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November '09

  Tuesday 27 October 2009

Impact of U.S. Polices on Canada

Andrew Hunt


Born in Calgary, Andrew was raised in the United States where he eventually received a Ph.D. at the university of Utah in 1997. He is an assistant professor of History at the University of Waterloo.

He spoke of the issues surrounding Canadian-American relations since the election of Barack Obama last year. It is an early assessment, subject to change, but there are already a series of issues taking shape.

1. The Health Care Debate. This has become very polarized in the USA. Opponents of health care reform there point to the Canadian system as deeply flawed and unable to deliver decent medical care to the masses. There have been right-wing email campaigns that spread lies, half-truths and exaggerations about the Canadian health care system.

2. The War in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Harper has stated that Canada will withdraw its troops by 2011. Obama has shifted the US focus from the Iraq war to the Afghanistan War. He has proposed stepping up American involvement with troops and aid, and pledged to see the war through. The war remains very unpopular in Canada. The war is almost eight years old with no end in sight. If Harper backs down on his exit strategy it will probably be a costly decision politically.

3. The Iraq War. Obama's plans to withdraw from Iraq were greeted with a sigh of relief in Canada. It will take generations of Iraqis to clean up the rubble, account for all the dead, and restore some semblance of normality. But the decling pressure foe Canada to become involved in Iraq may correspond with an increase in pressure to remain in Afghanistan.

4. Decline of the Republican Party. Since Obama was elected the Republican Party has suffered decline. The party seems to lack vision, direction, and strong leadership. While in recent years the party has tended to be punitive if Canada was out of step with its policies, the Democrats have been more open to our independent course.

5. Obama as an Inspiration. Many Canadians became swept up in the enthusiasm for Obama. Many are wishing the best for Obama, But we are also skeptical people, and wonder whether he'll prove capable of handling all the messes he has to deal with.

6. The Economy. We live in a day and age when the Canadian and American economies are intertwined. It is starting to become clear that the huge bailouts – first started under the Bush administration, continued under Obama – have had the desired effect of saving jobs and slowing the recession somewhat. It is still too early to tell what will happen with the economy.

Certainly in Canada we have been shielded from the worst of the mess. We don't suffer from the sub-prime scandal, the same high level of foreclosures, the runaway credit card problems of the United States. But our economy is in a precarious position as well, given our closeness with our giant neighbour to the south.

We can only hope that the turn toward Keynesian government intervention on a massive scale will slow the disaster and get us back on track toward recovery.


The 50/50 results were announced

Someone, please tell a FUNNY joke!

Why would they paint it YELLOW?

The cheque is in the mail!

Who Am I?

Brian Johannesson

You may all be wondering who I am, the man who joined Probus and never came back.  Father Time let me into the club in the fall of 2007 and I attended a few meetings.  In January of 2008 I was given an offer to work part-time which I couldn’t refuse.  That’s why I’m never here.

All four of my grandparents emigrated from Iceland to Winnipeg in the 1880s.  So, to prepare for an ancestral tour we took around Iceland this past June, I tried to learn a little Icelandic.   Impossible, it’s a notoriously difficult language to learn.  In spite of my apparent genetic advantages I only learned enough to know what NOT to order on a menu and a few polite phrases.

I was born in Winnipeg in 1935, the youngest of 4 children.  My father Konnie was locally famous as an Olympic hockey champion and for his 50-year aviation career.  My mother Freda was noted for her beautiful soprano voice, her ability to grow anything, especially violets and gladioli and her passion for the Metropolitan opera live on the radio.  Now we go to the Galaxy Theater in Waterloo to see those same operas live in HD from New York for about $1.50 in her money.

I graduated in Electrical Engineering from the University of Manitoba in May 1958 and promptly moved to Montreal, to work for RCA Victor on the Avro Arrow radar system.  That worked out fine until October, when the RCAF cancelled the contract and I found myself out on the street.

My roommate was working for Bell Telephone Engineering, so I quickly found employment there.  However, the group I ended up in did nothing more exciting than write engineering orders for telephone exchange improvements.

After 4 months of that, and discovering that the other junior engineers who had been there only a few years were already looking forward to their pensions, I resigned out of sheer boredom. 

However, one wonderful result came out of my Bell adventure, my wife-to-be, Carole, who was a draftswoman there.  We were married in Rosemere near Montreal in May 1960.

