Category: Modern Tech

Superb Service at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto

When I left the hospital after my initial Afib episode, I had a referral to the AFQCP, the Atrial Fibrillation Quality Care Program at Women’s College Hospital for Wednesday of last week. Women’s College has been rebuilt in recent years as an outpatient medical centre. It is a beautiful new building, upbeat and efficient. I had no idea what superb care I would get there.

When I arrived at the Ambulatory Acute Care Centre, I was shown to a room where a nurse practitioner took my blood pressure, gave me an ECG and took my weight. She was a charming young woman who has been trained as a personal support worker and works during the week in Women’s College and also on call during weekends at the Michael Garron Hospital (the former Toronto East General). She told me how PSWs can train in hospitals and, using their formal training and their work-day experience, follow a path into second year Nursing studies.

I then met the Internal Medicine doctor. She had at her fingertips all the medical records created by the Toronto Western Hospital the previous week. Apparently, all medical records created in GTA hospitals are stored electronically and accessible according to privacy protocols. She reviewed my medical history and my medications, explained the nature of the condition, and the pros and cons of the medications I would need to take in the future. Apart from the regular blood-thinners, she also gave me a prescription for a medication that would settle any future Afib incidents. She ordered an echocardiogram and a Holter test.

Then, the unit pharmacist came into my room. This was a totally novel experience. She explained how the medications worked. She confirmed that taking Tylenol for my arthritis (which I have been hesitant to do) would not conflict with any of the other pills. And we had a discussion about expiry dates on medications. She said that I should gather up all the expired pills (both prescribed and over-the-counter) in my household and take them to my local pharmacy for disposal in their program. Throwing pills away in the garbage or the toilet contaminates the environment and the water system.

A doctor who specializes in respirology then arrived. He had a lovely accent and, in response to my question, told me that he had come from southern Ireland nine years before. He is conducting research into the relationship between sleep apnea and Afib. He questioned me at length on my sleep patterns and suggested that I might benefit from an overnight sleep test in a sleep lab. He then explained that his team was testing a new apparatus for “sleep tests” that patients could do at home. He showed me how it worked and asked me to take it home to use for one night. Once I’d done it, I was to return the memory card to him in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Why not? He told me to expect a call offering me convenient dates for the Lab Sleep Test. That will be interesting.

I was then sent upstairs for the echocardiogram. This ultrasound of the heart is the basic tool used by cardiologists to assess the working of the heart. I had scarcely sat down in the waiting room when I was called to the technician. After I had climbed up on the table and moved into the appropriate position, she set to work:  “Breathe in, breathe out, hold it, breathe in a little, hold it, a little more, hold it, breathe out.” The procedure went on for quite some time. The swirling forms and colours on the screen of the machine were mesmerizing. I occurred to me that this is the raw data that my nephew must work with every day. The technologist knew what it was all about. She told me that she has been doing this work for twenty years and that she came from Moscow. I reflected how lucky we are in Canada to have the benefit of so many skilled immigrants.

When it was over, I left the hospital with an After Visit Summary which included my health data accumulated that day, the changes in my medications, instructions for the two further tests, the date I am to return for the followup appointment, the names of the people who had met me that morning, and all the relevant contact information.

What an amazing morning. In less than four hours, I had seen a nurse practitioner, an internist, a respirologist, a pharmacist, had an echocardiogram, and was set up for two further procedures that would complete the workup. What in the past would have taken several months of visiting various doctors’ offices and labs was done in a morning. And I had all the relevant information at my fingertips. An example of one-stop patient-centred service, clearly Cadillac service in a Cadillac facility. Thanks to all the warm and wonderful people who staff the program.

 

 

 

 

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My Experience in the Toronto Western Emergency Ward

Last week, I had the most amazing experience in Emergency Care at the Toronto Western Hospital. About 7:45 that evening, after getting up from my couch at home, I felt a sudden onset of dizziness, chest pain, and a continuing compression in my chest which made me feel “winded.” It was like nothing I had ever felt before. When the condition continued, I called to my husband to drive me to the nearby hospital. I feared a heart attack and knew from the experience of several colleagues that it was imperative to get to the hospital ASAP. We were there within minutes.

Fifteen minutes after I signed into the emergency ward, I was called to the triage nurse. He heard my story, found my blood pressure to be high and noted that I had an abnormally fast heart rate, and immediately sent me for an ECG. That showed an arrhythmia in my heart and I was taken right away to what I later learned was the “Resuscitation Room.” I totally bypassed the normal Registration process which was done by the staff on their own while I was seeing the doctor.

The resident physician gave me a once-over and concluded that I had Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) which can cause a stroke or a heart attack. He gave me two aspirins and ordered immediate blood tests. To slow down and correct the rhythm of my heart rate, I had two choices. I could take a drip treatment which takes some time and which may or may not work, or they could do an immediate Electrical Cardioversion. He explained that an Electrical Cardioversion was a brief electrical “shock” to the heart using a machine (later I learned called a defibrillator) which uses two sticky pads that are put on the chest and back. During the procedure, I would be given meds to make me feel comfortable. Since my nephew on the west coast is an electrocardiologist and works with these procedures, I was more than willing to consent to the “shock” treatment.

Within an hour of my arrival, a senior doctor on the ward was doing the procedure in consultation with another doctor, and in the presence of two residents and two nurses. I was left in the Resuscitation Room for a while and then moved to the back of the ward for another three hours. They then took more blood tests and did another ECG. Although I later learned that my systolic blood pressure at one point had been over 200 and my heart was stressed for about an hour, the blood tests taken on my arrival and again three hours later showed no damage to my heart and, as the nurse said, I (now) had “the ECG of a 16-year-old girl.”

I was discharged with a prescription for blood thinners, a referral to the Atrial Fibrillation Quality Care Program (AFQCP) at Women’s College Hospital for the next Wednesday, and a recommendation that I see my family doctor within two days. I was able to see her at 7:00 p.m. later the same day.

I was blown away by the quality of the care. I consider myself most lucky. This AFib Incident identified my current cardiac condition and steered me onto a path of treatment which may avoid a major heart attack or stroke down the road. Although the AFib condition must now be managed, my chances of living a longer life and without stroke-induced disabilities just improved. Because I went to the hospital immediately, the “shock” treatment was an available option to stabilize my condition. 

NOTE THAT THE “SHOCK” TREATMENT IS ONLY POSSIBLE FOR A SHORT PERIOD AFTER THE ORIGINAL AFIB INCIDENT. Should you suspect a heart attack, go ASAP TO YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT so that you too might qualify for this treatment.

I have subsequently learned that it may be better to call an ambulance immediately. The paramedics would monitor your condition en route to the hospital and you would be given a priority in triage on arrival. On the other hand, the ambulance may not take you to the nearest hospital; they decide where you go depending on how busy the different emergency wards are.

The incident taught me even more.

First, I saw that emergency care nurses have the most demanding of jobs. They work twelve-hour shifts. How they do it I do not know. They are constantly on the run, working in crisis situations, and responsive to many people who are difficult, impaired or addicted, and who make unreasonable demands like shouting that they want to go home when they clearly cannot.

One of my nurses is 62 years of age, has two grandchildren and a constitution which allows her to sleep only five hours a night. She “loves her work” and would miss it if she were to retire. She told me her name, and showed me pictures of her grandchildren. The other nurse is 30 years old. He came from Gander, Newfoundland, and spent the first two years of his career as a Flight Nurse working in Nunavut. He also told me his name and we talked about my forthcoming trip to Newfoundland in October. Both were extremely pleasant and resilient, with incredible patience and warm compassion. That they shared so much of themselves made me most comfortable. I very much appreciated that they kept me informed about my condition and what was happening as we went along. When I was discharged, one took me to the lobby and showed me how to call a cab.

