Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Un-wired Challenge

By : Dennis Stein

  The last couple of articles I have written have been more ranting than anything else, but if you thought I was finished, think again... This time I won't yap about Hydro One's delivery charges, Enbridge's massive rates for heat which in this climate are a necessity, or how the Ontario government strangleholds us with taxes, namely the HST. No, I have a different plan this time around. A Challenge.
  When was the last time you went for a day without answering your cell phone? 'Smartphone' indeed... If it were smart, it would answer the call for you, or text back some mundane reply to the silly question you were texted. Do you wake up each morning to get your cup of coffee, and peruse the latest news in front of the computer? Check the weather? Do a little checking in on your bank account? Then you get in the car to head to work, checking the route to the nearest Tim's on your in-car GPS? Honestly, did you get lost before you had one of these useless devices? Texting through your day, home later only to hear the children fighting over the computer, wanting to get on Facebook.
  It's like quitting smoking. Just go cold turkey! Try it for a day or two, just to see what it was like. Before cell phones, the internet, texting. Unplug yourself from all of it. You might be amazed how quickly your stress level goes down. I recommend that you only do it for a day or two, especially if unplugging means you cut off the entire household. You might find the children threatening to run away from home, and your significant other handing you a divorce, if you go on for too long. Not to mention the angry messages from your boss, family, and associates online as to where you have been! But give it a try, go tech free, stop by the bank, go to the teller, and take out the CASH, you may need for the week. Leave your cell at home, and go for a drive without the GPS. I admit, it isn't for the feint of heart, but give it a try, and watch how quickly you can relax a little more.
  My wife and I went to Cuba last fall, and to access the net, you bought a coded coupon from the main desk, and sat at a group of PC's tucked into a far corner of the lobby. Although I am guilty of sitting and briefly sending an email or two to family about the odd thing, I was dumbfounded to come into the lobby one evening and see every computer filled, by young people on Facebook of all things... Pathetic. See you later all, I am heading back to the beach! No cell, no pager, no stress...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What is the Matrix???

By : Dennis Stein

  Ever have that violated, invasion of your privacy feeling? I've sure got it these days. Our electronic 'conviences' are starting to make our lives worse instead of better. Now before you roll your eyes and think I'm on some paranoid rant, bear with me. Do you not find it annoying to pick up your telephone lately and get some recorded message, especially around dinner time? Do you notice that the advent of security chips on our bank cards take longer to process than the swipe or cash method? Because let's face it, very few of the young folks running a cash register can do math in their heads anymore... Want to test it? Ask your young grocery clerk what 7 times 8 is, and watch the horrified look come across their face...
  GPS units were a nifty tool for hikers and boaters, until they became a nifty tool for your employer to track your every move. I used to worry about the police if I happened to be going a little fast, but now I have to fear the email going to my boss about my driving habits, from some bean counter watching me on a computer screen, from his air conditioned office. ( Special note : As I sit and write this on my new Motorola Xoom tablet, a small icon and message in the lower right of the screen has informed me that my location has now been set by GPS!!! ) Grrrrr! Even Google knows where I am!
  I don't have much conversation with the older of the kids in the family these days, I get text messages instead. My wife and I sit together in the kitchen in the evenings watching the youngest be mesmerized by you tube, and playing on, while we play 'Angry birds'  on our Ipods.
Sad indeed.
  Every day we drive by cameras for security and traffic control, not to mention when you go to the bank machine, walk through a store, or use your GPS equipped cell phone. For some real fun, you could wind up on youtube yourself, quite by accident while going for a walk through a park where someone has decided to upload video from the camera in their phone of their dog playing fetch...
  The time that it strikes me as funny, is when there is a power interruption, and stores simply close their doors, because their precious inventory control systems and computers are down. People suddenly become panicked because interac and credit cards cannot be accepted, just cold, hard CASH!
  And last but not least, shove your bluetooth up your butt. I don't know how many times I have asked 'what?', thinking that the person next to me has said something to me, only to get the wave that they are not talking to ME while they continue a strange conversation with themselves...The matrix has us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Impact Of Our Footprint

By : Dennis Stein

 Are you trying to do your part to combat global warming? Do you bring cloth bags to the grocery store, instead of asking for plastic bags at the check out? Have you replaced the light bulbs in your house with compact flourescents, or LED's? Do you do everything they tell you in magazines and on TV, because of the 'going green' idea?
 Care must be taken, because although the issue of global climate change is important, there are many out there who see the opportunity to profit from an issue that is at the forefront of society. If you drive down the highway, and see a transport truck with skirts to help cut wind resistance under the trailer, is that because, like the logo on those skirts says, the trucking company has 'gone green'? NO, they are operating as always, the skirts are simply there to help save fuel in the face of rising fuel prices... So why jump on the 'green' bandwagon? Because it's the new buzzword, a marketing tool for the green revolution. Do we save the planet by buying environmentally friendly products? Probably not. I recycle, I have replaced the bulbs, I try to conserve energy. Our household cannot seem to conserve toilet paper, milk, or cat food for some reason. I don't know what they are doing with it, but it seems that I have to come home from the store with it far too often...Am I making a difference? Not likely. My not using electricity simply makes me wonder if my Hydro One delivery charges go up, and now instead of incandescent bulbs, which are not a real problem, I have CFL's in the house which each contain mercury. Green this and green that. I like the idea of being environmentally responsible, but what I hate is the fact that what we attempt to save, someone else seems to use up. Some would argue that the earth has been going through warmer or cooler cycles since before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, but hey, with 6 billion of us here, all spewing polutants into the atmoshphere, we must be contributing to climate change somewhat, right? The fact of the matter is that things will likely have to get quite a bit worse before the majority of people actually sit up and take notice. I hope that somehow humanity can get it together, and find solutions to these monumental issues that need to be looked at NOW.
 Superpowers like the United States and China are slowly starting to engage policies involving global warming. Some smaller island nations worry that they will experience the 'end of their history' as rising sea levels may wipe their country from the face of the Earth. Large things to consider indeed, with no easy solution in sight. So the next time you roll down the window and pitch that cigarette/coffee cup/receipt/anything.... STOP. We can't even hope to accomplish anything with Climate Change if we don't start with the little things...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ghosts In The Isles

