Monday, December 14, 2009

Ubuntu installer not so great...

I've been digging for information on how to install Ubuntu onto an external USB drive. Although there seems to be a fair bit of experience documented it all seems to be focused on creating some kind of minimal install on a smaller USB pen drive. I don't want to install on a little USB key, I want to install on a partition of a large 320 Gb drive.

I grabbed a copy of the Ubuntu 9.1 ISO image and burned it onto a CD. Upon booting off the CD the installer only seems to recognize my first main drive and doesn't show me any other drives as options for installing. So I quit the installer and Ubuntu boots up in it's stand-alone live CD mode. Ok, maybe I can do it from here. Some more reading shows that I can do "fdisk -l" to show my drives... sure enough they're all there including my USB partitions. Then I found out about the utility in the System menu for creating a bootable USB drive so I run that. Ok, great it shows all the drives and partitions. I select the partition I want to use and the "make bootable" button is not enabled, so I assume I need to format the partition. Ok, no problem, push the "Format" button... Oops error (I don't remember what the error message was).... so the error dialog has an "Ok" button on it so I push "Ok".... The error comes up again.... Oh Oh... I start to worry now that something bad is happening. So instead of "Ok" I close the whole application and then restart it... Lo and behold... my USB drive partitions are gone and it shows only the entire USB drive as one partition. Scumbag software has gone and repartitioned the entire drive and possibly even formatted it as FAT32.

Lord save me from software developers that can't create foolproof software!! I'm so lucky that I didn't have anything important on that drive. Otherwise I'd be really pissed. I'm also lucky that it didn't touch the other USB drives on my system.

I thought Linux might be ready for prime time and I'd heard that Ubuntu was one of the best, but as I found about 10 years ago when I tried Linux, the developers are likely ultra-geeks that still haven't mastered the skills required to make systems usable by normal people. Sigh.

I've since found yet another set of instructions for installing onto an external drive. I might give it one more try but I'm not optimistic given this first failed attempt.

Monday, December 7, 2009

December already...

Hey, more than a month with no blog entries. Clearly I'm not much of a blogger.

One thing that's been occupying us for the past couple of weeks is our new puppy. We recently adopted a rescue puppy who was born in Attawapiskat (reference). Her new name is "Keiko" and we found her via She was rescued by and adopted from Moosonee Puppy Rescue and she's a very attractive, smart and well behaved puppy. Here's Keiko at about 7-8 weeks of age:

We encourage anyone looking for a new pet to consider rescuing an animal instead of purchasing from a breeder. There are not enough homes for the pets that are already amongst us and so breeding simply makes the problem worse instead of helping.

So, we've been going through the trials and tribulations of puppy training. Luckily Keiko is a fast learner and we're looking forward to a long and rewarding relationship with her.

Even as I type this she's causing some trouble trying to jump on the couch and challenge me into some play time. Time to take her for a walk.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Amazing Hubble Photo...

Many of the photos from space are simply awe inspiring...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Prostate Cancer - be gone!

Well, earlier this summer I was diagnosed with early stage "low risk" prostate cancer. Those annual (well, almost annual) physical exams paid off (in a way) because the last one showed a slightly elevated PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) level. So, sometime thereafter a prostate biopsy (a rather painful procedure) resulted in the bad news.

This is where the learning and decision making starts. You have to try to figure out what a "Gleason score" is and understand the various cancer stage rankings that are used. Fortunately there is a lot of online information available about prostate cancer. If you're in this situation I would urge you to educate yourself about the disease and the treatment options. Each person is different and your options will depend greatly on your age and your prognosis / test results.

In my case my doctor outlined three basic options:
  1. "Watchful waiting" which is a term used to describe the "do nothing" option. This choice is actually quite appropriate for some people in certain situations.
  2. "Radical Prostatectomy" which is the complete removal of the prostate gland by surgery.
  3. "Brachytherapy" which involves implanting tiny, radioactive capsules (called "seeds") into the prostate gland.
So for me the decision to go with a Radical Prostatectomy was driven by a few key factors:
  • My father died from cancer which originated from his prostate.
  • Given my age (currently 53) my thinking is that the younger I am the better I'm able to deal with the surgery and recover afterwards.
  • The thought if living with the knowledge that you have cancer slowly (or not so slowly) growing inside you and risking having it spread beyond the treatable stage seemed foolish to me. Again my age was a factor in avoiding the possible long term growth of the cancer.
The brachytherapy option was not considered a good choice for my early stage disease because it apparently eliminates the option of performing other treatments such as a prostatectomy thereafter.