Secondly, I learned that it is still common practice among medical professionals to refer to women patients as “my dear.” When the attending resident referred to me as “my dear,” I asked him not to call me that and to call me by my first name. I told him that I was surprised that young doctors are using that term in this day and age, that the only other doctor who had ever called me that before was an older cardiologist I consulted years ago, and that the term was well-recognized even then as being demeaning. The two very wonderful nurses admitted that they too used the term; one never thought anything of it, the other used it when she was looking for deep veins and thought she might be hurting me. The doctor concluded our interaction by saying that he learns something new every day. How is it that medical schools and institutions are not addressing the issue?

Thirdly, going home alone from the hospital in a cab at 5:00 a.m. is not to be feared. As we talked en route, the cab driver showed that he knew quite a bit about medical procedures in emergency wards. When I got out of the car, he added, “Marion, don’t forget to drink lots of water.” He was absolutely right to know that I might be dehydrated, and I was happy to take his advice. He waited at my doorstep until I was in the house.

 

 

 

 

 

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Toronto’s Christmas Present: A New Subway Extension

It’s Boxing Day, that treasure from our British past which I cherish. For those of us who have no inclination to seek bargains, it’s a time to relax, sit around the fireplace, read a book, eat leftovers, and sink into the sublime serenity of a day with nothing on the schedule.

Before settling down to an evening of binge watching The Crown, I want to share with you my reaction to Toronto’s new subway extension. Last Thursday morning, I rode Toronto’s Number One subway line from Queen and Yonge Street downtown all the way up the old Spadina line to Sheppard West station (the end of the previous line at Sheppard and Dufferin), and then to the new terminus at Vaughan in York Region. It took me 51 minutes to make the trip. Without leaving the system, I then did a tour of each new station, to the extent I could see them without going out of the turnstiles. I did not see the exteriors of the new stations. But I took photos, talked to TTC staff and passengers, and left utterly exhilarated by what I saw.

The terminal station, Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, is a Transportation Hub which connects to the York Region Viva bus rapid transport north of Highway 7 and to York Region Transport (YRT) buses at the SmartCentres Place Bus Terminal. With seven knockout panels as part of the design, it is also intended as the centre of a planned downtown to feature a large park, condo towers, shopping and entertainment facilities to be constructed in the next decade.

I loved the spectacular colours of the upper level windows; such bright colours will lift the spirits on the most dreary of days. As in all the new stations, there are shiny new elevators making the system wheelchair accessible to all levels, glistening escalators which are lit at foot level and which go up and down (if not side by side, at least at different ends of the platform), and solid metal handrails in the middle of the staircases. For those of us who take stairs, such handrails will be a godsend. As an incentive, the SmartCentre which runs the local parking lot is free until January 1st.

Approximately five minutes south is the next station, Highway 407. Located just west of Jane Street, south of Highway 407 on the west bank of Black Creek, it connects with York Region Transport and Brampton Transit, and includes a commuter parking lot with 585 spots, plus a passenger pickup and drop-off area. Parking is free until April 1st, 2018; obviously an effort to entice commuters with cars onto the subway. An attendant told me that, since the extension opened last week, the parking lot has been full each morning by 7:30 a.m.

Commuters can also park at the third station, Pioneer Village, at Steeles Avenue West and Northwest Gate, to the west of York University. There, the parking lot can accommodate 1500 cars, and is free until April 1st. The ceiling lighting installation called LightSpell over the subway platform is already controversial. The design of the fixture is distinctive in itself. What I failed to appreciate, until I read about it in the Toronto Star, is that five keyboards on the platform allow passengers to type eight-figure messages that will be reflected in the lights for the edification and/or amusement of their fellow travellers. The TTC has apparently delayed full implementation of the fixture until they can develop software to prevent hate messages, an enterprise that has provoked complaints of censoring free speech. That the installation is provoking controversy already heralds a notable future for the site.

The fourth station, at the heart of York University’s Keele Street campus, is the reason for the subway extension in the first place. The platforms are busy with students using the new station. It breaks my heart to think of the hundreds of thousands of students and staff who have endured years of commuter time and inconvenience travelling to the university since the extension was first proposed decades ago. The lack of political vision, persistent partisan bickering, constant changes, and construction delays which have plagued extending the subway even to York University is a shameful history which we must remember but cannot dwell on. The extension to York University is finally built and everyone is exultant.

The York University station has an elaborate Information Centre on the concourse at the turnstiles. The walls are festooned with promos that would be of interest to students, the signage in the concourse specifically identifies York University sites of interest, and there are two pay telephones for those who need such amenities. (There is always someone.) Most engaging of all was the TTC customer service representative who was knowledgeable about the extension and keen to answer my questions. I may not have fully appreciated the “exciting” Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) artwork which the TTC touts at the station. For me, as for most students, getting to the campus quickly and comfortably is such a treat; everything else is superfluous.

The next stop is Finch West station, located under Keele Street, north of Finch Avenue West. This station will also feature a bus terminal, commuter parking lot, passenger pickup and drop-off, and secure bicycle parking. Again, the bright red of the corridors and brightly coloured windows at the concourse are delightful. Already, many people are using this station.

The last of the new stations is Downsview Park, the first stop west of the old Sheppard West station. An attendant told me that the station is in Downsview Park, very close to the rebuilt hanger called HoopDome, a gymnasium facility used for several years for basketball, indoor soccer, volleyball, and many other activities which attract athletes from across the city. The station is also a five-to-ten-minute walk from the entrance of the Downsview Canadian Forces Base to the east. Effective January 2018, the GO train on the Barrie line will stop at this station. Passengers will be able to transfer there onto the TTC and get a half-price discount on TTC fare.

There have been complaints that the subway extension does not include a washroom at each station. However, there are washrooms at: Sheppard East, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, and on the top floor (the bus bays) of the Highway 407 station. TTC riders can access these washrooms without leaving the system. 

It’s been so long since the TTC has generated genuinely good news. And maybe even longer since it has won any awards as the North American “Transit System of the Year.” We’ve finally done it. The system is beautiful, shiny, new, accessible, well-marked, and efficient. I am very excited about what is a world-class extension of the system which can make us proud. Check it out for yourself.

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Response to Globe and Mail “Dear Reader” Letter

Dear Mr. Crawley, Publisher and CEO of the Globe and Mail

Thank you for your “Dear Reader” letter in today’s Globe and Mail (Saturday, December 9, 2017).

I appreciate your explaining the extraordinary circumstances which afflicted your première edition of the new GM. You and your staff must have been horribly disappointed. That the edition which so attracted my ire was a “one of” is good to know.  I am also interested to learn of the efforts made to improve the journalistic standards of the GM, and the design goals you seek to achieve. 

Two caveats. I would have more impressed if you had not printed your “Dear Reader” piece in such a light type face. I found it very hard to read. Is your relationship with your readers at this very important time of your transition not as important as the key news stories you choose to report using darker type?

You indicated that you have “bumped up the size of the type in your sports scores and stock listings.” I find your choices for immediate action very telling. Am I wrong to assume, in the reality of our contemporary world, that sports scores and stock listings are still of interest primarily to men? And that Bay Street is your most important lobbyist?

It’s not the justified lines that matter. For my demographic, it’s the fainter typeface. Implicit in your choice of a lighter or darker type is your assumption about what is important and what is not. When I have to strain to read what you publish, my reaction is that you consider that particular item less important to your readers. Your assumptions may not coincide with mine.

