A governmental fact sheet from the HHS reports a dramatic 300% increase in ransomware attacks on U.S. governmental systems from 2015 to 2016. There are now an average of 4,000 attacks per day on those government computers alone. This alarming trend extends to attacks (some successful) on mission critical healthcare facility systems, whose requirement for uninterrupted service can quite literally be a matter of life or death. Ransomware, it is clear, is a highly profitable business. Tips for avoiding infection are everywhere.
I call this item Cracked Actor, after the 1974 David Bowie song and film. In the film, a drug addled Bowie plays the superstar to his adoring audiences throughout a live tour. He is clearly suffering on many levels, but you would never know that from his stage performance. He puts on a great show. And that is a pretty good metaphor for life.
All we see is the face a person chooses to present to the world. Not the real person, hiding in plain sight. We may get a rare glimpse through the armour in times of weakness, but normally our smiles stay painted on. Unless and until something shatters inside.
As you go through your day you pass many people, each going through their own struggles. Some big. Some small. Financial worries, addiction, grief, medical problems. It’s a long list. And none of that pain is visible from the outside. Just the smile.
I try to take a breath before hurling anger or bitterness at another person. Though perhaps justified, it may be that the person who just bumped you and spilled your coffee may be coming back from a funeral. The distracted driver that nearly wiped you out could be on the way to a hospital. Take a breath. Take two. You’ll live.
You may one day be that coffee spiller or distracted driver. You could be the addict, the outpatient, the parent. It could be you. Or a loved one. You may never know their stories. And you don’t need to. It’s none of your business. How you react, is.
It costs nothing to bite your tongue for a second. Be a better person. Make the world a better place. Remember this, the next time someone upsets you: We are all cracked actors. Every one.
As part of their ongoing commitment to supporting the Tim Hortons restaurant group, the Quickservice Technology range of services has quietly been expanded to include a dedicated Tim Hortons training web site where owners and staff members will be able to learn all the equipment and software provided by Quickservice, most notably at this initial launch stage the Point Of Sale (POS) system developed specifically with Tim Hortons in mind, iQtouch.
The site will supplement the 24/7 bilingual technical support help desk which currently supports over 3,500 Tim Hortons restaurant installations. It will be a source of on-demand reference material and assist in the training of new staff members. The site will be expanded over time to include complete courses for Drive Thru Wireless, DVR Security and Timer software, as well as courses for owners on financial, administrative and operational reporting systems.
The site is driven by a complete LMS, (Learning Management System) as used by colleges and universities, and allows for class structures, grading, certification and student histories. Multiple choice questions, quizzes and essays are only three of the full raft of available options around which courses can be created and mutlimedia and video will naturally play a large part in the course structures. Full certification courses may follow, providing owners with the ability to confirm the training levels of their staff, providing peace of mind and measurable educational progression.
Enrollment has already begun, with over 50 students to date and more being added daily. It is envisaged that student numbers will soon be in the thousands and additional course materials and a roll out plan have already been prepared. Filming begins later this week on the very next course, DVR and restaurant security.
Exciting times are ahead.
On a personal note, I am proud to be the developer and administrator (Call me Dean) of this online college. I look forward to creating the additional courses and materials for the growing student base to explore. It’s all about support, and that’s what I and the rest of the Quickservice team do well.
The site is publicly available, but to access any course materials you will need a login. Those are currently being made available on request to Tim Hortons restaurant owners. If you are an owner and want to enroll, contact the Quickservice team by email to email@example.com and we will be happy to assist.
On September 21, I and my wife will celebrate three happy years of married life. We’ve actually been together much longer, and yet the honeymoon is not over. In fact, we agreed that our recent road trip vacation to Georgian Bay, Tobermory, Manitoulin Island, Thunder Bay and more was something of a second honeymoon for us.
We snorkelled, diving down on shipwrecks. We swam in crystal clear waters, hiked for miles through forests and across cliffs, even did a little adventure caving. We travelled on glass-bottomed boats and climbed observation towers. We swam in a waterfall, which is where the photo below was taken. And those are just a few of the bullet points. Along the way we stayed in campgrounds, motels and State Parks, staying one step ahead of the heatwave affecting the rest of Ontario all the way. And the wonderful thing about Canada is this: The more you see, the more you want to see.