So it has now been just over five weeks since my surgery and I'm feeling quite good (almost normal). Just about every aspect of the surgery and the after effects has been better than my prior expectations. I now consider myself to be somewhat better educated about the prostate gland and issues and treatments for prostate cancer.

One thing I think may be worth mentioning is the fact that there seems to be an unbalanced amount of information online about the minimally invasive "robotic prostatectomy". The robotic prostatectomy will likely become more available and pervasive over time but it is not an option in many cases depending on where you live. In my case my surgery was a "radical retropubic prostatectomy" which means it is "open" surgery through a large incision in your lower abdomen. Although the less invasive technique may result in faster recovery times and less discomfort, from my reading one of the most important factors (in both options) is the experience and skill of the surgeon performing the procedure. In my case I was offered my surgery within about one month of my diagnosis and my doctor has performed the procedure more than 500 times. To me the option of eliminating my cancer quickly and having it done by an experienced doctor was compelling and very comforting.

So my post operative pathology results indicate that I am now cancer free. Wow!!! It feels good to know this and I can now continue my life with a much greater peace of mind. If you're in your 50's (or 40's with family history) please consider an annual physical including a PSA blood test. It can mean a longer happier life expectancy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Touchpad scrolling problem - solution revealed

I've been pissed off many times by the fact that the scrolling on my touchpad just stops working all of a sudden. I couldn't figure out what was causing it to stop working. Sometimes it would just start working again on it's own and other times I would just reboot my machine to fix it.

Well, other people have discovered that watching online flash videos in full screen mode is what triggers the problem. And the weirdest thing is that it can be fixed by hitting the spacebar twice!! Is that bizarre or what. Software!! It really makes you wonder.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Miscellaneous update...

Well, we're back in Barrie after spending 10 days up at the cottage. Heather had been staying there since the beginning of August - rough life eh? Lot's of chores happening at the cottage - Finishing the renovations in the master bedroom, fixing some drainage problems in the new pump room before winter comes, had 18 tons of crushed gravel deposited on the driveway to eliminate the mud puddles. Of course in between chores there was plenty of wine, guitar playing, canoeing and general relaxation. Overall a great vacation. I think we had only one surprise rain shower during the entire week.

Found out today that Sam will be receiving another nice grant for her masters work for this coming year. Great news since this should avoid any financial worries for her while she finishes her thesis and decides what to do the following year.

At home we're doing some small landscaping jobs and I'm bottling and brewing more wine to keep us fueled for the near future. Heather will be thinking about starting up her art classes again and getting settled back into the home studio.

Jim called last night to tell us about the space station flyby with the shuttle docked so we went outside just after 8pm last night and sure enough there it was like a bright star moving across the sky as scheduled. Will try to catch it again tonight. If you want to try to see it check out: and click on "Sighting Opportunities".

It's been over two months since we were in Newfoundland and I still haven't completed my photo album but much of it is done, so for a preview check it out here: I'll be trying to finish it off over the next month or two.

Till next time. Cheers!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cell Phones in Newfoundland

Forgot to mention - if you have a Rogers cell phone plan and you want to travel in Newfoundland, you might as well leave your phone at home. Rogers coverage is basically restricted to St. John's as far as I know. Bell phones seem to work across the entire province. So dump Rogers and go with Bell (or Bell supported carriers).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

St. John's, Newfoundland

Recently spent some time in St. John's and traveling around Newfoundland. Going to St. John's almost seems like stepping back in time to a simpler less crowded and busy world. A small town feel where you can get around the entire downtown area by walking alone.

Driving in St. John's, especially in the central part of town, can be a challenge. A bit of a tangled web of streets, many of which are one-way. Intersections where five or six streets come together and only certain turns are allowed. Many of the streets seem to change their names along the way so finding directions on a map can be a bit frustrating. Luckily most drivers in St. John's seem to be patient and less hurried than in the big cities and traffic is not as heavy. This makes it much easier on the tourist newbie trying to find his or her way.

There are many great scenic areas near St. John's. The closest being Signal Hill and it's surrounding area. A great view of the St. John's harbour from there and great hiking trails for exercise and amazing views of the coastline. Just south of St. John's is Cape Spear with it's lighthouse and more amazing coastal views. Northwards has Middle Cove with a cool rock beach and many other small towns and villages continuing up the peninsula.

One other attraction is the availability of locally brewed beer including those brewed right in the village of Quidi Vidi in St. John's. I developed a strong affinity for their 1892 traditional ale.

Overall a great place to visit and a gourgeous province to travel through and see.

Friday, May 15, 2009

April/May update...

