A Primer on Canadian Politics (for Americans) – Part 1

Thank you to Rick for inviting me to post this on the Smatters blog!  I’m very happy to be guest blogging.  The purpose of this series is to give my American friends a better understanding of the political system in Canada.

Part the First: Head of State

Canada is a part of the British commonwealth; what this means (amongst other things) is that officially, the head of state is the reigning British monarch; ie, currently, the Queen. Her representative in Canada is the Governor General. This position was much more meaningful in the days when the monarchy was more deeply involved in administrative affairs, and communication technology involved slow, fallible wooden ships. Now the position seems a lot more ceremonial; however, the Governor General still does have to sign off on various official acts in Canada – calling an election, forming a new government, and proroguing parliament.

“Proroguing,” as I understand it, is when the prime minister decides to close shop on the sitting parliament for a while. There may be legitimate uses for it, but it can also be kind of a bullshit move. The current prime minister (Stephen Harper, Conservative Party) prorogued parliament in late 2009, ostensibly because he wanted Canada to focus on the winter Olympics in Vancouver, but immediately before the prorogue there was a lot of grumbling in parliament and the press about some shady dealings he’d supposedly been involved in; speculation (on the left, anyway) at the time was that he just didn’t want to answer questions and he hoped it would blow over. Anyway, the Governor General rubber stamped the prorogue, parliament went home for a few months, the Olympics were awesome, and the furor over the issues did quiet down.

So clearly, the Governor General’s position (and by extension, the Queen’s role) is still important in Canadian politics. If the Governor General hadn’t signed off on it, parliament could not have been prorogued, the prime minister would probably have been asked to answer some uncomfortable questions, and possibly there would have been a call for a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Next installment:  Parliament!  (No, not George Clinton’s Funkadelic.)

Barclaycard vs Apple Pay: customer loses

BarclaycardBiscuit got one of those spiffy new Apple phones a few weeks back. This morning she tripped over the Apple Pay mechanism and asked me about it. We registered her American Express card – no problem. Then we tried to register her Barclaycard. After unexpected delays, she left to take a shower. I remained on the line twenty eight and a half minutes to complete the process. The precise time came from the iPhone’s display. We’re still not sure if this worked – Amex sent me an email confirmation, but I haven’t seen any response from Barclays.

Continue reading Barclaycard vs Apple Pay: customer loses

Put Grace Hopper on the $20 Bill

RADM Grace HopperJanet emailed me a link to the W2O campaign, which wants to discard Andrew Jackson from the $20 and replace him with a noteworthy woman. The campaign has its own list of candidates, mostly human rights icons and politicians. I’d call Rachel Carson the only nonpolitical candidate, since she’s a scientist. But since climate denial has become a popular political cause, Carson’s choice would also be considered political.

[Not sure why I’m ignoring Clara Barton – maybe I’d be more excited if she’d been a physician like Gramma Doc].

Cousin Peter suggested Grace Hopper, and I love the idea. If you’re using the Internet and you don’t know who Grace Hopper is, you should go watch the 17-minute video “The Queen of Code.” In a nutshell, Hopper was a giant of the computer field in the early days. She first worked on the Harvard Mark 1 as a naval officer during World War II, and then on the first Univac computer. She’s most famous for work on programming languages. Her work on COBOL brought “automatic programming in an English-like language” to businesses, making it practical for more of them to use computers.

Continue reading Put Grace Hopper on the $20 Bill

A Jaded Look at Home Financial Software

Heath H89 computerI started doing personal finances (especially taxes) on a venerable Heath H89 I picked up back in 1980. I graduated to Macintax in ’85 using a borrowed Mac 512. I started online banking in about ’89 with CheckFree software, eventually migrated to “Managing Your Money,” and then to Quicken (who probably absorbed CheckFree’s consumer services). After that, I bounced between Macs and PCs using various versions of Quicken.

My desktop is now a Macintosh but I continue to use PC Quicken.  I tried to break free last month, and failed.

Despite having to migrate every few years, I’ve achieved a few things pretty consistently with my financial software. It isn’t everything everyone wants. I do enough to keep me atop finances and tax reporting requirements.

Continue reading A Jaded Look at Home Financial Software

Adieu, Spock and Leonard Nimoy

Alex with Spock earsOur family has always admired Leonard Nimoy, and his famous character, Spock.

Biscuit likes to tell about playing Star Trek with school friends when she was about 12. A few years later, Nimoy played summer stock on the North Shore (Beverly, MA) in a production of Camelot. The production borrowed one of the Atwood’s sheepdogs. So she got to meet him. Biscuit and her friends even made cupcakes for him.

We grew up with Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek, but our kids grew up with The Next Generation. They learned about Spock through the movies, and then, eventually, through the original series.

And Alex taught himself to make Spock ears.

iBank and Moneydance fail

iBankI’ve been looking for a substitute for PC Quicken that I could run on my Mac. I figured, “How hard can it be to create something with the features I need?” Too hard, I guess. Quicken’s own Mac version falls short in a lot of ways, too, but that’s another story.

I tried Moneydance. It doesn’t download all of the accounts I need.

I tried iBank. It came a lot closer, especially if you’re willing to pay for their “direct access to banks” subscription. However, they haven’t figured out what it means to reconcile an account without  a paper statement.

How 20th century of them.

Continue reading iBank and Moneydance fail

Learning the Knots

BSA Knot AwardsNo, I’m not talking about the ones we tie with ropes. I’m talking about the obscure rectangles shown at left. Adult scout leaders in the BSA receive these knots for training, service, and achievements.

But they’re incomprehensible to most people, even scouting volunteers. I just created an online resource if you’d like to ‘crack the code’ posed by these knots.

Continue reading Learning the Knots

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