bios were also never published. Oh well.

What’s the moral of this story? The lesson to be learned from this bit of tragicomedy? If anything, that social engineering works in the strangest of ways.As for the meaning of Palmarius non fecit? Nobody asked, which of itself speaks volumes. It is a loose translation from Latin: My masterpiece.

In Praise of City Wildnerness

In Praise of City Wildnerness

I am spending part of this lovely summer evening sitting at a picnic table along the shore of a small lake. About 30 feet from me is a family of Canada Geese, the young goslings still covered in downy feathers but starting to show the color patterns that will forever mark them as Canada Geese.

Most of the shoreline of this lake is covered by cattails and bull-rushes, which is one reason why there are dozens of ducks, shorebirds, terns and blackbirds flying around or calling from the dense plant cover.

There is another family of geese with very young goslings which was thinking of coming up onto the shore at an open space until an inquisitive young boy of about 8 ran down to the shore to greet them. He didn’t get as close to the geese as he wanted as they swam off, but he is happily waving to them and urging them to come back.

The town I live in has only about 11 thousand inhabitants but many of them can be found here at some point during the day. There are walking paths around the lake, benches to rest on, a gazebo or two placed in the shade of the tall trees which also surround much of the lake. It’s quite  pastoral here, and the only man-made things you can see are the pavilion on one side, right next to the playground, while off in the other direction you can see the top of the old water tower.

So it’s pretty natural environment around here, if you don’t count the tall fountain in the one small bay which is throwing a lovely shower of spray into the air.

The point is, we have this wonderful little park close to just about everywhere in town and it takes only a few minutes to drive here. More importantly, this short distance actually takes us a great deal further away from town than can be measured by the odometer; we end up far beyond the annoyances of traffic and stop lights, away from the blaring stereos and sputtering lawn mowers, well removed from the constant racket and clatter of the modern urban environment.

And we need more of this ability to escape from the harsh rendering of the built environment of cities. We need to be able to find the calmness and tranquility that can only be provided by the presence of water and trees and birds.

A United Nations report on the state of the global population estimated that in August of 2007, for the first time in human history, more of us lived in towns and cities than lived in rural areas. Which means that half of the world’s populace is living in an environment designed, built and maintained strictly by human endeavour.

And it is an environment of concrete, glass and asphalt, where trees are often seen as obstacles and water is the enemy, to be drained away as quickly as possible. An environment of discordant noise, dirty skies and unrelenting movement.

Cities evolved over the course of human history to protect us from the thing we feared most: other people. And it worked with varying degrees of success, with the inhabitants protected from the rampaging hordes of “others”. And over time, the city evolved to better protect greater numbers of people.

But these days, we no longer require protection from other people, and even if we did, a city is not the optimal solution, cities being rather large and inviting targets for modern military capability.

No, what we use cities for now is protection from the natural environment. After all, it’s not easy living off the land; crops have to be grown, fruit picked at just the right time, and sometimes the best tasting food can only be found perched on top of four, very fast legs. But if we build bigger cities, then people outside the cities will grow the food, pick the fruit and catch the four-legged tasty things.

Which means that the city has become less about personal safety from others and more about socializing with others. They are places where art and culture can thrive, where medicine is researched and where education at all levels can be passed down.

But they are not normally places where an 8 year old boy can get close to wild geese. Or where many people can spend a relaxing hour sitting on a picnic table enjoying the ducks ( and now a beaver towing with a very large branch).

With half the human population living apart from these simple pleasures, we run the risk of having the next generation grow up with almost no first-hand knowledge of what most of the planet is still like. And even more so, having very little experience of it.

There aren’t too many people who wouldn’t enjoy spending this past hour as I have. Fortunately I can do it easily enough but I would imagine I am in the minority. The expanse of concrete and glass is just too large for many people to escape for an hour.

What we really need is more trees and water and birds into our cities.

A Plié Among the Pick-up Trucks

A Plié Among the Pick-up Trucks

I just returned from my daughter’s dance recital. She has been taking lessons from a dance academy here in town for the past year and with spring comes the year-end recital. And what a recital it was. About 450 hundred dancers doing some 40 dances (I lost count) over the course of four hours.

Since this is a small town with a population of only 11,000, that many dancers represents about 4% of the total population. Add at least one parent per dancer and that’s 8% of the town’s population involved in a single event. Pretty heady numbers for us.

But what really blew me away was the quality of the dancing. The dances were mainly ballet, tap and jazz, with a healthy number of Ukrainian dancers and three troupes of hip-hop bouncers. The choreography was terrific, the energy palpable and the sweat was flying. Unbelievable enthusiasm from both dancers and parents.

But here’s an interesting note. This town is not near any place you would associate with this level of enthusiasm for an art form generally regarded as (point nose upwards here) cultural elitism. Touring dance troupes would never book any performances here, concerts always happen in nearby, larger cities and the kind of culture normally associated with this part of the world does not include ballet slippers.

Here in central Alberta, the population is conservatively religious, politically conservative and rigidly political. Our local politicians have been from conservative parties for the last century or so, there are churches everywhere you go and if people want to see an art gallery, or a renowned museum, or take in an opera, this is simply not the town.

Yet there is an island of real culture here, amidst the twin economic pulls of ranching and oil exploration. And it’s a testament to what is possible when children and young people are allowed to choose how to express themselves when adults give them free rein. Not all kids want desperately to belong to the best sports teams, or the coolest gangs. Not when almost one tenth of the population cares enough to dress up and spend the evening watching young people pour their hearts out for an art form that gets little respect from most of the rest of the population.

It’s great to see what can thrive if we just give our kids a hand and some encouragement. Who knows, perhaps the next great ballerina to perform in the Kennedy Centre or on the London stage may just come from our small town.

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