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Archives for: February 2005

Testing Video

February 25th, 2005  · stk

With the better part of an entire DAY devoted to finding a video solution, I believe that I might have finally found one. It's a compromise (as is, much of life!).

FORMAT: The video is in Flash format (like we've done before), but I improved the quality significantly, at the cost of some bandwidth. The final file size is hovering right at 300KB (compared with about 200KB, from the first posting of this video, back in 2003). The picture is larger and quality glaringly superior.

TOOLS: We are evaluating a software package and this one shows excellent promise, for what we want to achieve (Blue Pacific Software's "Turbine Video Editor"). The watermark on the upper right leads to their website and shows only on the trial versions. (Maybe we'll spring for the $$ and purchase a copy, if we can get the preloader/overlay situation sorted out). It is a fairly straight-forward AVI-to-SWF (as well as JPG/GIF to SWF) encoder, with a nicely laid out interface & extra do-dads. It provides a reasonable compression (I'm sure more compression could be achieved, but I think that file sizes are workable. One can 'tweak' the compression, to achieve a balance between file size and viewability. The extra do-dads are nice, BUT (this is our only complaint) ... they can only be implemented one-at-a-time and though they can be combined, added-to and edited - they can't in THIS software. (Because of that, I think they need to provide a tool to simply combine preloaders & overlays, offer more preloader/overlay combinations, or offer a rudimentary editor. (A preloader shows "loading..." activity as the video file is being transferred to your computer's memory, so that low-bandwidth users can get an idea of how long it will be before the video is viewable). Overlays are just that, SWF files that are ovelain on top of the main movie. They're used for the 'controls' you see in our main movie - so you can stop the movie and start the movie).

The compromise is that I couldn't get it into a viewer that fits on the page, but maybe in that, it is a mixed blessing. I've currently got it popping up into it's own window, albeit a small one (video is a bandwidth hog). This short video is the better part of a half-megabyte (380KB, actually). EDIT: As you can see, I've changed my thinking ALREADY on this (AND compressed the file more), as the video is now displayed in this entry. The pop-up window behaviors between FireFox and MSIE are too divergent (I wanted to control the window size, but controlling it in MSIE meant that FireFox loaded it into a full-sized window - >:( UGLY!). So, I've moved it back into the entry.

PRE-LOADER & OVERLAYS: Though the software ships with 2 pre-loaders, you cannot use either with a control overlay. Further, when you use a control overlay, there isn't a way to stop the movie on the first frame (picture) - it begins to play as soon as the page is loaded. ANNOYING! So take your pick: A preloader & no controls and automatic loading, no preloader, no controls and stop the movie on the first frame (with no way to start it!) OR no preloader, controls and automatic loading! (None of those options work for us) Ack! Of course, if you shell out $899US, you can buy Macromedia MX 2004 and fix this little problem. (Other, lower-cost solutions exist, but each is about $69US and we're not keen on shelling out THAT kind of money to fix such a small problem.) I wrote to Pacific Blue Software, which is a Portugese Company, based in Lisbon, asking if they could combine these into ONE preloader/overlay. We'll see. Hopefully they'll have a solution for us. Other than this complaint, the software works as advertised.

Excellent software. Easy to use & pretty powerful. I'm glad to have nailed down a video solution.

THIS VIDEO: The video on this page is actually TWO videos (to get around the stop/control issue. We load the first (essentially a 1-frame JPG file [12KB], with a fancy 'dustball, scratches & old movie look' overlay, but CALL the main movie, by clicking the first. The main movie is 302KB and loads into the same spot. Two complaints: (1) Because there is NOT a pre-loader, users on dialup are going to get a blank screen after clicking the first movie. (I tried to put a background GIF in that spot, to indicate action, but the "<object>" tag steadfastly refuses to accept rudimentary CSS commands. The lout! (2) I also tried to get BACK to the 1st movie, after the second played, but the second movie is a bit of a stage hog and wants the limelight for itself. It refuses to load any other movies and just hogs the space (which is OKAY, I guess, if you want to see the Oop fall, time and time again!)

Hopefully we'll hear back from Blue Pacific soon. Until then, I'll have to work on posting that video of Alex - dancing (what a cutie).


