August 31st 2011 - Canadian Television Liberation Day

I've been gearing up early for the changes to Canadian broadcast television that will occur in 2011. There are two good reasons to consider changing your setup if it is anything like mine.

1) Some Channels will move back to VHF
This is important because unlike older houses in the area we refit our house with a newer antennat that was for the most part dedicated to UHF band signals. We catch some VHF signals already when using the original NTSC tuner in our television, but they are not at a viewable level.

This means that we will supplement the missing VHF reception with a dedicated VHF antenna, which is a good choice considering most of our VHF channels in Niagara and Hamilton will come from Toronto. This means that we can redirect the UHF antenna down toward Erie, Pennsylvania.

(I should note that we typically do not move the antenna on a regular basis, if the system is built right for your local stations you know which signals and from where that you are looking for.

2) Channels will power-up on UHF
More power - the biggest benefit of the permanent switch is the higher level of dedicated power. This means fewer dropouts on distant stations and in some cases 'new' stations will appear like CityTV (Toronto) and SunTV (Hamilton).

I didn't originally make the choice to switch over to ATSC/Broadcast signals for 'more channels' but it is niece to have them. These are both local channels with quality programming that my online peers believe would be missed in their communities if they had the poor reception that Niagara residents do.

I will be adding a signal strength (low and high) list to the ATSC page to emphasize the changes coming.

[Easy] Getting Images to Align with ImageCache and ImageField

This is much easier and does not require any CSS hacks if you follow the directions in the right order. I wrote this initially for image fields in the product content type, remove Ubercart references and switch to your content type for anything else. You will first need the following additional Modules installed and switched on:

  1. Ubercart (All applicable modules)
  2. Imagefield
  3. Imagecache
  4. Imagecache UI
  5. Skinr

Go to your page and scroll down to the Skinr node settings and get that stuff floating to the right or the left. Float is pretty much the new align, since align is deprecated in the world of XHTML.

Easy SPC, NSF, GYM, PSF, and USF Video Game Music in Ubuntu

I'm into keeping my old files the way they were - simple. Recently after posting about MIDI files I noticed I had another chunk of music untapped in such a long time, the video game music. Initially these were all formats usable with Winamp and I didn't think twice about them during my initial conversion to Linux.

It was difficult at first looking through dated documentation about programs that either dropped the plugins or dropped off the open source map. Luckily through the magic of open-source these formats were ported again and again until I reached my recommendations.


- Use the GStreamer Plugins
Play them in what is colloquially called "Movie Player" in Ubuntu. You will need to install the appropriate plugins which are: libopenspc and (nsf now supported by libopenspc). It can be troublesome if you have the old style multi-track NSF files but a solution is likely on the way.

PSF, MiniPSF, and USF

- Use the OpenPSF and LazyUSF plugin for Audacious, or UPSE123 for CLI
LazyUSF sometimes works, but Open PSF is a sure bet for PSF files. Must use a better computer though as both are processor and memory intensive. Developers for both formats are still working on it, so look forward to improvements. Also: Older versions of PulseAudio really gum up the works - if you can get ALSA or OSS to work try that - if the program closes you are doing it wrong.

GYM Files

- Audacious Plugins (FastPC) or Command line (SlowPC)
The GYM files get really choppy even on the computer you think is high end with Audacious, but it will play fine in the command line app. The rules about PulseAudio, ALSA, and OSS still apply and you can significantly improve performance. Sometimes GYM work in Totem, but I have not seen a plugin in some time.

I must remind everyone that I poke around with a lot of plugins and may have broken/unbroken some things accidentally. If these choices don't work for you then remember to file the proper bug reports and feature requests with your software of choice and that not all formats are needed, but these ones are wanted.

Regarding Audio Overload: This piece of software has for the most part been ineffective in Ubuntu. The lack of features and random closures is a little disturbing. It would be nice if the AO developers would join other media projects so that they could focus on formats rather than UI, it would also be nice if they could either support USF or find a new N64 format.

Niagara Regional Transit Pass Now

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about getting serious about Regional Transit, a unified transit system in Niagara. Unfortunately it has become a bloated mess and the original goals have been confounded by differing opinions about direction. I know many graduates of Brock University like myself were hoping for one thing - an affordable Region-wide pass.

An affordable region-wide transit pass. This could be a very easy goal that doesn't involve changing any of the organizations, in fact it also means that the legal conundrum about the region getting involved in transit (a service that was delegated to the cities when the region was founded). Of course it would be grand to get a Coach Canada Subsidy for Grimsby from the region, and it would be nice to service NOTL and Wainfleet - but these are currently the complications that are getting in the way of maintaining ridership.

There is a tax credit, the rates are already pretty low compared to other transit systems, but it is not competing well with the two biggest sources of competition - personal automobiles and walking/cycling. It is great when people are able to travel by their own power - but for the people with visual impairments that limit their ability to drive, and the unemployed who need to go farther to work when they cannot afford a vehicle on low wages and few hours this system is failing. With a stable pass for inter-municipal travel these people could access funds from local charities or Ontario Works which will not buy multiple passes so that the people can work in St. Catharine (More jobs) and live in Welland (lower cost of living).