By : Dennis Stein

  At the mouth of the St.Lawrence river near Kingston, on the edge of Lake Ontario lies a large Island known as Carleton Island. It was the site of a shipyard and of the British Fort Haldimand in 1778, built to protect the entrance to the St.Lawrence during the American Revolution. The trenches and structures of old are still apparent on the island, as is a massive mansion, now abandoned and fenced off at the south end of Carleton Island. The mansion is Carleton Villa, built over a century ago, and now a mere shell of its once grand halls.
  William O. Wyckoff set out to build a fantastic mansion on the island, having amassed a fortune as the marketing guru behind a new invention at that time, the Remington typewriter. The owner of Remington chose a cottage in nearby Thousand Island Park, while William constructed a massive estate, with the centerpiece being Carleton Villa. He hired architect William Miller, known for his work on the Cornell University buildings, and began the construction of a grand mansion, a house built for entertaining, which predates both Singer and Bold castles. The mansion consists of many rooms, a Library and Drawing room flank the center hall on the main level, the Great Hall is two stories tall and ringed on the second level gallery by columns at one end. A full basement extends under Carleton Villa, and this is where the Gun room, and Wine Cellar were located, along with a boiler room for the heating of the massive structure. The Villa also had a semi-detached tower, connected to the main entry via a 'bridge'. Outside, there were tennis courts, and a small hobby farm. Several boathouses also graced the property.
  Tragedy struck the Wyckoff's as the construction of Carleton Villa was completed. One month before they were to move in, William's wife died of cancer. Mr. Wyckoff then moved in by himself in July of 1895, to enjoy his lavish island home, passing away on the first evening there at the age of 60 from a heart attack...
  A large portion of the island, including the mansion, was later bought in the 1920's by General Electric, with the plans for a large corporate retreat. Carleton Villa was now in a state of disrepair, and GE actually considered the demolition of the mansion. The Great Depression came along, killing General Electric's plans on the island, and saving the Villa. It was sold after WWII, and has been vacant now for more than 70 years.
  Its tower now gone, toppled after being deemed a hazard, Carleton Villa is in need of an expensive rescue. It was recently listed for sale by the current owners at just under a half million dollars. Restoration of the mansion would cost millions, but its structure and foundations are solid due to being built directly on bed rock. Maybe there is still hope for this once grand building, until then it stands vacant and quiet, a ghost from a far gone age...

Battle of Crysler's Farm

By : Dennis Stein

 In November of 1813, as part of the American campaign near the end of the war of 1812, one of the pivotal battles in Canada's early history took place on muddy fields east of present day Morrisburg. The real target of the American invasion was Montreal, and those in Washington believed that Canada would be taken easily...
  Two separate American militia corps were involved. One, commanded by Wade Hampton and numbering around 4000, planned to move on Montreal at Chateauguay. The other much larger force was commanded by James Wilkinson, numbering close to 8000, and moving down the St.Lawrence river from Sacket's Harbor on the edge of Lake Ontario. These two officers resented one another, and refused to work together, probably the first military mistake in the Amercan battle plan. The troops were cold and hungry, as well as under supplied, making any siege attempt impossible once they reached their objective. So with a lack of real military planning, and without sufficient rations or armament, the Americans made their move.
  Fortunately for Canada, Colonel Charles Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry was in command of a much smaller, but better trained army. They met with Hampton's forces at Chateauguay in October of 1813, defeating them despite being outnumbered, and driving them back to their U.S. base, where they eventually disbanded.
  Wilckinson's group moving down the river was an entirely different matter. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Wanton Morrison commanded a corps of 1200, and with the aid of gunboats from another detachment, they nipped at Wilkinson's American force as they travelled down the St.Lawrence. Unaware of the defeat of his loathed counterpart, Wilkinson landed his troops east of the Galop Rapids on the Canadian side, in preparation to travrse the larger rapids between present day Morrisburg and Cornwall. Morrison now took up a position on the ploughed fields of a farm with a collection of British and Canadian regulars, militia, small artillery and at least 30 Mohawk warriors, and waited for the Americans. Despite their superior numbers, the American troops were suffering from cold, hunger and disease, which had dwindled their ranks. Close to 4000 now attacked Morrison's corps of 1200. They proved to be no match for the Canadians, and after three hours of intense fighting, the U.S. troops fled the field back to the American side of the river, leaving 400 casualties behind. The Canadians paid for their victory in blood, however, with 200 casualties, mostly French. Of the 270 Canadian regulars under Morrison, two thirds were french speaking soldiers from Quebec.
  The battle at Crysler's farm stands as one of the most important conflicts ever for Upper and Lower Canada, uniting French, English, British, and Indian peoples to defend our young country against foreign invaders. It is a proud part of Parks Canada's Upper Canada Village, east of Morrisburg on Hwy.2.