LOW/HIGH BANDWIDTH: I ran into a problem, while trying to publish the next Alex video, "Feeding George". The original, uncompressed AVI file is 24,986KB (big). Compressing (using Divx4) gets this down to about 2MB, which is a big improvement. Converting to SWF doesn't really lower it much, but I CAN get it down to about 1MB (but it looks horrid). This is STILL too large for low-band visitors, especially because the data rate requirement (the through-put needed to view the video without interruption) is roughly 4X that of a 56kbps modem connection.

What do we do for low-band users? We don't want BOTH broad and narrow band visitors to suffer through a small, muddy, jumpy & blurry video. We don't have a player that allows you to pick a video version (we could make a shortened, low-band version, rather than degrade quality) - though this might get one sometime the future. For now, I think that we'll let the broad-band users see the video NOW, on our site. The low-band user (Dad, are you listening?) can DOWNLOAD the original AVI file (in this case, about a 2MB download) and view it at home. Neither suffers a degredation in quality, both have access, but the low-band visitor will need to know ahead of time, if they REALLY want to see the video. Not ideal, but the best short-term solution.

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Updated: 26-Feb-2006
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Silent (but Not Idle)

February 24th, 2005  · stk

There haven't been many juicy posts lately. But that doesn't mean that we've been sitting around on our arses! ;)

We've lots to share, but are still figuring out ways to accomplish this goal. I did, recently, revamp the audio button for Alex's animal sounds. The old way (MP3) forced a new page to open and (whatever audio solution you use) to open up. The new way (Flash audio) is a larger file size, but it's streaming, doesn't open a new page (you stay on the main page) AND 99% of folks will ba able to listen, using the same Flash plug-in (a browser solution, rather than a client-based solution). Have a look and please, let me know if you experience any technical difficulties.

We've got video to share (Alex dancing) and would like to get that posted soon. Again, we're looking for the best way to present it. We want a broad-bandwidth/dial-up option, we don't want to force the opening of a new page & we want you to be able to control the play. Unfortunately, the only solution I've found, costs $69US, which we're not too keen on (though we do accept donations :D)

We also recognize that a number of our entries are updated from time-to-time: entries like "Keeping our Toddler Busy", "Computer Tips" and "Alex's list of 'Firsts'" are appended, when there is new information. Currently, once an entry rolls off the front page, it's buried. No one knows that it's been updated. So, I'm working (today) on a way to add a "Recently Updated" list to the right-hand side.

The point: it takes a LOT of working in the background, to bring you all of the information in the foreground. With Alex needing to be fed, changed & supervised ... it's just not happening as fast as I'd like.

We've received lots of positive comments from friends, family and complete strangers. THANKS! We're glad that you like the new format. There has been GREAT interest in my new photo-zoom technique and I'm pursuing the possibility of publishing that solution. Thanks for your patronage and patience, while we iron out some of the website kinks.

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Updated: 24-Feb-2005
Web View Count: 2903 viewsLast Web Update: 24-Feb-2005
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Gmail - First Impressions

February 21st, 2005  · stk

Some time ago, there was a big bru-ha-ha about "Gmail" (Google's new email service) because they were planning on scanning user's emails, in order to present content-specific advertising. The ACLU & other such groups protested vehemently, "such activities are an affront and an intrusion on one's privacy." The fervor, eventually, died down.

Google's 'Gmail' hit the radar screen, again, when I recently received an invitation to open a 'beta' account. I signed up and then later learned that people were envious of the fact that I'd obtained an account. It seems that Google has created quite a buzz with this invitation-only approach, capitalizing on the human desire 'to have what we cannot'.

Note: If you would like an invitation, just respond in the comments section with your email address (which will never be shown on this site) and I will send you one, when I get a batch of them.

EDIT: 24-Feb ... received 50 today.

What's all the hype about? Well, for starters, Gmail is different. Instead of getting a few megabytes of storage space, you get a whopping 1000 megabytes. That's right, 1 gigabyte [GB] of space. Wow! That certainly IS different. It heralds a new era of email service: "Never delete a message again."

Beyond this concept, what is new? On the surface, not much. Don't get me wrong, Gmail offers some wonderful new features and shows a LOT of promise. One must keep in mind, however, that it is a NEW service, a beta release, and isn't QUITE ready for prime time.