I was a student, I was unemployed, and I am a cyclist in the warmer months. I have personally felt the successes and failures of an indifferent transit reform. And before any politician tries to use the successes as a scapegoat for tighter municipal budgets or cutting services I want people in Niagara to know that they could have made it possible for transit to make more money and chose not to for another year.

Trails of Niagara Cycle - Full Circle

Trail cycling can be a common route choice, or a one time ride and the Greater Niagara Circle Route is among my favourites. It is a well maintained trail with a potential place to stop nearly every 5 kilometers for lunch or a break, meaning if you're not tired yet just roll on to the next stop. It is also separated from urban disturbances along most of the trail, so you can listen to a small portable radio without headphones. I know, most of the cyclists aren't interested in the stop and go or radio when I see them racing down the paved trail - but there are some leisure riders among the people.

What works best for me is to go clockwise around the trails and enjoy the leisurely full kilometer downhill in Thorold/St.Catharines while slowly marching uphill while enjoying the beauty of the Niagara river in the City of Niagara Falls.

Most bike shops in and around the Niagara Region should have all the information that you need about the Niagara Trails system, which routes are universal and which routes are for mountain bikes. This includes Goods Cycle and Sports in Welland, Niagara Cycle Works in Niagara Falls, and Liberty Cycle in St. Catharines.

One of the most controversial things about the circle route is the "Wheels Yield to Heels" Movement, which vandalizes the trail and has some pedestrians blocking the path on occasion. The truth is that they have a right to be angry about some of the "spandex" cyclists that go too fast, and the e-bikes that probably do not belong on the trail. What they need to remember though is that the Region of Niagara built the trail for cyclists. Of course pedestrians and equestrians are welcome, but the funding was really a part of public interest from cyclists for a safe beautiful space, and from motorists that now see a significant reduction in sport cyclists ("spandex") on public roads. If the pedestrians would like a speed limit enforced, I can get behind that. If the pedestrians want to ban bikes from the Niagara cycling trail, I think they need to do their homework.

It can be hard to find relevant information about the trail since the Regional Website and Attractions websites change the information and the URLs so frequently that individuals are the only ones with steady information for travelers. It's no big deal, with every rename comes another revamp.

Hope to see you on the trail this summer.

Easy Way: MIDI Files in Ubuntu

This is THE quick fix for using your MIDI files in Ubuntu. It had frustrated me that all of the bug-reports about Totem not playing MIDI were ignored and shut down in Launchpad without much explanation other than installing Timidity. This is because the error is in Nautilus for Ubuntu presuming that MIDI is supported by default. It is not.

To get it working for now in Totem you have to install the Timidity package along with its extras and daemon. There is another recommended package in Synaptic, it is a good choice to install it too.

Hopefully those still having trouble reliving their 90s midi memories can be served by this brief explanation that covers what Launchpad ignored. Also, go file another bug report about nautilus opening totem for incompatible files, for fun.

Minimalist Camping - Doing More with Less

Depending on your skill level it can be camping season year round. These packing tips will not help you to survive the colds of the arctic or the jungles of Africa, but they will enlighten you. With some easy steps:

1) Multifunction Everything - you have limited space in your backpack, so everything needs to work all day and all night.

Pillowcase - The first big tip is to count your clothes, blanket and sack (blanket bag, not backpack) as one. The sack protects your blanket during the day, but at night can seem useless - but it is actually your pillow now. Stuff your used clothing into the sack and enjoy.

Towel/Blanket - This next tip is not for everyone - replace a summer blanket with a large towel. Some other campers argue that large towels take too long to dry, and that smaller towels are best for being exclusively towels. This isn't about the towel, it is about space. In the summer you could pack two large towels in the same space as the blanket and reduce the load. All the while making Douglas Adams jokes to other campers.

Glasses Cases - Glasses cases are good for keeping sensitive tools inside of, like toothpaste and soap. But I've used them for keeping batteries organized, holding usb/sd tools for photography, or even holding my sunglasses at night so
I can keep them from breaking. The inside isn't the only relevant place - by attaching 3M reflective tape to the outside you can use them as snap markers in a pinch. Another cool hack is adding a mirror finish tape to them for when you really need one.

GPS and Radio - Your car GPS may not be adequate. Your old iPhone cannot always find three towers to triangulate from. But you have a radio to call for help. Technology has seen more convergence than your blanket, and with it we can remove a couple more items from your pack. I had hoped that the Nokia N900 Computer would have included FRS/GMRS along with the satellite GPS, but for now offerings from Magellan and Garmin rank higher. Consider simple multi-mode devices, but don't break the bank trying to save 15 cubic centimeters.