The trip was around 3,200km, which by our standards is a short hop – our actual honeymoon was 5,800km – but in between 8 hour driving sessions we managed to cram in lots of fun, as well as have time for rest and relaxation. We even managed to visit an Amethyst mine, and picked up some pieces of geological history for the house.
Three years. We’ve done a lot, my love and I. And we plan to do a whole lot more in the next three. Six. Nine… Watch this space.
Happy Anniversary, my love. Here’s to many, many more.
One year ago today, our good friends Juice and Sweets (Brad and Kim) were married in a beautiful biker ceremony on a fantastic, sunny day. Surrounded by those they love, and by those that love them. It was a beautiful day. Here is the video I made for them.
It was a good day.
On the same day, Nikki and I were waiting to hear whether our offer had been accepted on the house in which we now live. Obviously, it was. During their vows, we got the call. I had muted the phone. Three buzzes while I fumbled the phone from my pocket, and the house was ours! High five and a quiet happy dance, while our friends sealed the deal with a kiss.
Five minutes after that, while we were still happy dancing, I got another call. Literally, five minutes. A lot can happen in five minutes.
That call told me that my 15 year old grandson had died in a tragically avoidable accident. He had been electrocuted while climbing on freight trains. Kyle lost his life while his cousin Cameron performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. While his brother Liam ran for help, Cam kept Kyle going until cousin Kayleigh, Kyle’s sister, came running. Together they kept the CPR going and fought on. Never give in. Never surrender. They didn’t.
But sadly, some fights just cannot be won.
Did I mention, this tragedy struck on Cameron’s 16th birthday?
Today is Cameron’s 17th birthday.
One year on. I’m wishing you a Happy Birthday, Cam, even though I know you don’t want to celebrate it. Rather, Cam has arranged to meet friends and family at a local park to release balloons in remembrance of Kyle.
That says a lot about Cameron. I can’t imagine what he (and the rest of the family, particularly Liam and Kayleigh) went through that day, and during this last long year. Or how they and the rest of the family have coped. One fractured day at a time.
I want to wish Juice and Kim a happy first anniversary. I want to wish Cam a happy birthday, whether he wants me to or not. And I want to mourn Kyle. Honestly, I can’t claim to have known him, and I won’t. I left the UK a long, long time ago when he was only a boy. But I do know this. Kyle left a huge hole. The entire family has been rocked by his untimely death. And no parent should ever have to bury a child. That’s not the way it is supposed to be.
A wedding. A new life. A life lost. All in five minutes. Five. Minutes. On that same day, there were thousands of births and deaths and marriages. Millions of happy and unhappy events. That day, and every day since. And every future day, too. The world keeps turning.
What is the point of all this? I’m getting to that. The point is this. It’s neither all good, nor all bad. In the midst of life we are in death, it’s true. Enjoy the good, and smile through the tears. There is much pain in this world, balanced, usually, by much joy.
The trick is to never give up. Never surrender. Love while you can. And live. Live and love as though there is no tomorrow. Because one day, there won’t be. And then, the good memories will help get you through. You will need those memories.
So, make some. Go and hug someone. For no reason. Just do it. Put a smile on another person’s face. It feels good. Really. Give yourself, and someone else, a happy memory. Do it. Right now.
According to the esteemed University of North Dakota (and who am I to argue with such academic giants?) the light and fluffy snow that we like to make snow angels in and make home movies of our dogs plowing through can mass around 7 US pounds per cubic foot. More average, denser snow, can come in at 15 pounds per foot, while drifted snow is denser still, since it is compacted (think snowman) and can come in at 20 pounds per cubic foot or more. I’m going to take 17 pounds per cubic foot as my base for this calculation, since it involves both drifted snow and snow which had been compacted by that most fearsome of the mechanized beasts of Winter, a municipal snow plow. We love them.
From the rear of my car to the road on this particular day was only about 50 feet. My driveway is a ballpark average of 10 feet wide. 500 square feet. The sidewalk, which one must clear by law in case some otherwise intelligent passerby slips and sues you, is 40 feet across the front of the house by 3 feet in width, adding another 120 square feet. The car itself had a foot of snow on the roof and packed under the wheels too, but let’s not quibble over details and just go with what we have: 620 square feet of snow to clear.
At the rear of my car, the snow was a foot deep. Now, we’re talking cubic. Car to road is 50 feet by 10 feet by 1 foot, total 500 cubic feet. Sidewalk, 120 square feet. If we say it was a foot deep at all points that’s another 120 cubic feet of snow. Close enough.