The Good Stuff

  • 1000 megabytes of storage space - lots of room unlike most

  • It's a free service - we like free

  • Free forwarding & POP3 - use Outlook Express unlike most

  • Google search technology - find those messages unlike most

  • Introducing "conversations" - a new approach

  • Introducing "archiving" - also a new approach

  • Introducing "folders" - excellent new approach

  • Advertising - unobtrusive

  • HTML composing - Added in April

The Bad Stuff

  • No HTML composing - not YET anyway

  • No vacation response - not YET anyway

  • No sorting by date/author - limiting

  • Advertising - it scans your email

Read full story...

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Updated: 1-Jun-2005
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RFID Security Breeched

February 18th, 2005  · stk

As if we didn't have enough to worry about with identity theft, stolen credit cards, bad checks, second-hand smoke and an improper diet. Add something else to the list.

If you're one of the 150 million that have RFID (or "Radio Frequency ID") as an anti-theft deterrent ... or one of the 6 million with an RFID key fob used to wirelessly pay for gasoline ... then you should know that RFID encryption technology has been hacked.

Some grad students at John Hopkins University in Maryland, discovered that RFID can be thwarted using easily accessible, low-cost technology. With an inexpensive electronic device (<$200 US), criminals could wirelessly 'probe' your RFID car key or gas payment tag, in close proximity, then use the information to determine the unique cryptographic key. Knowing the encryption key, the thieves could circumvent the auto theft prevention system on your late model car or charge their own gas purchases to your account.

More details are contained in the John Hopkins news release.

It is Worth Noting: Credit card numbers are NOT stored in gasoline RFID fobs. Also, keyless remote controls that lock and unlock car doors do not use RFID technology. No reports of such RFID theft have been noted - to date.

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Updated: 1-Jun-2005
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Filed in:Alexandra

The Oop on Animals

February 16th, 2005  · stk

The first animal sound Alex made, was the "meow" of a cat, thank to our very own, built-in instructor (Tuxedo). When we moved to Edmonton, the dog next door (Roxy), taught Alex how to bark. With those two animals sounds well imprinted, she learned to recognize a "dog" and a "cat" in books. That became her reading staple and she ruined a good many of her books, bending the covers back to expose a page with a dog or a cat on them! If we want her to bark, all we have to ask her is, "What does Roxy say?" (Roxy barks a LOT, to the distraction of Rachel, who is trying to study, or Scott, awakened in the middle of the night. Roxy may be a nice dog, and she may have taught Alex to bark, but ENOUGH ALREADY!)

Alex has come a long way since those early animal sounds. I think we're on the cusp of a vocabulary break-thru, because she's now just starting to rapidly add new sounds AND words to her repertoire. We thought that we would preserve this moment, by recording those sounds she's learned first. Just click the FLASH audio play button |> , to listen to Alex's rendition of 8 different animal sounds. (We're partial to the bear - or lion, take your pick, because the roar and growl are indistinguishable). Trouble with the audio playback?

We'd like to teach Alex even MORE animal sounds, but we're bumping into a bit of a brick wall. We've been working on sheep, "baa baa baa", (which she thinks is a laugh, so will laugh in return), rooster, frog and goat ("maa maa maa" being too similar to "baa baa baa"). We've also discovered a problem ... not knowing what sounds some animals make!

You never really think about it till your a parent, I suppose, but just what sound DOES a rhinoceros make? A giraffe? A rabbit? An ostrich? Are we at odds because we're not as familiar with African and Australian species? Are these animals simply mute? These are but a few of the perplexing questions that nag at the parental mind.

Alex learns what we teach her and she does it well. We've been so focused on animal sounds (because she's so cute, doing them), that she's lost the ability to call a cat: "kitty cat". Try as we might, every effort to get her to say "kitty cat", is faithfully rewarded with a realistic "meow".

Sit back, relax & listen to the short audio file of "Alex - on Animals". Enjoy!

EDIT (18-Feb-05): Yesterday, Alex went grocery shopping with Rachel. As they were ringing up, the cashier noticed an abundance of bananas. She looked at Alex and said, "You know, if you eat all these bananas, you'll turn into a monkey." Monkey? Well trained, Alex promptly responded with the monkey sound you hear in the audio file. (The cashier just about fell over, laughing, from this unexpected response!)

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Updated: 22-Jun-2005
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Keeping Our Toddler Busy

February 15th, 2005  · stk

New ideas are continually added to the bottom of this growing list, in red, as we try them out. Click "Read full story", at the bottom.