Wow, a whole month with no blog entries. Well, I guess you could say it's a good thing that life is full enough to not be wasting time blogging. The weather here in Ontario has been a bit wild. We had a late snow storm back in April and since then the temperatures have been going up and down like a yoyo.

Had a nice visit with Mom at Maura's place on Mothers day. See the pics on picassa. Larry was in top form playing "bunghole" (I almost beat him) , manning the BBQ and as usual playing and singing some tunes. Nice to see little Jimmy home from school for the summer. His guitar playing is impressive. Made me say I wished I could go back to school full time.

Spent some cash on a new camera recently. Upgraded from my reliable (and lovable) D50 to a shiny new Nikon D90. Have to learn all the great new features. The three best reasons for upgrading (so far): Bigger display screen, much improved low-light shooting capability, and higher resolution. The D90 feels about exactly the same size as the D50 and is similar enough that a D50 user can just pick it up and use it. I'm glad the shutter is a bit quieter for shooting in public or quiet spaces (although it still makes a fair "click"). So I'm looking forward to shooting thousands of pics with this camera. Especially when we go to Newfoundland this summer to visit Sam.

Found out my cousin John has a blog. Check it out at He's been traveling around Europe recently in his cool camper van. Looks like a great way to go on vacation. Heather and I might try this someday.

Cheers for now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Microsoft Automatic Update - Up Yours

Ok, Microsoft just gave me another reason to switch to Mac or Linux for my next machine. I keep automatic updates set to ask me before installing and yet just this morning my machine is bogged down dead slow running Windows Update and next thing I know it's asking me to restart my machine. So Microsoft is saying to me take this update and shove it up your computer. So I say to them take your crappy slow irritating OS and shove it where the sun doesn't shine.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Favourite Zen Proverbs

I have two favourites that can be used to help maintain a certain amount of sanity in a somewhat insane world. The first has been with me for some time and helps to remind one that everything (and we really mean everything) in the world is in it's natural state no matter how much we may think it isn't. The second one is a fairly recent acquisition on my part and is almost a corollary or a metaphor of the first. Here they are in all their simplicity:
  1. Everything is as it should be.
  2. The snow falls, every snowflake in it's proper place.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Great news for Python developers.

Eliminating the global interpreter lock in Python will open the door (wider) for high-performance applications written in Python. Can't wait for this to be solid.

Link: Google searches for holy grail of Python performance

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fixing the economy...

Just got this in an email. Sounds like a great idea:

This might just work ! So simple to fix-----

This was an article from the St. Petersburg Times Newspaper on Sunday. The Business Section asked readers for ideas on "How Would You Fix the Economy?"

Dear Mr. President,

Patriotic retirement:
There's about 40 million people over 50 in the work force; pay them $1 million apiece severance with stipulations:

1) They leave their jobs. Forty million job openings - Unemployment fixed.
2) They buy NEW American cars. Forty million cars ordered - Auto Industry fixed.
3) They either buy a house or pay off their mortgage - Housing Crisis fixed.

What could be simpler than this???
and it won't cost BILLIONS!!

But if you multiply 40 million times a million dollars, unless my math is wrong, that comes to 40 trillion dollars. So what's this, "it won't cost bilions" crap?

Monday, March 30, 2009


Just saw this xkcd strip and thought it was pretty funny:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MS Society Walkathon - April 19, 2009

Please help support the MS Society of Canada by sponsoring someone walking or by registering and joining us on April 19, or by volunteering to help the MS Society in some small way.

To sponsor me please click here: Sponsor Paul

Or to sponsor my wife Heather click here: Sponsor Heather

If you can help in any way it is very much appreciated.

Programmer joke

This was posted on the wall in the washroom at work. I thought it was pretty funny:

int getRandom()
return 4; // Determined by roll of dice.
// Guaranteed to be random.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Investing in index funds...

Here's a useful article that describes why investing in index funds makes sense. I too have avoided these for some of the reasons mentioned in the article but I'm now reconsidering:
Canadian Business Article

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I just happen to have a Guinness in the fridge. I think I'll crack it open to honour the day.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Canadian Hydro Developers Inc.

If you'd like to invest in sustainable energy sources for the future consider investing in Canadian Hydro Developers. They're building wind farms as well as hydro and biomass power plants.

Pelican Dives

I got some cool pictures of Pelicans diving while on vacation (no the Pelicans weren't on vacation, I was). When you watch them it's so fast you don't really see the details of the motion. The pictures show that they stab their heads into the water with their neck extended just as they hit the water. Pretty neat.

More pics here:

(click image to enlarge)