There’s more. At the roadside, the snow was nearer 2.5 feet deep (probably more, I’m rounding down) due to the plow (blessed be those that driveth them).
The snow sloped evenly between the rear of the car and the road due to drifting, and of course the entire road frontage was one solid block where the plow had passed. This is where that algebra you learned in school kicks in (ha! The joke is on you if you thought you would never need it, kids!) and we calculate the slope. Easy enough. See diagram. 🙂
We take the volume of an imaginary rectangle and divide by two, to get the volume of the slope area separately. (50 x 10 x 1.5) / 2, gives us an extra 375 cubic feet.
Now we add. 375 cubic feet of slope, plus 500 cubic feet on the driveway, and 120 cubic feet on the sidewalk. Ignore the car! That gives a total amount of snow on the sidewalk, and between car and road, of 995 cubic feet of wet white stuff. Are you with me so far?
The last calculation is simple. At a conservatively estimated 17 pounds of snow per soggy wet cubic foot, I shoveled 995 cubic feet of snow. A total of 16,915 US pounds. There are 2,000 pounds in a US ton. The math says that I shoveled over eight tons of water yesterday. That seems impossible, right?
Please, check my math. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I checked it a few times because I didn’t believe it myself. I think you’ll find it accurate. No wonder snow clearance is a leading cause of heart attack and sudden death in Canada. That’s a lot of water to move.
I definitely learned something today. I learned that I will park closer to the road next time.
January 29 marks the release of a David Bowie tribute issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Following Bowie’s death on January 10, a great many artists spoke of the influence this controversial musician had made on their lives, their musical choices and their careers. That in itself is inspirational.
But it goes much deeper. Beyond the musical influence, beyond the stardom and the Fame (I had to get at least one Bowie song reference in somewhere), Bowie himself has a well-documented history of drug abuse and was well along the path to self-destruction as far back as the Ziggy Stardust days of the seventies.
There are many stories of wild excesses and behaviour that follow the traditional rock star pattern. But unlike many others that were chewed up and spit out by the intensity of living their lives in the media spotlight, Bowie somehow turned it around and came out the other side, stronger than ever.
A quick Google search for ‘Bowie saved my life’ returns page after page after page of stories of fans attributing their current happiness to this much missed musician and the meaning they perceived from his body of work. But that is fairly common to any number of deceased rock stars.
What is uncommon is that Bowie used what he had learned along his personal journey to help others in his sphere of influence to get clean, mentoring them and helping them get through to the other side, too. Iggy Pop, for one, attributes his continued presence on this earthly plane directly to Bowie. And he’s not alone.
Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (NiN) speaks eloquently in the Rolling Stone tribute issue about his own struggle with drugs and says that without the support and belief in him which Bowie showed, he would not be here today. While touring together, Reznor recalls that despite being at the height of their career as NiN, he was at his personal lowest point. He also recalls something Bowie said to him, quietly and without reproach, during this time. “You know, there is a better way here, and it doesn’t have to end in despair or in death, in the bottom.”
Bowie was at that time clean, happily married, and enjoying life to the full as a father and husband, with a future and a family he could now embrace in peace. Having been that Low (sorry, couldn’t resist) himself, Bowie knew exactly how hard it could be to get clean. With simple grace and without judgement or lecture, he was for Reznor and many others simply an example of what life could offer when you walked away from drugs forever. Reznor focussed on that, and he did indeed come out the other side, with a little help from his friend.
Let’s let Reznor say it his way. This is a quote direct from the Rolling Stone article: “A few years later, Bowie came through L.A. I’d been sober for a fair amount of time. I wanted to thank him in the way that he helped me. And I reluctantly went backstage, feeling weird and ashamed, like, “Hey, I’m the guy that puked on the rug.” And again, I was met with warmth, and grace, and love. And I started to say, “Hey listen, I’ve been clean for …” I don’t even think I finished the sentence; I got a big hug. And he said, “I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.” I have goosebumps right now just thinking about it. It was another very important moment in my life.
The power of faith in people, and belief in their own inner strength, cannot be underestimated. For those people that can no longer believe in themselves, the faith of others is often the only light they can see in their personal darkness. Be the light.
Today, the light which was David Robert Jones, AKA David Bowie, was forever extinguished. At the age of 69 he succumbed to an 18 month battle against cancer, and as his star finally went out, the night has turned black.