Because I'm "Mr. Mom," the burden to keep our toddler busy during the day falls on my shoulders. She will often entertain herself for an hour or so at a time, but just as often, she's bouncing off the walls, getting into so much mischief. She REALLY wants to go outside, but with temps hovering at -20°C, with snow and ice covering the ground, outside just isn't an option, in Edmonton, during the winter. She's getting cabin fever, just like we're ALL getting cabin fever! (It's our first Edmonton winter & Rachel is from British Columbia and I was raised in sunny southern California ... so ... the adjustment has been difficult, at best).

Finding new stuff for Alex to do has been a challenge, but if I don't, then she's down eating cat food out of the cat's dish, or pulling of wads of toilet paper off the roll and stuffing them into the toilet bowl, or pulling pots and pans out of the kitchen cupboards, or pulling books off the bookshelf!! It's enough to drive me crazy.

She has toys, but "That's old stuff, Daddy," she seems to say. "I want something NEW to do!"

Rachel bought me a Valentine's Day gift, a book titled "The Toddler's Busy Book" (containing 365 creative games and activities to keep your 18-36 month-old busy). Many of them are geared toward the older kids, but it does provide many good ideas. My goal has been to do something new with Alex, be it big or small, every day.

I need your help! If you have any ideas to keep our 15-month-old toddling girl busy, please email your idea! (or add a comment, below)

So far, the things I've done to help spice up Alex's play have included (a growing list):

Alex's "New-Activity" List

1.  "Threaded String" - I took a foot and a half's worth of string and threaded it through a colored block having a hole in its center. I tied off the block and threaded several more blocks, giving it to her to explore threading and unthreading. (She was pretty keen on the threaded string, but didn't fully grasp the 'threading' process. However, she NAILED the whole 'unthreading' thing right off the bat and within about 2 minutes, had all of the blocks off the string.) Later, we discovered that the front end of the string was too limp, so we attached a thin plastic rod, like an oversised needle. This helped a LOT!

2.  "Balloon Stick" - (I thought this one up myself, thank you very much! ;) ) It's kind of a spin on a ball and paddle. I tied a bunch of rubber bands together, until I had about a foot's worth. Then I blew up a birthday balloon and tied it off at one end. I attached the other end to a 10-inch-long colored stick & gave it to Alex, to explore 'bouncing'. (She really liked grabbing on the rubberband and pulling on it AND the balloon, but the bouncing part, while fun to watch Daddy do it, was a bit beyond her grasp. She enjoyed watching the balloon on the end of the string, however, and hauled the whole thing around for some time.)

3.  "Milk Jug Bucket" - (Another original!) As we just ran through 4L of milk, I rinsed out the plastic jug and cut a hole in the upper portion, leaving the spout, handle & lid intact. The opening was large enough to allow some objects through, but only to a certain size. (She stuffed it full of giant legos, then hauled it around the house with her all morning. I emptied it for her, when it was time to put the legos away, so she can start all over again tomorrow).

4.  "Food Boxes" - OKAY, I kinda cheated today. But I did say 'big' or 'SMALL' and this one definitely fits in the "small" category! I gave Alex an empty cereal box (big 750g box) and an empty 1kg 'animal cookie' box. Don't laugh! She loves boxes, so I knew that they would be a big hit. (She puts all of her blocks into them, shuffles them around, dumps them out ... she's quite the little organizer!)

I took her to the 'Dollar Store', to load up on inexpensive supplies for her 'new activity a day' thing. She had fun, making eyes at a 4-5 year-old boy & following him around. "Why is she following me?" the boy asked his mom. "Because she likes you," she replied. Boy did she! I had to go pick her and put her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, just to get her to stop following this poor boy. (Alex loves people). We picked up a variety of goodies - blocks, colorful plastic containers, crayons, toy cars, colored twine, magnetic letters, balls, etc. All for about $10.

At the suggesion of one of our readers, I bought some inexpensive Scotch tape, which is reported to entertain for hours. (Unrolling sticky, inexpensive tape has GOT to be better than unrolling toilet paper and stuffing it into the toilet). THANKS for the suggestion, Ann! I'll let you know how it works out.