I look forward to continuing my “feedback, interest and support” in the future.  Just don’t make it so difficult that I don’t enjoy it. At my age, if it’s not fun, I don’t do it. As Robyn Doolittle’s front-page story on “The Unfounded Effect” is in a darker type, I should have no problem  reading and analyzing that for a future post.  

Thank you.

The Effervescent Bubble

 

 

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The Globe and Mail Blew It

For several days they led us on. They promised a “new Globe and Mail,” presumably with new content, format and style that would befit Canada’s national newspaper. When they began to put out the promos, I was intrigued. Other news media are whining the blues. What was the Globe and Mail going to do to meet the current “crisis in journalism” and keep us reading from coast to coast?

When the first of “the new” publication arrived last week, I was horrified. What have they done? Who do they think they are publishing for? I am 73 years old, read three newspapers every day, and consider myself relatively well-informed about Canadian politics and public life. Most of the young people I know no longer read newspapers in hard copy. If they read any newspaper at all, it’s on the internet.

We pre-baby boomers, and baby boomers, too, are accustomed to our old habits, welcome the arrival of the newspaper on our doorstep (or outside our hotel room) each morning, and enjoy the luxury of being able to read it through with our coffee, at leisure. We may not represent the far distant future but, for the moment, and perhaps because of inertia, we may well be the primary demographic which continues to have all-week newspaper subscriptions in hard copy.

Now I can’t even read the Globe and Mail. Literally, I can’t read it. And I am not the only one. My husband and several friends have had the same reaction.

In the interests of what I assume is saving money, they have made the newspaper smaller in size, and apparently changed the font and/or lightened the type. The smaller size I can live with; it’s easier to fold into my purse or briefcase to take on public transit. The new font and/or typeface, however, is positively illegible. It gives me a headache to look at it, and more of a headache to read.

In an age when everyone (and I mean most everyone, including us old duffers) is using mobile devices and iPads with multiple fonts and expandable print capacities, it is positively counter-intuitive that a major newspaper seeking to expand its readership would go to print with what can only be considered a “reader-adverse” font and/or typeface. Who chose it? Someone under 60, I bet.

Since I started writing my blog, I mine the Globe and Mail, National Post and the Toronto Star (when in Toronto), and the Vancouver Sun (when in Vancouver) for potential topics of interest for a post. It takes up time, but I try to go through each newspaper daily. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. And apart from different perspectives, I like to pick up on quirky articles which alert me to something that I knew nothing about before.

In the past, I always went to the Globe and Mail first. Why? Because it’s “the national newspaper,” because I know people who write for it, and, although I do not always agree with its editorial perspective, at least I can expect competent coverage of major issues.

Now, it is too painful to read. As of last week, I now start with the National Post, or the Toronto Star, skim their coverage, and then pick up the Globe. But it’s so difficult to read beyond the headlines that I tend not to read it in detail. I make no comment on the new organization and content of the “new Globe and Mail” because the new font and/or typeface have deterred me from reading it further.

It has occurred to me that perhaps the powers that be at the Globe and Mail really do want to drive us all onto the internet. Make your hard copy inaccessible and subscribers will give up.

 

 

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Meet the River Otters

It’s amazing what a late afternoon walk will bring. Although it is getting close to Christmas, the leaves of some trees are still autumnal scarlet and have not yet fallen to the ground. Even as a muted sunset settles over Kitsilano, there is enough light to see wildlife that inhabit the local area.

There are many people on the Seawalk, even so late in the afternoon. Most seem determined to get their constitutional finished before it gets dark. When a group is stopped on the sidewalk peering into the water, I know that there is something to be seen. Sure enough. Three seals or otters are swimming back and forth off shore. Then they disappear. The head of one pops up out in the deep water, first in one place; then in another. It then stops, turns, and heads back to shore, squeaking with a strange peeping sound over and over as if calling to the others. Eventually, all three of them are cavorting near the rocks only yards from where we are watching. One eats a fish, two slither ashore and climb onto the rocks, totally oblivious to the curious onlookers. Who would have guessed that they are so big? That their legs are so long? And that white markings are on their coat? A woman who seems knowledgeable tells us that these are river otters who are known to steal salmon from the fisherman on the nearby Capilano River. Now that would be something to see.

When I got home, I decided to play with the otters on my new photography program. In the past, I’ve taken courses from several very skilled photographers who have recommended using Adobe’s Lightroom for post-production. I’ve finally taken the plunge. A couple of weeks ago, Peter Levey, at the Advanced Digital Training School in North Vancouver, helped me download Lightroom and gave me a couple of lessons on how to use it. I can see the advantages that Lightroom offers over the Apple Photos program that I have used for years but which seems increasingly inflexible and of decreasing quality. But Lightroom, among other things, presupposes that my picture files are properly organized and readily findable. Organization of my digital files (for documents and for photographs) has not been my strong suit. Clearly that must change. Equally obviously, to learn the full extent of Lightroom’s capabilities and how to export the improved photos to other platforms correctly will require much practice. That’s the point. I want to learn new publishing programs (such as Blurb or Shutterfly) to make the photography books that my grand-kids love. And it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade the photos on my blog, as well. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

 

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Mastering the Technology of a New Car

Our fifteen-year-old clunker, a 2002 Nissan Sentra with only 118,000 kilometres on it, finally ran into the ground on the July long weekend. There was a terrible racket from underneath the car that turned out to be a heat shield dragging on the pavement. A minor repair maybe, but we had long ago agreed that we would not put another cent into it. I called the Kidney Foundation and a few days later, they towed it away, providing me with a $300 charitable donations receipt.

We mined Phil Edmonston’s Lemon-aid New and Used Cars and discovered a new class of vehicle which we did not know existed. It’s a CUV, a crossover utility vehicle, which is smaller than an SUV and apparently very popular. That the seats of the car are higher off the ground is a huge advantage for seniors with mobility issues, and apparently there are now all sorts of safety features that will prevent crashes. We considered only two vehicles: the Nissan Rogue and the Toyota RAV4. Ultimately, we settled on the Toyota because I wanted a hybrid.

I made an appointment on the internet to test drive a RAV4 hybrid first thing Tuesday morning. The local Toyota dealership was only a short distance away by streetcar. When we arrived, the young sales rep showed us the exact model we were interested in and, within an hour, we became owners of a new RAV4 hybrid he would deliver to our home two days later. On delivery, the sales rep spent an hour and a half explaining how the car worked, and then left us with the car and two thick manuals. Undoubtedly, this was the most expeditious car purchase we have ever made.

Buying is easy. Learning how to use it more difficult. Three and a half months later, the car is still a continuing revelation. Keyless, the car door opens when we approach, so long as we have the fancy fob (worth $800 if lost) in pocket or purse. It took me several days to realize that, locking it, requires two taps on the door handle that will activate a light on the mirror to tell me that the car is actually locked. And although it is clear that one has to depress the brake before pushing the ignition button, the car is so quiet that we have on occasion forgotten to turn it off. Once, several hours after we last used it, a neighbour knocked on our front door to tell us that our car parked on the street still seemed to be running. Even yesterday when I was outside the car, the lights were still on and the door would not lock, and I couldn’t figure out why. Only then did it come to me that I had forgotten to depress the ignition button.

Then there is the gear shift lever. Whenever we put it into reverse, the camera appears on the master console screen with yellow and red lines showing where our car is in relation to cars behind it. The yellow line is apparently the trajectory of our car. The red line is the point at which I would actually hit the car behind. Gauging how those lines reflect the reality of the space required for parallel parking has been a challenge. But I’m getting the hang of it, finally. It even beeps a warning if someone or something should cross my path behind.

