Gary MacDougall

Almost every morning, since Oliver started at Prince Street Elementary School eight years ago, we’ve run into Gary MacDougall, Editor at The Guardian newspaper, on our way up Prince Street to school in the morning. We’ve shared a hello, or a bit of news, and gone on our ways to start our days. I suspect Oliver’s been left with the impression that it’s normal to have almost-daily interaction with the editor of the local newspaper. And surely it should be.

I got to know Gary a little better in recent years as he was instrumental in the establishment of IslandNewspapers.ca – the project simply wouldn’t have happened without his support as a strong believer in the power of the digitized archive of the newspaper as an educational and cultural resource.

Gary’s retiring at the end of this week, we all learned today, and it will be a great loss to the newspaper, the city, and the Island.

I’m going to miss chatting with Gary on the way to school every morning. I sure hope his replacement plans to walk to work.

Off to Regina

The first real thing I did with Catherine, shortly after our courtship began, was to accompany her to her brother’s wedding. It was fun. And terrifying. “Here, meet my hundreds of relatives in this formal atmosphere” is not an unbracing way to get acclimated to a family much, much larger than my own.

That wedding begat a daughter, and that daughter, Patricia Miller, is getting married this weekend in Regina.

This makes me feel almost impossibly old. And also mindful that Catherine and I have been courting for, well, a good while.

So in a few hours we bundle up the dog and the boy and ourselves and board the Air Canada jet to Toronto where me meet up with Catherine’s parents and fly onward to Regina.

We’ll be in Regina until Sunday, and then up in Saskatoon until Tuesday night visiting our old friends the Hansons on their home turf. I’ve known sisters Cindy and Lori and Yvonne for more that 25 years, since our paths crossed in Peterborough (and, later, in Halifax and Charlottetown), and yet, short of a night many years ago when I crashed on Yvonne’s couch in Saskatoon (while she was, sadly, out of town), I’ve never experienced them “at home.” I’m looking forward to it.

Air Canada, I should mention, has been fabulously helpful in accommodating us for this trip: their Medical Office arranged for extra room in the cabin for Ethan, and refunded us the cost of one of our fares so that we can be Oliver’s “assistant,” an entitlement that he’s eligible for, it seems, in perpetuity. Which kind of makes me think that it’s time to accelerate the “pack it all in and travel the world” plan.

If you, dear reader, have been quietly reading from Saskatchewan all these years and have never raised your hand, please do so; we could have a “blogger meet up” while I’m there.

Life of Crime

My friend Dave asked a question on Twitter this morning that produced a veritable torrent of replies:

Working on my latest parenting column and looking at summer jobs. What was your first job?

This got me thinking about the jobs of my youth – summer camp counsellor, computer programmer, Canadian Tire computer and Bondo salesperson – and this, in turn, got me thinking about the first time I learned that one of my friends had turned to a life of crime.

My friend – let’s call him Fred to protect his identity – had a job pumping gas at the Sunoco station across from our high school.

One day at school he told me about this scheme he’d worked out. Most people paid with cash in those days, and it was before the advent of “self serve,” so he pumped gas for everyone. When customers paid with, say, a $20 bill, he would go back to the office for change, and return with change for $10 instead, pocketing the rest for himself. If the customer protested, he would simply apologize and hand over the difference, claiming ignorance. I don’t think he ever got caught, and I imagine that his take from each shift could have amounted to a couple of hundred dollars (although I suppose the owner would have noticed the difference in the cash register at some point, so he must have had to moderate his take).

What shocked me about this when I first heard it was not the crime itself.  And although it did surprise me that Fred, who I’d known since we were very young, whose birthday parties I’d gone to as a kid, would engage in such pursuits, it wasn’t that either. It was simply the realization that such things were possible, that anyone would even consider such behaviour. Until that time I’d considered crime – and generalized dishonesty – to be the stuff of movies and other places; the notion that it was possible to simply be garden variety dishonest was a revelation to me.

I had a similar reaction when, on a YMCA youth group trip to Banff, one of our older counsellors shoplifted some sponge toffee from a candy store, and emerged to brag about it, with the implication that he did this kind of thing all the time. This was someone who I’d looked up to for a long time; a model of leadership, I thought.

The notion that this guy – this guy – would be casually criminal is something that I find deeply disturbing to this day.

Was everyone I knew engaged in a part-time life of crime?

In this light perhaps Dave’s next question should be “What was the first crime you committed?”

I’m not sure it would produce the same torrent of replies, but whatever it did produce would no doubt be compelling.