5.  "Sheet, A Fort!" - Rachel doesn't have classes for a week (UofA is having a "Reading Week", whatever the heck THAT is?) Anyway, she's home and it was laundry day. Mr. Mom was off the hook for a day, but Mrs. Mom is 'into' this whole new-thing-a-day! She took some living room furniture, re-arranged it a bit, then hung sheets off of it to make a cotton fort. Alex played in it a bit, but it doesn't look like she's keen on forts yet. A+ for effort, though, Mom! We'll have to try it again in a few months, as she may have more of an interest then.

6.  "A Bobbing Oop" - For the 4th time in her life, Alex went swimming! Rachel bought a community-league membership for $15CAD, which gets us into various natatoriums around town for free, a couple of hours a week. The nearby pool had a community swim from 12-2PM on Sundays, so we bundled the Oop up and went. She loved it! She was sent down the kiddie slide a few times, with much delight (until Mom tried from the very top & on her way down, Alex fell backwards and bumped her head. Then Dad missed the catch and the precious, but very unseaworthy baby, sank rapidly. Coughing a sputtering, she was rescued from the depths & the episode soon forgotten. (Only the parents remembered how clumsy they were)!

Rachel has informed Scott that "reading week" at the University of Alberta was started some 40 years ago, in an effort to relieve mid-winter stress & an attempt to reduce student suicide rates. Now you know.

7.  "Day Care Girl" - For the 1st time in her life, Alex spent time in day-care! (It was very EXCITING for the Oop, and very NERVOUS for the parents. :-/ All day, we said, "I hope she's OKAY." "Think she's OKAY?" "I bet she's having fun!") We needn't have fretted, she had a great time. In fact, she was so excited by all the new things and people, that she didn't go down for a nap. (She made up for it when she came home).

We dropped her off at about 10:30AM and picked her up at 4:30. It gave us some needed time. Studying for Rachel (midterm the first day of classes after the reading break) and web-stuff for Scott (embedding Flash Audio).

Read full story...

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Updated: 25-May-2009
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Costa Rica Trip

February 15th, 2005  · stk

Scott's parents have recently returned from a 3-week trip to Guatamala and Costa Rica. They had a very busy time and Marilyn commented, "We were so active, that I need a vacation from my vacation!"

They traveled in a group of about 15 people, which they said, "was a good size."

I did my Master's Thesis research in Costa Rica, during the early eighties. I spent just over two months there, traveling extensively over the Nicoya Penninsula and around the Gulf of Nicoya. I was very eager to hear of my parent's impressions and amazed at how much they did, while they were there.

In Guatamala, they saw volcanos erupting, visited a remote village where they speak a Mayan dialect (one of 60 dialects in the Country), sampled unusual fruits (zapota), saw giant carrots over a foot long & measuring 4-5 inches across, and visited the ruins of the ancient Mayan capital "Tikal".

They traveled more in Costa Rica than I ever did, touring San Jose (the capital), visiting the lush rain forests along the Caribbean coast (where they spotted the lethargic three-toed sloth & went white-water rafting down a class-III river, recently swollen from flooding). They spotted colorful poison frogs, howler monkeys, toucans, & white egrets. At the hotel, they drank and ate with a "Tony" Toucan, who helped himself to fruit off their plates! They visited a school and were treated to lunch at a student's home, helping to prepare their meal and sampling authentic, local fare. En route to Lago de Arenal, they got to squeeze sugar cane using an old iron press, sampling the juice & drinking "guardo" (the National drink). They saw tons of howler and capuchin monkeys and witnesses "Jesus Christ" lizards.

What's a "Jesus Christ" lizard? "You know, the ones that walk on water and when you see one, you say, 'Jesus Christ! Look at that lizard!'," Dad explained. Ha ha.

Witnessing more volcanic eruptions, snorkeling, mud baths, horse-back riding, a ride on a 75-foot catamaran, seeing 12-foot-long crocodiles, hiking in the steamy jungle ... Good God! No wonder they need a rest!

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Updated: 15-May-2005
Web View Count: 11530 viewsLast Web Update: 15-May-2005
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Computing Tips

February 11th, 2005  · stk

My (ever growing) repository for useful computing tips, organized by category. I hope that you find many of them useful.


  1. Expand ALT text (MSIE Only) - You probably already know that when a picture fails to load (the file name is wrong, or missing, etc.), the alternate <alt> text is displayed. A lot of times, it's cut off.

    What you may not know is that there's a browser setting that fixes this behavior.