I moved to CAE Electronics in 1959 and started proper engineering at last.  At that time CAE’s engineering department consisted of 12 British engineers, 12 Dutch engineers and myself, the token Canadian.  My first large project in 1961 was to design a computer for the Canadian Army for the Government Nuclear Bomb Shelter at Carp. (the Diefenbunker)  It decoded radar tracking messages sent over teletype lines from NORAD HQ at Colorado Springs and displayed the aircraft tracks on a large screen in the operations theater.

This computer, the size of 2 refrigerators, was built of telephone exchange components; when the doors were open it made far more noise and heat than any roomful of PCs.  Since it was classified as secret I never heard any more about it after it worked.  It’s interesting to consider that one’s first creation is now a museum piece, or scrap.

My next large project was the design of 32 monitoring computers for the Trans-Canada Gas pipeline system, one for each compressor station between Calgary and Toronto.  During testing, we could sit in the lab in Montreal and literally watch the gas flow eastward on the teleprinter reports.  This was pretty amazing stuff for 1963;  those too are long gone.

After CAE ran out of interesting work, I moved to Sperry Gyroscope Co., just along Cote de Liesse.  There I continued the design of a computer to control machine tools.  This computer worked very well, although it was not very smart.  When it thought it had made a mistake, to avoid destroying the machine tool itself, the computer committed suicide by turning itself off.  Very effective, although it left no hint of a suicide note for us.  However, the faults were eventually cured and all went well.

Around that time, the summer of 1967, the separatist noises in Quebec began to increase, so Carole and I decided to move elsewhere with our 3 sons.  I got a job with Raytheon in Waterloo and here we came.

Raytheon was building Sea Sparrow missile systems for the Canadian Navy.  My part was to build a computer which would receive messages from the ship’s long-range search radar and translate them for the short-range target tracking radar and missile launcher.

The target radar was very useful.  We soon discovered that the radar receiver and steerable antenna could find any police speed radar unit within a few miles.  This provided many mornings’ amusement; when the radar beam disappeared, another speeder had been nabbed.  We never turned on our transmitter because it would have fried the speed meter even a few miles away.

One other memory is of a phone call from an air traffic controller at WW airport, asking us please to stop practice-tracking the missile launcher against any light aircraft flying nearby.  Even though the missiles were only look-alike dummies, it was too disconcerting for the poor student pilots.

Then Raytheon fell upon hard times, so I moved on to NCR in Waterloo where I led a group to investigate the concept of cheque imaging.  We started with a simple scanner chip mounted in a 35MM camera body and moved cheques past it under some lights.  Lo and behold, it worked, just like TV!  Now, 30 years later, that technology, many million times smarter and faster, is in common use.  Every time you look at an image of your cheque on-line, that’s how it started.

An engineer who had worked for me at NCR had founded a start-up company to develop vision systems for computers. He asked me to join him.   Our end product worked very well, but the PC computers of 1985 were too feeble-minded to keep up with a colour TV camera.  There were very few industrial or commercial applications for the device, it was just too far ahead of its time, no-one knew what to do with it. OF course, now, computer vision tools are a dime-a-dozen; everyone has a webcam and picture fixing software.

After that, I moved to a small company in Waterloo, RDM Corporation.  Their product verified the quality of the magnetic ink line printed on cheques.  This MICR line, which contains all your account information, is used to automatically sort cheques by bank, branch and account number.  If these characters are badly printed the whole automatic process stops and any bad cheques must be sorted by hand, costing the banks time and money.  Cheque printers had to buy RDM’s verifiers to prove the quality of their printing and dump the problem back on the bank’s cheque readers.

A large American cheque printer asked RDM to design and build 110 MICR verifiers that would test entire sheets of cheques, right off the press.  A typical print run would produce 100 sheets of 15 cheques each, for 15 different customer accounts.  As long as the automatic shearing and sorting process works, you end up with 15 piles of 100 cheques, to be bound into books and then mailed to the customer.

Something must have gone wrong in the process because that printer asked us to design a machine-vision computer that would read a special bar code to be faintly printed on the ends of the cheques.  This would ensure that every book in a pile belonged to the same account.  WHY?  I suspect a few customers must have gotten someone else’s cheque books in their order.  Imagine the uproar that caused.  We closed that loophole.