The warning beeps, and the flashing lights, are marvellous. So long as the various safety features are turned on, the lights on the mirrors will flash when a car, or sometimes even a bicycle in a bicycle lane, is passing in my blind spot. Or when I am drifting out of my lane on the freeway. If the beeps or lights come on, I now know to pay attention. Something is wrong; my job is to figure out what.

For all the wonderful safety features of this new car, the Master Console Screen is terribly distracting. It will take us forever to understand all its features, but already we are learning. We have more or less mastered the Audio; endless radio choices, SiriusXM if we knew why we should subscribe to it, and my entire music collection accessible by merely inserting a computer stick into the USB port below. And, just to make sure that we are fully informed, the screen identifies each program and each piece of music we hear.

As for the Apps, the Navigation feature has already proven invaluable. Tap in an address and a map and a friendly voice will give directions. Maybe even several options, with times and distances, for how to get there. How we are to evaluate the routes, we doen’t yet know. But we’ve already learned several things:

  1. The system will not allow us to tap in a new destination when the car is moving. Apparently that is a safety feature to prevent distracting the driver.
  2. The directions for the downtown core must be taken with a grain of salt. Often we know better than the system how to get from our home to the Gardiner expressway, for example. To its credit, the system adjusts to the route we actually choose to go.
  3. On the highway, the directions are usually right and we second guess the system at our peril.
  4. I must become more tolerant when the voice mispronounces local street names. The fact that AI is not perfect, I should consider some consolation.

The Telephone App is a light-year improvement over the dashboard cradle which used to hold my iPhone in the Sentra. So long as the smart phone is in my purse, it apparently connects by Bluetooth to the console screen. Phone numbers magically appear on the screen. Those numbers we use regularly are now installed for instant access by touch. And I’ve discovered a button on the steering wheel which I can push to activate a personal assistant who will call someone else on my Contacts list or find coffee shops, gas stations and restaurants nearby. All I need to do is think up something for the assistant to do and, voilà, the call is made or the results appear on the screen. Talking so easily on the telephone in the car is a new treat for me and I love it. As for the computer searches for nearby restaurants, I have to steel myself not to look at the results while driving alone. That would be dangerous.

Learning not to be distracted by the Master Console Screen is a major challenge. At first, we were endlessly fascinated by the colourful image which shows the flow of power in our hybrid from the gas engine and the battery, and back again. Trying to figure out what conditions cause the operation to change, and how that affects gas mileage, was an initial preoccupation which we have given up. I now just rely on the gas gauge showing the mileage to the next fill-up. It appears somewhere in the second set of information windows behind the steering wheel itself. Those are controlled by a toggle on the steering wheel which has multiple functions that I am gradually learning how and when to use. I wish I could just read the manual and assimilate all its info, flat-out. Alas, that’s not my learning style.

Last week, my husband looked up how to turn on the heated steering wheel and the heated seats which were supposed to be in this car. In the past, he scoffed at such amenities. Not any more. He likes the heated seat, even in warm fall temperatures. He says the warmth reduces the pain in his back. And the heated steering wheel? All the better to assuage arthritis in aching fingers and wrists. Who would have guessed that our new car, as well as being a fabulous new computer (perhaps more properly a mirror for my computer), was also going to be a new mode for therapy?

This could be the last new car we ever buy. Just as well. Learning how to use all its features may well take us a decade.

 

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A Photo Shoot at Jack Poole Plaza

I invite you to join our early morning photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the Vancouver harbour last week, and see how photographer Rick Hulbert works. Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a free online program which shows the quality of light at particular places and times of day (including sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moon set), Rick knew exactly when morning light would be best at the Plaza. When I arrived at 6:10 a.m., he was already there, with his tripod set up at the extreme architectural point of the plaza. He’d already begun shooting material for use in future photography classes.

Last week, he sent me two images which he had ‘recorded’ (notice the lingo) during a five-minute period early that morning. Using the Ephemeris, he was able to find the exact angle of the sunlight and the best place to stand. He explained in an email that his intention was “to portray Harbour Green Neighbourhood in colour. It is early morning first light, and because the sun is shining through the greatest amount of the earth’s atmosphere, the quality of the light is soft and warm. I employed a wide-angle lens and kept my camera level and on a tripod to support a horizontal horizon along with ‘vertical verticals.’

The image of the downtown core of Vancouver surrounding Jack Poole Plaza is conveyed in black and white. B&W images portray pure luminance which has the potential of conveying an enhanced sense of depth. By stopping down my Tilt/Shift lens to f/22, I was able to achieve a starburst effect with the sun bouncing off one of the building windows in the distance.

“The challenge in both images was to display the enormous dynamic range of light in a single capture. I did this by reducing the original tone curve to a ‘linear curve,’ which also reduces the contrast, allowing me to have more flexibility in ‘re-visualizing’ the image in software. While it could be said that simplicity of subject is a noble goal, I chose to attempt to embrace a complexity of edges in an ordered composition.” He wanted “the images to read as large as possible with no cropping. The subject of each image is the entire field of view… edge to edge of each photo.”

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Learning by doing means getting up early in the morning to experience in our bones the quality of the light at that hour of the day. While the master produced his prototypes for future use in class, the rest of us were free to see all the splendid scene had to offer.

My photos have not yet been re-visualized in Lightroom. They were shot as RAW files in Aperture mode. Rick did say that I could have moved the chairs. I never thought of that at the time. My focus on the greenery visible through the iconic Olympic Cauldron led to a discussion of how green pops out in any setting. In the last photo, I tried to highlight the Lions Gate Bridge in the background on my Apple Photos edit program but was not particularly successful. Next purchase? A download of Lightroom.

***** Thank you to Rick Hulbert for sharing his photos and his comments. 

 

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A Five Star Photography Workshop

Billed as the “Ultimate Urban Travel Photography Workshop with International Award Winning Architect, Urban Designer and Photographer, Rick Hulbert,” this four-day workshop held in Vancouver last week was one of the most intense and engaging learning experiences of my life.

I’d taken a workshop with Rick years ago, while he was still working as an architect. It had been very useful and relatively laid-back. I jumped at the chance for a repeat, with a focus on my hometown. After all, blogging about Vancouver is one of my favourite themes, and improving my pictures would make future posts all the better.

Retired from architecture for more than a year, Rick now teaches photography all over the world. From his professional background, knowledge of art history, and interest in the rapidly changing neurosciences, he articulates his (perhaps revolutionary?) philosophy of photography with unbridled passion. His lectures are amazing. His own photographs used to illustrate his points, awesome. He answers all questions with equal grace, no matter how technical, controversial, or simple (as many of mine certainly were). Post-course, students receive a copy of his key point visuals, which relieves the pressure of taking notes and focuses student attention on what he says and does. Conscious of what each student wants and needs, he ensures everyone equal “one on one” time. It seems that Rick has become the platonic ideal of a photography teacher: rigorous, thoughtful, constantly learning himself, and downright funny to boot. No wonder he is in such demand.

The ten participants in the workshop were photography enthusiasts: devotees of camera clubs, journalists who use photos to illustrate their stories, a hip sound man who is a sports photographer wannabe, a busy father of four who somehow fits serious photography into his work/life balance, some who have already sold their pictures, at least one a computer tech. I was by far the least photo-experienced of the group. The workshop promo said to come and “share your skills with others.” Everyone did, most generously. One, with a camera similar to mine, helped me with my settings. A second showed me how to set up and manipulate my new tripod. Another told me that I could press the button in the corner of my iPhone screen and take pictures without even opening the phone. (I blush to admit, I’d never used that feature before. How could I have missed it?) He also showed me how to download photos onto a USB stick, an essential task in sharing photography (and much else) which I had never quite mastered. Even before the workshop began, I’d learned these two new skills which will undoubtedly change my life.