    Tools -> Internet Options -> Advanced Tab -> Accessibility -> (check the "Always expand ALT text for images")

    Another default setting that was dropped through the cracks.

xhtml (Strict)

  1. Opening Links in a New Window: Using frames, it's as simple as specifying the target window for a link. Today, with CSS & XHTML, it not that simple. The "target" attribute is obsolete in XHTML strict and nothing has been offered up as a replacement. So how do you open a link in a new window?

    This is one of those areas where the idealism of standards and the needs of the real World collide. There is no panacea, only tradeoffs.

    The method I've been using, involves the javaScript "" function, but provides a backdoor for visitors who have javaScript turned off or have a pop-up blocker in place. The code:

    <a href = "pg-noJava.html" onclick = " ('pg.html'); return false">

    <a href = "pg.html" onclick =; return false">

    This approach is valid-XHTML, and many browsers will execute it. However, they may neglect to pass along the referrer (the tradeoff). This method results in a new window for many older browsers too, provided that javaScripting is turned on.

    If you include a javaScript "window.close()" function, inside the new window, to return the viewer to the main site, you might need two pages (one with the close() and one without), unless you use a PHP script to decide whether to show the close() or not.

    The "return false" keeps the originating page from loading the linked page, IF the javaScript is sucessfully executed. And if the javaScript cannot be executed (for whatever reason), the visitor is linked to a non-java page, degrading to a regular link, loading into the same window.

    EVERYONE gets to see the page.

Site Admin

  1. .htaccess file

    We got our domain in Dec04. For the first month, we just moved files from our old domain. The 2nd month, we made some changes. After the 2nd month, we noticed that anyone can anonymously browse our directories. Ack! :( This is NOT what we want.

    The place to change this is the ".htaccess" file, which controls directory behavior and works in a cascading style. (Control them individually, by placing a .htaccess file in that directory -OR- control them in a cascading, directory-tree-fashion, via one file, sitting higher up in the tree.)

    The second method is what we are currently employing. Our single .htaccess file is in the top-level directory and looks like:

    # Turn on XbitHack for Server-side includes
    XBitHack full

    # Look in htm/html files for php commands
    AddHandler application/x-httpd-php .htm .html

    # Turn OFF external access to directory indexes
    Options -Indexes

    We don't use SSI now, preferring PHP include statements, which makes parsing PHP important (the second bit). Turn off external directory browsing by turning Indexes off (-Indexes). A browse now results in a 403 message, which we can customize.

    Type in your address line, to see what having Indexes on (+Indexes) looks like. Then try to see the Indexes off (-Indexes) behavior.

    For more information on what you can do with the .htaccess file, read these:

    Have a look at the effect of turning Indexes off. First, type into your address box. THIS is what it would look like if you have Indexes ON. Then, type into your browser address box. Instead of an index listing, you will get a 403 "Forbidden" message.

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Updated: 24-Nov-2007
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Spring in January?

February 6th, 2005  · stk

It's tough to complain when temperatures get to nearly 50°F(10°C) at the end of January, in Edmonton (but watch us)! My father, who lives in northern California, said that Edmonton was actually warmer than where they are (but only in the morning as their temps climbed into the 70's, later in the day. Not here. We've generally been below freezing most days and it's not uncommon to be at or below 0°F(-17°C). We had one bad cold snap, where the news shows were warning that with wind-chill, it was getting to be below -49°F(-45°C) and that exposed skin would freeze within minutes. Advice - stay indoors.

Schools don't have 'snow' days in Edmonton (if they did, all the kids would be pretty dumb ... or ... they'd never have a summer vacation because they'd have a LOT of days to make up)! Nope, they have 'too-cold days' (don't know what they're officially called), but school is closed when it gets too cold. The bad part? Ski resorts are closed when it gets too cold too! So, the kids are stuck indoors, waiting for tolerably cold weather.

Because it's our first winter in Edmonton, we're pretty aware of the weather. We're pretty much housebound, especially with Alex, because she just can't handle that kind of bitter cold. We ARE getting stir crazy. Thank God it's sunny a lot, not that Rachel would notice though, because she's usually sequestered in some classroom, or laboratory, or the hospital. Alex crawls onto the chest that's in front of our big picture window and looks out at the wintry scene, chirping at the birds, which stop by to eat seeds from the suet that's hanging from the eaves. "Cheep, cheep," she says, smearing a slobbery hand against the glass, excited to have spotted a bird. It's difficult to imagine birds staying the winter, but the Magpies, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Black-Capped Chickadees & Sparrows are all here (playing 'King of the Suet'). The cat finds looking out the picture window a bit frustrating, seeing 'prey' only inches from his nose. He has a distinctive, "ack, ack, ack" sound he makes when he spots birds and we just figure that he's more annoyed because he feels obligated to chase the birds when, in truth, he wished they'd just go away so he can nap.