Storing Mirrors - Like rope, a small mirror is the thing that people typically ask "Why?" and then which they had it once you are gone. The mirror is useful for signalling, inspecting bridges on trails, or for most vanity. Ok, ignoring the use of the mirror on yourself there are ways to bring it into your pack as a useful element. Use it as a rollboard for your rope, or attach one to a glasses case.

Rope Pegs or Rollboard - Never forget rope. It is always useful. How you pack it can change how frequently you use it. It is easy to loop and tie it to two or three hard pegs on the outside of your backpack to save space on the inside, but if you feel that keeping things inside the pack is important get a rollboard. Find a flat hard surface, nick a slot in it, wedge the rope and roll. This would be much better with a picture, but is very simple once you know it.

Those are the quick tips off th top of my head, hopefully they help you to pack lighter. Don't forget food.

Palazzo Spa and Salon - Recommended

This will be a brief recommendation, since Alie Balan (of and I had a chance to visit Palazzo in Welland. It was a part of her self-gift for Valentines Day 2010 to experience a pedicure. She chose a couples package and invited me along (which wasn't uncalled for considering my walking ways).

This is where we met local experts Jaelle Force and Sarah Miller, who each had their own approach to mending the bumps and calluses. Alie was impressed by the fanciful polishes and soft feeling after the treatment. My treatment was less cosmetic and more of a recovery situation. After soaking, grinding, and peeling the beaten mess away I discovered why this is an in demand procedure. The lightness and comfort of well adjusted feet must be something that always-on-the go nurses, waitresses, and retail employees see a benefit in. That is why I would like to remind those in construction, food-service, and factory work that they too can benefit... at a price.

If fact, the price was probably the only uneasy part of the procedure. A reasonable price for a luxury treatment, with trained staff, at a reputable place of business. It's just the "Welland Sticker Shock Syndrome", where a normal price in a sea of deals seems out of place. Also, I normally control costs with a DIY mentality, but there is no substitute for skill, and if I tried this at home... "there will be blood" as friends have joked.

Check it out, and ask for Ms.Miller or Mrs.Force by name.

Winters End - When Air Quality in Niagara Sucks

It seems like this time last year I was writing health tips for people in the "cold-cool-cold" temperature swings that tends to make people sick. This year fair weather has prevailed even longer in Niagara, with a steady melt for longer than a week now the dirty shades of grey and brown now peek through across the city.

It's also time to start thinking about when that dust, grime, and dirt gets kicked up by motorists and effects the air quality for pedestrians and cyclists. The obvious answer is to wear a simple mask to filter out unnecessary material large or small, this solution is also a popular anti-allergy strategy in other countries. I mention "in other countries" because Canadians in Niagara tend to think the worst when they see masks. Some examples include the diseased individuals (SARS outbreak), criminals concealing their identity, and painters. Ok, painters aren't bad - but I vaguely remember a joke about how simple masks don't protect from fumes. Simply put masks are an underutilized option.

Another underutilized option is timely clearing of the aggregate material, something that I inquired about last year and discovered is held back due to the fact that we are short on the necessary equipment. Street sweeper trucks move from community to community rather than clearing large roads first. It is a very different system than snow clearing. This could easily change so that the fastest roads with pedestrian walkways are cleared first. On smaller shorter and curvy roads the sand is still a nuisance, but mostly when the wind kicks up or motorists "speed".

The street sweepers work on the roads and seldom complete the work on sidewalks, an especially frustrating point on bridges where buildup has on occasion turned into a slimy mud. The mud may not effect air quality (as much as dry aggregate), but it does effect walkability in Niagara. It is amusing since the walkways do not receive snow clearing or aggregate from the Regional Government, so it is an afterthought when most of it ends up there.

It is not unrealistic to ask for a solution to an artificial problem like this from the same organization that created it. Unfortunately just as you cannot expect roadworks divisions to provide new tires and shocks on a car when they have potholes, you cannot expect them to heal your respiratory problems or wash your dusty clothes because of their untimely service. Is it illegal to own and use your own street sweeper on public roads? Probably.

Get Your Southern Ontario Solar MicroFIT

As it turns out getting your MicroFIT project built is easy when you use the right contractors and suppliers. (edited)

There are a lot of reasons why the MicroFIT program is a great idea for Ontario, as it benefits both the individual and the community. It benefits the individual with the lucrative rate - payable in regular intervals. This money helps to return all funds for construction, like an investment, which is followed by usable money until the end of the contract with the Ontario Power Authority.

The community benefit of the MicroFIT program is simple - more energy, cleaner energy, and a distributed network. Rather than building more power plants this program can supplement a need for energy without destroying additional green spaces and reducing cost overhead related to dealing with protests and opposition on large projects. There are less protests because of the fact that it is clean and safe. Niagara Windpower uses equipment that has been tested by Canadian and international standards agencies like the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) and UL (Underwriters Limited). It also means more energy in your community, reducing the real need to import electricity from outside of the province.


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