The False Creek Bubble (photo by Bruce Hawick)

The False Creek Bubble (photo by Bruce Hawick)

The promo material promised that the course was “all about taking your photography to the next level.” It warned, however, that “you need a camera that you know how to use” and that you should “read the manual that came with your camera so you will be familiar with its features.” Easier said than done. Since creating my blog, my handy-dandy iPhone has been my camera of choice. But I knew that showing up at a Rick Hulbert workshop with only an iPhone was not on. I bought a light-weight, mirrorless camera two years ago but, out of sheer laziness, I’d used it only in Intelligent Auto mode. “Read the manual.” Are you kidding? Manuals are for techies. It takes a long time to become familiar with all the features on the contemporary camera computers we can now buy, and I hadn’t used my “new” camera for at least a year.

Fully aware that Rick doesn’t teach “Camera Operation 101,” I scheduled some lessons before the workshop to learn how my “new” camera worked. I also started to use my early morning walks for photo shoots. I thought I was ready to go. But, to go “to the next level,” in my case, was a really big leap. Rick recommends shooting in Manual and Aperture modes, and primarily in RAW file format. That’s a totally different thing. Manual mode I had forgotten. Shooting RAW files, I had never done before. I had no idea what impact this would have on how I used my camera. On Day One, I floundered big time.

On the Georgia Viaduct (photo by Bruce Hawick)

On the Georgia Viaduct (photo by Bruce Hawick)

That day Rick lectured in the morning. After a late lunch, we did a “hands on” walk-about over the Georgia Street Viaduct, down Main Street, and then along the waterfront to the Science Centre and the Olympic Village at the east of False Creek. It was less than a two kilometre walk, a glorious sunny day, and we stopped often to practice what Rick had taught us, and for him to make suggestions. His promo had said that we would learn what to wear on a photo shoot. I did! And it was definitely not what I had on: a black Icebreaker sweater, a wool sweater-coat and a new camera bag too small to hold all my gear. The next day, I jettisoned this attire and came more properly outfitted. That aside, around 4:00 p.m., in the shade of a patio near a bakery, Rick talked cameras and lenses with the more experienced photographers. They were on a short break while awaiting the change of light to continue the photo shoot into the evening.

Into the evening? How do they do it? I realized that I had to pace myself. Feeling a bit of a wimp, I took my leave, rode the Aquabus to the Plaza of Nations, and found my way home. I don’t know when I have ever felt so tired. I was utterly exhausted. Why was I so sore all over? What happened to my much-vaunted energy and the fruits of my physical training? Who knew that photographers worked so hard?

Day Two was another intensive session when Rick explained his principles for successful photography and we applied them to our pictures. In “Image Review” with Rick Hulbert, we saw a master manipulating Adobe Lightroom to improve the RAW data files we’d taken. Apart from teaching us about light, how to see, what to look for, and how to get what we want, “re-visualization,” as he calls his post-production editing, is an essential tool of the modern digital photographer. He made sure we knew how Lightroom works and why we would use its many features. Day Three was a lecture on street photography, a film, and an afternoon photo shoot on Granville Island, including another walk-about to unusual sites only a photographer like Rick would notice. Day Four was an early morning (6:30 a.m.) photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the harbour, with another full day of “Image Review” to further embed our skills.

After four days, others in the group were fading and even Rick admitted that he too was tired. No wonder. He gives out 100% all the time, and then some. It’s true that many of the activities he offered on the last two days were optional. But who wants to opt out when Rick is at hand to share his expertise? I may not yet be able to apply all I have learned, but I now understand the lingo and have the basic concepts firmly embedded in my brain. There is no doubt that I am many levels higher than when I started. Everyone rises to expectations, right?

Granville Island (photo by Bruce Hawick)

Granville Island (photo by Bruce Hawick)

So, how to rate Rick Hulbert as a teacher of photography? A+++ He more than delivers on what he promises, with the caveat to potential students that he deliberately pitches his program to make the best possible photos. “Learning by doing” is the name of the game. Nothing is more effective. Rick teaches a theory of photography which will stay with us forever. And the attention he pays each student makes it like a master class in photography. Listening to more experienced photographers teaches much, by osmosis. Just remember to get lots of sleep and exercise before the workshop begins, bring a water bottle and some trail snacks to keep you going. And tell your family in advance that you will be late getting home for dinner.

***** The uncaptioned photos are my RAW files of data, “re-visualized” with the help of Rick and the group. 

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Red Flags to Avoid a Computer Hacking

On Tuesday, my computer was hacked royally. And I helped the slimy skulker do it. All sorts of red flags should have alerted me to the danger, but I ignored them and became a party to my own hacking. How embarrassing is that? Don’t let it happen to you.

I had just opened my MacBook Pro laptop to begin my day’s writing when a window popped up in the middle of the screen indicating that this was a “System-key 23.xyz.” warning to a “Telus Communications User.” It said I needed to know that my computer was infected and that I was in danger of losing all my data. To avoid further problems, I was to phone the 1-844 telephone number provided without closing my computer. Assuming this was a communication from my internet provider, I obeyed the instruction, and called the number.

That was Flag Number One. This is a classic line which should have immediately alerted me to the fact that this was a scam. A computer-literate friend of mine later told me that no one external to my computer can ever know in the abstract that there is anything amiss with my computer. What I should have done, right away, was to close my computer. If my computer would not close (which may have been the case, I can’t remember), I should have disconnected my router from the wall and cut my wireless connection.

I did neither. I blithely used my iPhone to call the number and the drama began. Right away, “Ethan, employee number 1603, extension 8008” answered. He said he was a “Microsoft-certified technician” who also “provided support to all Apple users all over the globe” and that he was working from the “Apple Support Desk in Buffalo, New York.”

Flags Number Two, Three and Four. I have worked on several Apple computers and devices for more than six years. I have also used Apple Support, on occasion. I should have known instantly that “a Microsoft-certified technician” does not fix Apple computers, and that the Apple Support program does not operate, out of the blue, from Buffalo, New York. What was I thinking? These were all obvious clues. That I did not pick up on them gave the hacker the information he needed to know that I was someone he could exploit.

“Ethan” went on to tell me that he “would check out any damage to [my] machine,” “check for viruses,” “insecure connections,” and “malicious infections,” since it appeared that “there were no protections on [my] machine,” and “no warnings.” Without protections, my computer may crash and without backup I “might lose all my data.” He asked me for permission to access my computer so that he could show me the problems. I said, “okay. I guess you need to do that,” or something to that effect. He then showed me a code page from the computer indicating that there was malicious software shown in the codes. During our conversation, which went on for some time, he assured me that he would “clean and tune up” my computer, “optimize the browser,” “run the stop services,” “update the drivers,” “install Mac Defender” and “install Apple MacKeeper.”

Flags Number Five, Six and Seven! In my work life, when I used Microsoft computers, I had bought Norton software to give protection against hackers. I had assumed that Apple products were less prone to hacking than Microsoft, and that anti-hacking software was built into my machine. No professional techie that I had used to rationalize my Apple computer, and no instructor in any One-on-One program I had taken, had ever suggested that any extra protection was necessary. This guy was telling me differently. And I fell for it.

Until he mentioned “Mac Defender,” and I saw that the printed material he was flashing on my screen was misspelled as “Apple Defends.” When he said “MacKeeper,” the penny finally dropped. Late one night, several months ago, I saw a “MacKeeper” ad on my Facebook page, and followed up. When I did so, I discovered that “MacKeeper” is a scam which I later tried to remove from my computer but was never quite able to do.