RDM and I then moved on to point-of-sale cheque readers and scanners.  Nowadays in many US stores when you pay by cheque, the clerk will drop your cheque into a small scanner, perhaps one made by RDM.  It reads the MICR line and saves an electronic picture of the cheque.  The MICR account information is sent to a verification database service which makes either an OK or “better not cash” judgment and sends it back to the merchant, all within a few seconds. 

Dubious cheques are rejected.  Your cheque is of course stamped PAID by the scanner and is handed back to you.  The merchant is happy; he has your money right now and doesn’t have to worry about those pesky pieces of paper any more.  (mention no more float?)

After 48 years of arguing with computers, my retirement fund was happy, so I retired.  Little did I expect to un-retire 19 months later just before the crash, to work part-time at Ignis Innovation in Kitchener.  They have invented and patented electronic devices which automatically correct picture brightness defects in LCD TVs and the new Organic LED TVs which will be arriving soon.

Well, after 50 fascinating years:

Carole has retired and volunteers at the KW Alzheimer society.  She also attends Tai Chi classes regularly; I suspect those are actually social occasions with exercise thrown in.  Her principal occupation is that of a loving Amma (grandmother in Icelandic) and a determined tyrant when looking after our nutrition and health.

Our daughter is a senior research analyst with CB Richard Ellis commercial real estate in Montreal. Although born and raised in KW, she has no trouble working in a French-language office.  Her husband is a Chemical Engineering Prof at McGill.  They have one son and one daughter.

After flying in a waterbomber crew for 6 summers, flying tourists around the Caribbean for 3 winters and spending 3 winters in Sweden, our oldest son is now a captain with Jazz airlines.  His Swedish wife teaches high school French and Spanish in Thornbury.  They have two daughters and one son.

Our second son is an engineering project leader at ATS building the most fascinating automatic production lines; his wife is at Scotia Bank.  He tends to drive the neighbours into fits of envy with his building skills.  They have two daughters and are now grandparents.

Our third son is a mechanical engineer at Christie Digital in Kitchener.  He has a machine shop in his back yard in which he builds bicycles.  He’s also slowly modernizing his 120 year old house in Waterloo.

To sum it all up ---

Our direct family is now 18 people, between the ages of 8 months and 74 years.  That’s what can happen over 50 years of marriage!

There we are, that’s who I am and what I’ve been doing all these years.  Thank you.

Don't forget your cheques for the Christmas Lunch!

Go to Print Edition

Club News

50/50 Draw

First prize was won by Ron Gage, while the runner up was Bruce Hannah, a guest of Paul Van de Kamer.

Attendance & Membership

There were 98 members and six guests at the October meeting. Past President Bill Kerr inducted Doug Sullivan, John Freund, and Don Poth. Bob Seftel, Bruce Hannan, and Dave Shaffer have been approved for membership. Send your comments to John Williams at 519-579-6571.

Bell Ringers

• Lynn Mattews
for a writeup in The Waterloo Region Record
Bryce Walker for becoming Chairman of Grand River Hospital
Brian Kirkham as a local TV hero

Book Club

Will meet at Doug Bean's home at 2:30 pm on November 25th.

Duty Roster, November Meeting

Introduction: Don Willcox
Thanker: Al Watson

Editors' Notes

The fine photography in this issue was provided by Dolf  Bogad. The editor accepts responsibility for the captions

Wellness Report

Ron Hustwitt, with help from Doug Bean reports...

-Mike Williams continues to receive monthly cancer treatments.

-Frank Zurbrigg continues to receive visitors and calls.

-Norm Dougall had multiple surgery nearly 11 hours for cancer of face and jaw. Very slowly progressing. If not at Freeport now, will be there shortly. Has a great attitude.

-Don Godden shingles in optic nerve, no real change. Wishes quiet

-Bron Hausman various health concerns. Great difficulty in getting around

-Dick Bunyard, questionable improvement. Has dialysis 3x a week at Grand River Hospital

-Sel Sangster, takes several medications which affect mostly in the morning. May be able to attend meeting.

-Lloyd Robertson continuing back discomfort, some better. Seeing doctor shortly.

-Gerry Pelkey feeling better and wife is much better and now at home.

-Andy McAuliffe eye surgery 3 weeks ago, some complications, no major change, seeing specialist shortly.

-Norm Watson heart concerns, May be at meeting.

Members are reminded to call Ron at 519-746-1282 to advise of any medical concerns or transportation difficulties prior to a meeting.

Who needs coffee to have a good time?

Now Andrew has  a pair of these

Don Poth

John Freund