Warning: Expect Painter Next 2 km

One of the first things to go is spontaneity.

In my 20s I would think nothing of hopping in my Datsun 510 and driving to Vancouver if the opportunity presented itself. Indeed I did just that, once.

But then mental atrophy sets in. And the need to have the breakfast cereal out of the same bowl every morning becomes increasingly important. Part of this is simply complexity: it’s harder to coordinate a small platoon of two adults, one teen and one dog into a sudden outburst of spontaneity. But there’s more to it than that: well-worn ruts, as Bembo showed us, can prove very alluring.

Which is why sometimes having someone email you, at the very last minute, with a “Hey, we’ll be in Charlottetown tonight, can we park in your driveway” can be an welcome shock to the system.

Which is exactly what happened yesterday: my friend Julie is acting as aide-de-camp for her friend Nicole while Nicole makes her way from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Montreal, stopping every 50 km to paint the Trans-Canada Highway. They are now 15 days in, having made their way across Newfoundland (twice, actually, as they had to first get to St. John’s) and Cape Breton, and opting to take the more interesting Prince Edward Island leg of the highway over the less interesting Nova Scotia one (who knew the Trans Canada had forks?).

So not only was there an unexpected injection of spontaneity into our life, but it had an right-up-my-alley artistic hook to boot.

And, so, this was the scene in our driveway this morning:

Julie's VW Microbus at 100 Prince Street

By all rights Nicole and I should know each other: we lived in Peterborough, Ontario at the same time for a number of years. Hung with a similar crowd. We even went to the same high school, albeit in different years. But, as near as I can determine, our paths never crossed. At least in a way that I can remember. (It’s also possible the we were roommates and that I’ve just completely forgotten several years of my life; this is not as far-fetched is it reads).

This morning Nicole will backtrack toward the Wood Islands ferry, stopping 18 km this side, which, added to the 32 km on the Nova Scotia side since her last painting, makes an even 50. This will put her, I reckon, in downtown Pinette. And would make PEI painting number two land somewhere around the North River causeway. And painting number three almost exactly at the end of the bridge (how convenient our kilometerage is!).

Along the way I’m hoping that she can intersect with a Guardian photographer and a CBC crew – hastily arranged late nite emails went out that the journalistic community yeomanly responded to quickly – and so Islanders will be able to learn a bit more about the project too.

In the meantime, we had a nice dollop of spontaneity land in our midst, got to renew ties with Julie, and start ties with Nicole.

As you’re making your way from Wood Islands to Borden today, watch out for painter.

CBC + Kodi: Watching Compass with my Raspberry Pi

I am a big fan – and a daily user – of the open source Kodi media centre. I run it on an inexpensive Raspberry Pi computer hooked up to our 20 year old Sony television and, thanks to video services that have Kodi plug-ins, like USTVnow and YouTube, I have a rich pool of content to use to supplement our steady diet of Netflix (which we watch via our Nintendo Wii).

Something that I’d been missing, though, was a way to watch Compass, the local CBC evening news here in Prince Edward Island. As a vocal Compass advocate, this absence from my supper hour seemed downright unpatriotic.

I’ve been able to bodge together a solution that works via an iPad, AirPlay and Kodi’s ability to receive AirPlay streams. But it only works some of the time (most noticeably and helpfully on provincial election night), and, for some reason, seems unable to play me Compass.

And thus I was happy to encounter news of a CBC plug-in for Kodi, which held the promise of native-to-Kodi access to Compass (and a range of other CBC programs I’ve been missing).

And the plug-in works.

I was able to watch Dragon’s Den with my breakfast this morning and it was rock solid.

Unfortunately, Compass seemed to be missing from the mix.  Navigating through the Kodi UI to News, and then Local News Shows, results in just a single program, Here and Now, from St. John’s, Newfoundland:

Kodi + CBC Plugin

Here and Now in Kodi

This isn’t the fault of Kodi nor the CBC plug-in, though: if you navigate through the CBC’s own (dreadful) video gallery, following the same path, you end up with the same result, showing a single local news program:

CBC Video Portal

Navigating to video from the Compass website ends one up at a page with breadcrumbs that look like this:

Breadcrumbs

Which suggested that if, rather than following News > Local News Shows, I instead followed News > Canada > PEI, I might find the promised land. And, sure enough, it’s all there:

CBC PEI Shows

And here’s Kodi happily playing last Thursday’s episode of Compass:

Compass!

I am again a happy Compass patriot.