At that point, I freaked. I confronted him and said that he was a hacker and that this was a scam. His tone changed. He called me a “lady thief” because I “had wasted all his time,” and he began using FaceTime to flash pictures of me over and over again on my screen. Totally intimidating to say the least. He then told me that my computer was now useless and I should throw it out. I put my iPhone down beside my laptop and used my landline to call Telus support to resolve this rapidly escalating problem.

I’d forgotten that I would have to wait awhile to get through to Telus. Eventually someone answered my query about the internet and I asked to speak with Telus technical support. I spent some time with the Telus operator who was consistently unresponsive to my questions. Obviously she knew nothing about computers. I insisted that I speak with her supervisor or someone in the tech department right away. She asked me to wait. I waited. She returned to tell me that because I did not have a Telus Internet Protection Plus Plan, which costs $50 to start (I think she said), and so much per month, there was nothing they could do. I told her that no one had ever told me that before and that I had never been given an option to buy the Plan or not. She suggested that I disconnect my wireless by unplugging the router. I unplugged the router. But that was that. Without the Protection Plan, it was not a Telus problem. She gave me a number for Apple Support and suggested I should call them.

At that point, the hacker started typing on my NoteBook Page: HEY STOP FOR A SECOND I HEARD THE CONVERSATION THAT YOU JUST HAD WITH TELUS. NOW LET ME TELL YOU. I BELONGS TO ISIS ISLAMIC STATE AND OF IRAQ AND SEREIRA. MY NAME IS ABDULLA BAKR – AL BAGHDAD AND I AM A SERIAL HACKER. NOW I HAVE ACCESS TO YOUR INFORMATION. NOW I WILL SHOW YOU THE CONSEQUENCES. I realized to my horror that I had not ended the call with the hacker on my iPhone. I immediately turned off my phone and called Apple Support.

The Apple Support technician asked my name and my product, and politely but firmly de-escalated my rising panic while emphasizing our mutual need to get my computer up and running again, safe and sound. He told me to turn off my computer. I turned off my computer. (How come I had not done that before?) He then told me to re-activate my wireless and reopen the computer. He told me that the codes the hacker had showed me were their normal codes and said that there was nothing wrong with them. He ran his own scan of my computer, found that it was clean but for a couple of suspicious files, which he removed. He also cleared away a couple of icons of apparently legitimate applications which the hacker had put on my dock. He then installed a malware detection application, and appeared to have the computer functioning within fifteen minutes or so. Fifteen minutes. I had already cancelled my afternoon appointment in the expectation that it would take all day to resolve the problem.

Apparently, I had acquired an extended AppleCare Plan when I bought the laptop and it was still good for a couple more years. He told me that he was going to take personal responsibility for this file and that I should call him should any further problems arise or if I had any questions. He then sent me an email with his name, his direct telephone number, his usual office hours, and an invitation to leave him a voicemail or send him an email, promising that he would follow up no later than his next day in the office. Now that is good service.

That my computer is back operating is a huge relief. I am now in the process of changing all my passwords. I don’t yet know what else I may need to do. For the moment, I am exhausted. Another computer-literate friend said I was lucky. He knows of other hackers who have locked out computers and demanded ransom money from owners to regain access to their own data. I guess security is a really big issue. No kidding.

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My Best “Good News” Story for 2016

It was the early afternoon of October 31st, and I was due to leave the house shortly to help the grandkids do Hallowe’en in Whitby. I thought to make a quick trip to the local bakery on College Street to pick up some of those Hallowe’en cookies I’d seen. Luckily for me, there was a parking spot close to the bakery. I reached into my purse, pulled out my wallet, and hopped out of the car to get my 15-minute parking receipt from the kiosk nearby. I was only gone a minute, returned to the car, put the receipt on the dashboard and locked the car. Minutes later, my goodies in hand, I returned to the car and drove up Clinton to return home. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my purse, with my iPhone in it, was missing. It had been sitting on the bucket seat beside me when I got my wallet. It wasn’t there now.

I drove around the block back to the bakery, found another parking spot, and enquired in the bakery whether I had left my purse behind. Apparently not. It was nowhere to be seen. How could that be? I’d just had it. I retreated to the car and returned home. Had I left my purse at home? Maybe I had. Forgetting what happened only a moment ago is not foreign to me these days. But no, the purse was nowhere in the house. Nor was the iPhone.

Quite uncharacteristically, I was relatively calm as I went upstairs to my home computer and switched on the “Find My iPhone” application in the settings. Miraculously, the setting was on. I activated the program and, sure enough, a local map appeared with a little green dot showing that my phone was at the bakery on College Street. With my resident nephew in tow, I returned to the bakery. This time, using a load voice, I insisted that the purse with my iPhone was somewhere nearby. I approached each of the patrons seated at tables at the bakery and asked if they had seen a black leather purse with an iPhone in it. This time, the saleslady made further enquiries of the rest of her staff downstairs and in the kitchen. No luck. No purse. No iPhone.

What to do? We returned home, refreshed the computer and saw that the green dot had moved one block west. Great. Someone had it and they were still nearby. We refreshed the application again. This time, the green dot was another block west. Refreshed again, and the green dot had moved further west, apparently across the street to the area of a well-known restaurant.

At that point, I called 911, reported a non-emergency and asked to be transferred to 14 Division. Another operator answered, another transfer, then another operator, and another transfer. Finally, someone listened to my lament that my purse and iPhone had been stolen. “But,” I added brightly, “we know where they are… at the corner at Beatrice and College.”

My interlocutor was not impressed. “Do you have a description of the person?” she asked. “No, of course not, I didn’t see who took it. I only know where it is.” “Well, ma’am. The police don’t get involved in these kinds of things. There is nothing we can do without a description. You can file a ‘theft from auto’ report and if we arrest someone who has your purse or iPhone in their possession, we will return it to you.” I took a deep breath. “Madam,” I said, “we know where the phone is and we are going to go and get it” “We don’t recommend that,” she replied. “You may not,” I said, “but I need to get my phone back.” She took my ‘theft from auto’ report and said an officer would call me back later.

My nephew suggested that he take his bike and his cellphone, that I stay at the computer, and that we track the little green dot. And so we did. He jumped on his bike and rode west on College. I called him and reported that the green dot was in the parkette at the corner of Claremont and College. He didn’t see anyone there. The dot remained there, so he looked around in the bushes to see if it had been thrown away, but found nothing. Then I remembered to refresh the computer. Now the green dot had moved a couple of blocks west and was turning north on Ossington Avenue.

My nephew biked to that corner and turned north. Across the street, he saw someone he considered a shady character leaning against the wall of a small take-out joint. If he had the phone, my nephew wasn’t keen to approach him. “Where is the green dot now?” he asked me over his cellphone. “It’s moving up the street,” I said. So my nephew turned his attention further up Ossington. There he saw a woman moving north towards the corner of Dewson Avenue where a police officer was directing traffic around a street repair project.

“The green dot turned west on Dewson,” I reported and my nephew replied, “I see her. It’s the woman, short, heavy-set, wearing a dark coat, walking on the sidewalk, carrying two plastic bags.” He rode his bicycle behind her and saw a black purse sticking out the top of one of the bags.

He returned to the police officer directing traffic at the corner. “That woman has a stolen purse and phone,” he reported to the officer. “How do you know?” he asked. “My aunt is at home tracking the phone on her computer program and she described exactly where it went.” The officer called for backup at the corner and, when it arrived, he asked my nephew to show him how he knew. “Where is she now?” my nephew asked me. “She has turned the corner of Dewson and the street beyond and is heading south,” I replied.