I am still processing this. Bowie has been my hero for forty years. I was psyched to buy the new album, Blackstar, which was released on his birthday just 48 hours ago. And then he died. And I, along with the rest of the world, got the real meaning behind this album.
It was his epitaph. He is the Blackstar. Knowing for 18 months that he was dying, he went into the studio to record this parting gift, and say farewell. On his terms, right to the end. Good on ya.
The entire album has only one voice: His. I would not be surprised to discover that he also played all the instruments. This was his final work, his Magnum Opus. Back to relying on only himself to come up with the goods, it is almost as though he went back to that bedroom this all started in, in Brixton, London, recording the Space Oddity demo. This music shows how far he came, yet returns to his roots at the same time. And of course, he nailed it, yet again.
I like to think that he knew his final journey was one he had to take alone, and he built that into the album. You can hear it in the voice as well as in the heartbreaking lyrics. No other voices. He planned, prepared and executed this project, knowing he had months left to live. It was his ‘Going out in style’ project, and one of his best works, the music really is fantastic. An amazing showman right to the end. Can you imagine the strength of character that must take? Respect.
I watched the video for the title track with new eyes. Here’s my take.
Bowie’s career took flight in 1969 with Space Oddity, and Major Tom was catapulted into existence. Ashes to Ashes came much later, and showed the ch-ch-changes Major Tom (and Mr. Bowie) had gone through along the way.
The Blackstar video neatly bookends the career and completes the journey of Major Tom as we see the skeletal astronaut lying dead on a barren planet under a black star. Major Tom found his final resting place, on the other side of the event horizon. He is taken to the ‘Villa of Amen’ (House of God, of course) where a solitary candle burns to mark the passing of this great being, with the diamond encrusted skull and eyes. His journey complete, he can be at rest. The celebrants dance as they mourn. As will we. Not a smile to be seen.
Bowie wears buttons on his eyes during the video. Placing buttons or pennies on the eyes of the dead is an ancient practice.
The middle eight? Soul searing. It’s as if he rolled back the Bowie voice to the 70’s. Simple, melodic, haunting. And it made me cry.
He knew he was dying. And yet he passes the torch to whoever fate and the whims of the music industry will make into the next star.
The song and video both trail into a discordant instrumental mix which seems at first unnecessary, almost filler, until it dawns on you… we are hearing this amazing man’s failing heartbeat, and we are there as he takes his last breath. If you have ever sat by a deathbed, you will know what I mean, And you will hear it in this song. It slides into. Silence. And you will sit there waiting for one more breath that you know deep inside will never come. Just another minute, please…
David is famously quoted as saying “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” Wherever you are now, David, it won’t be boring. For you. For us? This world is a darker place.
Nikki and I created a personal Christmas card to send to friends and family which generated a lot of interest and questions along the lines of “How did you do that?!” Here’s the answer: Magic.
No? OK. Spoilsport. A classic Photoshop technique, then. Here’s how it works.
First, the practicalities. Set up your camera on a tripod so that the field of view covers everything you eventually want to include. A little forethought goes a long way, here. Visualizing the end result saves time and lets you plan all the shots you will need, and where things need to be. A tripod or some stable platform is vital. The camera must not move in between shots, and you will need one shot for every time you want to appear in the final image. That’s the trick. Multiple photos of the same room. Only the people move.
For this image, I wanted it to look as though the homeowners had been disturbed, and came downstairs to find a party in full swing. My variation of “The Night Before Christmas”, where in this case, nothing was moving, not even a mouse…except for the party in the living room. That’s why we have the bathrobes on. I framed the composition so that it included the door frame (so we could be seen peeking around it) and the dining room (so we could be seen at the table).
Then, it was time to play dress up. We changed several times in between shots and had a lot of fun improvising around the plan – Nikki came up with the hip flask (empty, by the way!) and I came up with the unconscious revelers on the floor. She even got in the Maple Leafs. Regrettably they were not sponsoring us.
For best results, full manual mode works best, and is in fact almost essential if you want to avoid a lot of post processing adjustments. Focus the camera on the main point of interest (here, that’s the tree) and set your aperture to at least f11 or higher to make sure the depth of field is sufficient to encompass the whole room. You don’t want out of focus people, do you? A couple of test shots will help you bracket the correct exposure to set ISO and shutter speed. Manual mode means the camera will not change setting between shots, so they will all be exposed the same way. Once focused, make sure you turn off autofocus, which would otherwise make each shot different. It is meant to look like a single image and nothing kills that magic quicker than multiple focal points.