The cold means having the car on the block heater, which (fortunately) we haven't had to use very often. However, the cold and snow is a deterrent to go out, so on really cold or snowy days, we just stay home, unless we absolutely must go somewhere. Rachel walks a couple of blocks to catch the bus, which takes her to the light-rail & a 40-minutes later, she's at the University. The snow means having to shovel and it's MUCH easier, now that we bought a real 'snow shovel'! The walkways are easy and it's nice to get outside. I work up a sweat, doing it, so it's not a cold task. However, the driveway along the side of the rental house is narrow and is difficult to clear. There's no room to pile the snow, so I've been using a 109-liter plastic trash can to move it to the back yard. My record: 36 trips! That's a LOT of snow!

There is a trick to shoveling, we've learned. You've got to get it BEFORE anyone has walked on it. Once it's compacted, it can be really glued to the cement. If that happens, the walk is uneven, or worse - (if the temperatures are right) - it will melt and turn to ice. Nothing short of a chisel, a blow-torch (or precious warm sunshine) will level the walk again.

The recent warm spell, though much enjoyed, caused its share of headaches. There were enough warm days to melt a lot of snow, but far from ALL of the snow. So, by day the roads were slushy, wet & dirty. At night, they were deathly slick ice-rinks. Rachel has fallen hard, more than once, making her way down the dark sidewalk at before 7AM, on her way to catch the bus. The walk around the block that Alex made? It took an hour, mostly because of Alex's curiosity with EVERY dog we met, but also because SHE slipped and fell a lot. Warm days meant slick sidewalks and chilly-cold puddles. Poor Alex was soaking wet when we arrived back home, sore from falling & her hands red and raw from trying to get up. Still, we both needed to get out and the air temperatures were pleasant (in the sun).

The cold is back again (and more snow). Shoveled yesterday and again today. This California boy complained to Rachel, "At least in California, you'd get a break from yard-work in the winter. Mow in the spring and summer, rake leaves in the fall, then watch football all winter long! Here? Mow for three weeks in the summer, rake leave starting in August, and then shovel snow the rest of the year!" She didn't laugh.

If we think that the winter is hard on us, well, all you have to do is think about poor Tuxedo. This poor "born & lived in British Columbia all his life" cat, has (until this year) probably seen snow for all of 20 days of his entire life. And now, not only does he have -45°-weather to deal with, but finding a snow-free spot to do his 'business' is neigh to impossible! (He takes advantage of the cleared walks, by gingerly backing up to the snow (without his paws into it), hanging his rear-end over the snow! It's a sight. If the walks are snow-covered, he dances around (it's gotta be cold on the paws) venturing off the path, using one of my deep footprints as a potty spot. We built him a small, pillow-lined and waterproof box that he uses to stay out of the weather. Generally though, he's not out that long.

As if this poor cat doesn't have enough to contend with by dealing with the snow, the house is hardly a haven for him, with Alex squealing and chasing him around. We used to let him hang out in the large basement, because we generally discourage Alex from wandering down there alone. He became the invisible cat, because the only time we saw him was at dinnertime. And sometimes, we shut the basement door, just to enforce the 'upstairs rule' with Alex. Oops. Guess poor Tuxedo needed to go out and there wasn't anyone to ask. (Or he just decided, "The heck with going out, I'll just find a spot HERE.") Either way, we discovered a couple of 'presents' in the far corner of the room (by olfactory senses FIRST) and have had to institute an "upstairs rule" for BOTH Tuxedo and Alex. Besides, we figure that the best way for them to adjust to each other is put them in the same space. So now, Tuxedo has his 'cat bed' right beside Alex's highchair (smack dab in front of the heater register, which he LOVES). "It's not so bad," he figures, "Alex likes cheese. I like cheese. Alex is clumsy. I am quick!"

We're all having a tough time with our first Edmonton winter. The big question? When's spring? April? May? Answer: not soon enough!

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Updated: 15-Sep-2006
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