That was what the officer needed. He approached the woman, asked for her identification, and to see what was in her bags. The officer opened the black purse sticking out the top of one of the plastic bags, found the iPhone and directed my nephew to ask me what else was in the bag. “A couple of pens, maybe some kleenex” I reported. The officer confirmed the contents and returned the bag and the phone to my nephew. Within less than a half hour after I had missed it, we had my purse and, more importantly, the invaluable iPhone back in our possession.

When the officer asked the lady where she had found the purse, she said that she had heard a ruckus on College Street about a lost purse and a lost iPhone. She had seen it laying on the street and had picked it up with the intention of returning it to the police station. It’s true, 14 Division headquarters on Dovercourt Street is a couple blocks to the west and south. But turning north on Ossington was the wrong direction. The police officer ran a computer check of her identification, and found she had no criminal record. Both he and my nephew concluded she was not particularly swift. I had no desire for any further process against her. The police officer advised her that she should have just left the purse, or returned it to the bakery. He asked her if she knew how we had found her. She replied, “By the phone.” So, who said she was not so swift?

I was totally relieved that the computer program had worked, and we had recovered the phone. Had the setting not been “On,” my iPhone would have been lost forever.

The incident reminded me how often thefts are crimes of carelessness and opportunity. I don’t believe that I dropped my purse from the car seat onto the street. But I do know that for the short moment that it took me to get my parking receipt, I had left the purse on the front seat of my car, and my car was unlocked. I’m not so smart myself.

At 2:45, just as I was leaving the house, an officer from 14 Division phoned to follow up on the ‘theft from auto’ report I had filed. I was delighted to report that the phone and purse had been recovered, with the help of an officer on the street, and that he could close his file.

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Toronto’s Green P Parking App to the Rescue

Recently the CIBC converted their branch at the corner of Grace and College into a new “Banking Centre.” They did away with all the tellers, leaving only an ATM, a bevy of laptop computers scattered among comfortable chairs, and a couple of “advisors” who, apparently, are to educate the locals on computer banking, resolve any issues that arise, and presumably discuss mortgages and other banking services financially helpful to the institution. For decades, this had been my local bank, always handy walking home from the West End Y, and I was devastated.

Truth be told, I only used the branch tellers to get the rolls of loonies and toonies I need for city parking. I’ve never trusted using a credit card for street parking fees. I’ve always worried that after parking the car the kiosk would reject my card or, worse still, would steal the data on the card in some potential scam.

ATMs do not dispense coins. The closest alternative full-service CIBC branch is at Dundas and Ossington. When I went there one morning at opening time, I put my remaining 50 cents into a parking kiosk for the one available parking spot in the area. Anticipating a quick in and out, I found myself in a long line up with no teller. Apparently she was in the washroom. When she finally appeared, she had to deal with a line up of at least ten customers waiting impatiently for her return. More than ten minutes later, she was still dealing with the first in line. Other bank employees aware of the situation chose to ignore it. I made some complaints which, in retrospect, I should have resisted. Soon I had no choice but to abandon my place in the line and rescue my car from any potential early morning green hornet. It was only later that I remembered that the all-pervasive security cameras would have recorded me as an irate customer. Although I am generally known as a patient person, “customer service” like this at our coddled national banks brings out the worst in me.

That very morning, a friend told me about Toronto’s new Green P Parking App. After a couple of false starts during my early experiments with the system, I now fully appreciate the wonder of this new Parking App.

This is how it works. You download the app to your smart phone, enter your email and vehicle licence number to secure your registration, and then look for a parking kiosk on the street or in a Green P parking lot which has a four-digit number prominently displayed on the white decal on the side. The first time you use the system, you will be asked for your credit card information and for a deposit of $20.00. Presumably, when that $20.00 is exhausted, you would authorize another. In the meantime, once you have found a parking spot, you enter the identification number for the nearby kiosk and indicate the vehicle you are parking (or the license number of a second vehicle), and choose the amount of time you want. The app confirms the location and time, deducts the payment, and, if you like, sends a receipt to your email address. Apparently, the paper receipts we used to place on the dashboard are obsolete. Green hornets looking for malingerers will check your licence plate digitally to confirm timely payment.

As an added feature, the app counts down the time, alerts you when time is running out, and gives the option of extending the time digitally from wherever you might be. On a recent shopping trip, I extended twice, for 75 cents each time, from the store where I was happily browsing. I eventually returned to my car secure in the knowledge that there would be no yellow ticket on my windshield. Updated receipts arrived by email.

When I went for dinner one night last week, I found a spot on College Street right beside the restaurant at precisely 6:31 p.m. I pulled out the app expecting to pay until at least 9:00 p.m. But no. The app told me that no parking fee was payable at that hour, and that I should check the signs to be sure. I checked the sign and it was true. Parking was payable 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., prohibited 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., and then presumably parking was free. Pretty slick, I’d say. The app also allows you to type in an address and find the nearest Green P site, renew monthly permits, and pay courtesy charges, although I haven’t yet tested these features. 

Best of all from my perspective, I am now liberated from any further need for live contact with any branch of my bank. Maybe forever.

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Mastering Modern Technology

Mastering modern technology requires the mindset of a techie. New operating systems, constant upgrades, and the explosion of new apps all make ‘keeping up’ a full-time job, even for the expert. For me, becoming comfortable with multiple devices and learning how to use what they already make available is more than enough.

So why have multiple devices at all? Writing my blog, I have learned that various devices have particular uses for which each is best suited. The home desktop computer is the old stand-by, the go-to for extended work manipulating documents, photos, and everything else best done on a big screen. By definition, desktops are stationary, tethered to an external hard-drive and moveable only at one’s peril. For travel, or for work elsewhere, as I do in Vancouver, a laptop is essential. Meshed by ‘the cloud,’ most everything that I do on the laptop gets added instantly to the desktop, and vice versa, so they are in sync. Work in one place can continue seamlessly in another.

And then, the iPhone and the iPad. I now cannot fathom how I survived raising a family and working as a lawyer and a judge for 35 years without even using a cellphone. In my view, the smart phone is the most wonderful device ever invented. Apart from the cellphone, there is the calendar, the contacts, the maps, the email, the internet, and all those other apps right at hand.

Thanks to my daughter-in-law, I have learned the utility of texting. Like most young people of her generation, she texts all the time. I now understand the differences between texting and email. Texting is more immediate, more intimate and cryptic, meant for a speedy exchange of quick messages with the expectation that the text will be received instantaneously. Emails give a platform for composition at leisure, at a time convenient to the writer, and with the understanding that the recipient will pick up the message eventually, but not necessarily right away. Email allows for more extended thought, and perhaps a more elaborate exchange of information. Both have become basic to contemporary communications.

Not so long ago I questioned why anyone would want a telephone with a camera built into it. How could I have been so obtuse? The smart phone camera is a wonderful tool. Why write notes when you can take a photograph? Why haul a heavy camera when good quality (if not great quality) pictures can be taken with a device lighter than a wallet? Sharing programs built right into the smart phone permit instant uploading to texts, emails, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever the latest new program is, all the better to make it easy to keep in touch with family and friends. We may live apart, but these modern communication techniques spread joy and build solidarity across the miles.

One of the first applications I used on my smart phone was the ‘little yellow stickies’ or Notes function. How better to track mileage, costs, books to read, movies to see, names of people and places, all those tidbits of information that come our way which formerly required a pen and paper? This function met my compulsive need for a permanent place to store ‘clippings’ –  all that I read or saw and wanted to remember.

