Monday, November 12, 2018

Great Uncle Jack with Horse Charley

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Grandad in Belgium in WWI

The War to End All Wars

100 years ago to the day the War to End All Wars ceased with the signing of the Armistice in the railcar at Compiegne, France. The official termination was still months off (the formal Treaty of Paris in 1919). Two minutes prior to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the last Canadian and last soldier of the British Empire (George Price of Nova Scotia) was killed by a German sniper at Ville sur Haine, Belgium. Just recently I uncovered the only photo I know of featuring my grandfather in uniform serving overseas in World War One. Lo and behold the image was taken just 4 kilometres away from where Price was killed (and was honoured by a monument in November 2018). This photo of grandad curling on the frozen Canal du Centre was taken in February 1919 as British forces remained in the devastated area. Mons nearby was in ruins. Exact location of the photo; Bracquegnies, Belgium. Allan William Old is on the left.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Genoa and Christopher Columbus


It is one of the intriguing elements of travel to foreign parts that our expectations may be met but equally, disappointingly, not met. Emerging from the central station of Genoa, Italy, it was a pleasant surprise to encounter an imposing statue of Christopher Columbus erected by the citizens of his native city. A few years later a visit to Cadiz in southern Spain was not as interesting as anticipated. Columbus had set sail from Palos some 100 miles to the north, en route to his voyage of discovery across the Atlantic. Rats, I thought he had sailed from Cadiz! Portugese turned Spaniard, Magellan, on the second stage of his circumnavigation of the globe, left from Sanlucar, a dozen miles to the north of Cadiz. Perhaps it would have been worth the time to go to either place but I found out too late on this trip to recalibrate (do you like the choice of vocabulary, in keeping with the travel theme)? Meanwhile I noted that Cadiz, though not overly appealing as a port, historically was sacked twice by the English (1587 and 1596, that is to say either side of the Spanish Armada of 1588). Cape Trafalgar, where Napoleon’s fleet met its Waterloo (groan), is some miles to the south. A decision to go to Malaga from Cadiz via the coast had the added bonus of me passing alongside Gibraltar, a first sighting for me. Impressive, that it is. Cabot’s landfall on the Newfoundland east coast (1497) is a wild landscape of cliffs exposed to the vagaries of the Atlantic Ocean. Not to be missed if you are ever in Bonavista. In Mexico there is a monument on the jetty at Barra de Navidad recognizing the departure point of the Spaniard Villalobos who navigated west across the Pacific, in so doing encountering the Philippines from the east which he named after Phillip II. Barra is already a geographic and cultural favourite of mine, with knobs on given this historical association. 

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Alcazar Royal Palace, Sevilla

Digital Dark Operators

The deadline is fast approaching for implementation of the Brexit commitment to take Britain out of the European Union. There is political turmoil throughout Albion as confusion and second thoughts prevail. Countries across the world should take note as some of the toxic electoral practices that led to this sorry state are indicative of new threats to modern elections. A Canadian connection through dark digital operators such as Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ is sadly being pointed out. These offshore data mercenaries have apparently thumbed their noses at British electoral law and illegally moved money into online black advertising in an attempt to move votes. This alleged manipulation targeted voters (some names generated from a Facebook data breach) to vote “LEAVE.” It is ironic that Canadians are nefariously involved in a close referendum where a minimum swing likely changed an outcome, given the near break up of Canada in the tight vote of the 1995 Quebec independence vote.

Monday, January 08, 2018

A Swiss Safe Haven for Bitcoins

When I was a teenager it was my good fortune to have gone on holiday several times to continental Europe from Britain. One such vacation was to Hertenstein, Lake Lucerne, in the heart of Switzerland. Opposite our lakeside chalet was the Burgenstock, a massive mountain like several others that encircle this body of water. To-day comes news of a secure hideaway on Lake Lucernce in some undisclosed mountain redoubt (perhaps the Burgenstock) where bitcoins, that runaway speculative world currency, can be stashed away by rich owners as a protection against theft. Apparently hacking of this cyber money is an ever present threat now as the value of one coin alone approaches the phenomenal amount of $20,000. Sixty millions worth were stolen in December 2017 alone. Consequently those with sufficient means and foresight to protect their bitcoins have turned to a Swiss company that has converted a former Swiss army underground bunker into an impenetrable vault. Since a bitcoin is not actually a metallic object rather just a digital code in the cyber sphere, what in actual fact is being protected are the owners’ codes. Organized crime and rogue states such as North Korea are suspected for the assaults on these valued investments. Source: Joon Ian Wong, CBC Radio, Day Six, January 6th, 2018.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Chess, the Game of Kings and Knaves

My initial teacher and opponent in Scotland when I was learning to play chess was my grandma. Progressively I moved up to tussles over the board with my uncle. My school won the Edinburgh Schools Junior Chess Championships 1969-1970, going undefeated in 13 matches. I played board 4 of 9, winning eleven, with one tie and one defeat. Years later in Ottawa I played on a simultaneous against touring pro Pia Cramling, then the top rated woman in the world. Swedish, 20 years old and blonde. I felt prompted that same year (1984) to enter the Canadian Open hosted by Carleton University in Ottawa where I got a real drubbing, finishing approximately 130th of 146 entrants. Being a rookie with no rating at the start I thought I might be the equal of those rated at 1500 or so. Wrong! I ended up at around 1200. When back in Edinburgh the following year it was a delight to play a game at the Edinburgh Chess Club, the very premises where Alekhine, one time world champ from the Soviet Union, once competed. It was fun attending the Candidates Match Quarter Finals in 1989 in Quebec City (mid winter to boot) where the Canadian Kevin Spraggett was narrowly defeated in lightning match overtime. Internationally I have played and won impromptu games in Mexico, France and Cuba. I would like that informal streak to continue, in Chongqing maybe next time? Just saying. Chess, the Game of Kings, where you can be royalty one minute, a knave the next.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pia Cramling Simultaneous