Some cameras have remotes, which let you trigger the shot from across the room. Others have 10 second timers. Whatever works for your setup, enjoy the fun and take as many shots as you need, at leisure. There is no time limit or rush, since the camera settings are locked. The only consideration would be if you did this during the day with sunlight coming through the windows. The sun moves faster than you think and the lighting coming through windows moves with it. That can make it difficult to match things up in Photoshop later, so I would recommend an evening shoot after sunset – no moving shadows, consistent lighting. A simple tip, but it may save you a lot of hair pulling and gnashing of teeth.
I think we took around a dozen images. The ones you don’t use, just discard. It’s all part of the fun. Once you have all your images, it’s time to take them into Photoshop.
Open each image as a separate layer. If your tripod was steady, and your manual exposure was set correctly and autofocus was turned off, each image should be almost the same. The camera never moved, nor did the room, and the lighting was unchanged. Just the people moved. So the actual room is the same in every shot.
Choose the focal image of the bunch and move it to the bottom of the layer stack. I used the shot of Nikki and I in front of the tree, standing up. Turn off all but this bottom layer. It is your base image. Then turn on the first layer above it. This will hide your base image, so ALT-click the Mask icon to give this upper layer a ‘hide all’ mask. This should hide the topmost layer and show the bottom layer again. Then take a brush, and paint with white on the black mask of the upper layer. Paint where the people in that image are seen and they should magically appear as you paint.
Go through each successive layer in the same way and your room will soon be filled with party goers. Job done!
The tricky part is the part which really sells the image:. The part where you seem to be standing in front of or behind yourself. That takes some finessing. Zoom in close on each mask and work slowly. It may help to temporarily reduce the opacity of the layer you are working on so you can see the layer beneath. Feather your brush – real life photos do not have sharp edges. It’s a fact.
As you can see from the card above, with a little effort you can produce a great effect which is more time consuming than difficult.
For us, including taking the photos, changing clothes, taking them into Photoshop and doing the manipulations needed, the whole thing took around two hours. Granted, after working with Photoshop for so long, it’s second nature to me. I work fast, I had all the shots in my head before I ever set up the tripod, and that made it much easier. Nikki, by the way, is a fantastic model to work with.
With some forward planning an image like this should not take a long time at all to create and… so what if it did? This is a labour of love. And of course this same technique can be used in many other ways. Play volleyball on the beach with yourself. Give yourself a jumping high-five. As I type, I’m thinking it would be fun to punch myself in the face. Not literally, but wouldn’t that be a great image?
We found this a fun way to spend part of an afternoon, and by wasting two lazy hours on a Sunday afternoon we now have a memorable Christmas card, and a lasting image that will always be uniquely ours. You can’t buy that off the shelf.
Merry Christmas, one and all. From the Greens. All of us. 🙂
As regular readers will know, the edible Nikki and I recently purchased a house, and we moved in in August. This will be our first Christmas in the new domicile, and to mark it Nikki purchased a live tree (a first for both of us), some decorations, and every available string of festive lights in a 25 mile radius. She festooned the house with them. We now have lights on the tree, shining snowmen in the windows, and battery driven candles on the tables.
Outside on the porch we have lights enough to land a plane by. Thanks to David for that. While I’m messing around with a ladder, he’s just reaching up and clipping them to the porch. I just let him get on with it, he was going much faster than I was with that ladder! Oh, the perks of being that young. And freakishly tall.
We even have a spinning mechanical Santa that runs around the hardwood floors singing and scaring the cats. And that’s fine.
As this is a year of firsts, we also thought it a great time to reboot our annual Christmas Card! This tradition will carry on from this point until I eventually croak, hopefully sometime around the next millennium. This year, the theme is simply us having fun in the new house. With my own special twist, of course.
I posted it on Facebook first, and it was the single most liked photo of the year. I’ve had several people ask me how this card was done. I’m going to post a separate blog about that, since it was fun to do and not at all difficult once you know how. As with most things creative, a little imagination is all that is required. Of course, it helps to be immensely skilled and available for hire please call now for details…
Sorry. Back to the point: Merry Christmas, from the Greens!
Witty, urbane, stylish. These are just some of the words which have not been used to describe this blog…