Until recently, I used the keyboard to enter this data. But no. A woman I met in a Vancouver food court, Canadian actress Jayne Eastwood, taught me that I could dictate and produce an instant transcription of what I said. Sure enough, on recent models of the iPhone, the old voice memo function has given way to the ability to dictate texts, emails, notes and more. Although the device takes a little while to adapt to one’s voice, and one must check to make sure it’s a correct transcription, the dictation capacity is an amazing function.

All those years in the legal profession, I never learned to dictate. Now I embrace it with a passion. All the better to avoid aggravated arthritis in aging fingers and wrists. Sometime soon, I am going to give up keyboarding on the computer completely and change to dictating. The capacity is there. I just have to learn to use it.

And then there is Siri, the artificial ‘assistant,’ accessible at the press of a button, to answer all questions, and direct where to go. I still haven’t learned how best to use Siri and when, but that will come. When I looked for the calculator on my iPad, I found that there isn’t one. Siri is the calculator. Give her the numbers and she will tell you the result.

As for the iPad, there is a reason why everyone is using them, including young children and with-it 90-plus-year olds. But that’s a story for another post.

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“Zen and the Art of Body Maintenance”

Nothing marks the aging process more than “maintenance.” If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Everyone has some medical issue which requires attention.

The most basic of all “maintenance” tests are blood tests and urine samples, as set out in the family doctor’s requisition. In the old days, a visit to the local lab inevitably meant a long wait. Many routine tests required fasting, and there was always a crush of people waiting at the door of the lab when it opened in the morning. Nothing to do but to join the queue, and fall back onto various time-passing strategies: the morning newspaper, checking email, getting some extra shut-eye, or perhaps catching CP24, or some “health education” program showing on the monitor in the corner. It always seemed forever before my name or number was called.

Cooling your heels at the lab is no longer a necessity. Now that fasting requirements are less rigid, patients have the option of going for their tests later in the day. Even so, chairs at the local lab, both inside the clinic and out in the hall, are typically filled with people waiting patiently for their turn at the tourniquet. The lab still seems to be the busiest place in town.

What gives? People don’t seem to realize that LifeLabs at least has initiated a computerized appointment booking system. You can register on the internet, find the available appointment times at the lab closest to you, and book your appointment for a specific time. Last week, I made an appointment with only two hours advance notice. Confirmed appointment number in hand, I walked into the lab, identified myself to the staff on the desk and within but a few minutes of my time, was called for my tests. I jumped the queue by what would undoubtedly have been at least an hour’s wait.

It’s a wonderful service which has worked for me now several times and is grossly under-utilized. All those people waiting in the lab who saw me go ahead must have been somewhat miffed. But they could do the same. Posters on the walls advertise the booking service, and registration on the internet is easy. The attendant at the lab told me that people are not using it because they don’t have computers, or are reluctant to have their kids use the computer to book for them. I have since learned that several of my perfectly computer-literate friends did not know such a service was available. Maybe the labs they use don’t offer pre-booked appointments. Quite frankly, lab loyalty is a waste of time. If other companies are not competitive with LifeLabs, who wouldn’t go to the most patient-friendly service available?

Equally interesting, LifeLabs now offers what they say is “secure online access to your lab test results through your computer or mobile device.” They say that they will provide the lab results in raw form, and an analytical tool (graph program) to monitor test results over time. The results are designed not to preclude discussion with family doctors but to help patients become more actively involved in managing their own health. Apparently, since 2010, over 600,000 people in British Columbia have accessed their health records using a similar system.

At the moment, LifeLabs accounts for booking appointments are not yet joined to their “My Results” system, and patients must set up another account on the LifeLabs results webpage. I registered a new account as I was instructed to do but, despite several tries, was unable to get my results. Apparently, they are still working out the bugs of extending the system to Ontario. Get your “lab visit number” from the lab attendant when you get your tests done and see if you have better luck.

Like doctors’ offices sending prescriptions directly to your local pharmacy, it is gratifying to see the health care system using modern technology to streamline the system and make it more accessible to patients. Now, it is up to us to take advantage of what is available.

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Costa Rica #5: Final Reflections on “Life Changes”

Liberia Door

Liberia Door

Our recent trip to Costa Rica reminded me how little I know about Latin America.

I didn’t know, for example, that Costa Rica, with a population of 5,000,000, is a stable democracy with no army. According to Wikipedia, its national parks and protected areas cover around 23.4% of its land mass, the largest percentage of any country in the world. It is considered one of the greenest countries on earth. With a literacy rate of 97.8% and a life expectancy of 77.7 years (ranked just ahead of the United States), it has the highest standard of living in Central America.

We learned that this small country welcomes over 2,500,000 visitors per year. These are tourists and expats from North America and Europe, as well as agricultural and service workers from Nicaragua. January is their long summer school holiday and we saw many “tico” families enjoying the beaches. We also saw farm workers cutting sugar cane in the fields with machetes and loading huge sugar transport trucks as big as the lumber trucks we see in British Columbia. Apart from the luxurious villas closer to the coast, people outside the cities tend to live in small well-kept homes, many painted in bright colours, on little lots surrounded by walls or fences. There are modern air-conditioned “mega mercados” selling all the products we know from home, plus wine and beer, and, in Liberia, huge discount warehouses analogous to Costco. There are also itinerant farmers markets selling fruits and vegetables we have never seen before. We learned that Costa Rica is diversifying from their traditional agricultural economy based on coffee, bananas and pineapple, to manufacturing, services and tourism. As one friend (who spends her time in a totally different part of Costa Rica, in the south on the road to Mount Chirripo) says, Costa Rica is “an amazing country.” It certainly is now up there on my radar screen.

On another level, after a lifetime of travel primarily as a couple, this recent trip has reaffirmed the advantages of travelling with others. We shared this trip to Costa Rica with Sandra and Justus Havelaar, our in-laws from Campbell River in British Columbia. In many ways, their company was like an immersion seminar in lifelong learning. Spending two weeks with them on the balcony, I wanted to take in like a sponge all that they knew and I didn’t.

Just one example: Justus has been working with computers for years, ever since he first introduced them into his high school, way back when. He and Sandra came with a new laptop and a new iPad. He, unlike me, prunes his photos as he goes along, as professional photographers recommend. Watching my brother-in-law so readily manipulate his photographs on his new laptop raised my expectations. When I returned to Vancouver and found my 2008 vintage MacBook too slow to even download my pictures, I realized that I had “run it into the ground.” The new operating systems had long since displaced my old hardware, and it was time for a new laptop. Right away, I went to the Apple store, got a new laptop, and have been attending workshops there ever since. My life as a blogger just got 1000% easier.

Everyone was into ebooks; Justus his Kobo, Sandra her iPad, my husband his Kindle. When I’d finished the hard copy books I had brought with me, and was wondering where I could find a bookstore that would sell English language books, Justus used Apple’s AirDrop feature to send a couple of appropriate books from his eLibrary directly to my iPad. Now I understand the utility of AirDrop.

More important, I now see why ebooks are so popular. Another friend who spends considerable time in Mexico every year downloads books from the Toronto Public Library to her iPad before each trip. I have the TPL app but have never used it. My Costa Rica experience has given me an incentive to do so in the future. And my relatives told me about gutenberg.ca and gutenberg.org, where books out of copyright are available free of charge.

They also told me about the Petrucci Music Library, where all classical music in the public domain is available free of charge, and where copies of scores can be obtained, downloaded, and printed at home. Musicians undoubtedly know of this resource. I certainly didn’t. It’s amazing what you learn from fellow travellers.

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