Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

None of my clothes fit any more!

April 13, 2014 6 comments

Last fall, I decided I wanted to get more fit.  There was no trigger point, no health scare, nothing other than the realization that since I’d started working at home I really could make better use of my lunch hour.

So I went to my local gym to sign up, and spent an hour with a trainer.  His first question was “what’s your goal”?
“I dunno, to be more healthy” was my response.  He didn’t like that answer, and after taking me into the gym to prove to me that I was completely out of shape he came back at me with a hard personal training sales pitch that ended with “well y’know mate you’ll never be able to do it on your own”.  He had no idea how motivating that statement would be, he had just challenged a cheapskate to save money.  Game on!

So I set upon a path myself, but everywhere I went I kept coming up against the “what’s your goal” question – websites, apps, workout routines.  Fine, I picked a random goal of 250lbs which at the time meant losing a little over forty pounds.  Seemed reasonably drastic and difficult, yet attainable.

Just having a goal wasn’t going to keep this geek moving though, I needed technology.  So I started with a calorie-tracking app called MyFitnessPal, which has pretty much every food known to man available to be tracked against a daily goal of calorie intake.  The app gives you a daily goal based on how fast you want to lose weight (I chose 1.5 pounds per week).  Eat too many calories in the day, earn those calories back via exercise.  My youngest daughter Jaimee had a fun time with that one, and would take me out in the neighbourhood to be my trainer for walk/run/walk intervals while watching the calories tick off on another exercise-tracking app called Endomondo.  I started to really like the whole calorie in / calorie out thing and gave myself another goal of tracking it for at least a month before I could buy some additional fitness gadgets.

I stuck with it, and my reward was the gear that is now part of my daily routine.  I still use MyFitnessPal to track calories in, I bought a Fitbit watch to constantly track calories out, and a Fitbit Aria scale to track weight and body fat every morning.  Through the magic of the cloud, it all just syncs together in MyFitnessPal so that at any given moment I know where I stand with respect to calories in the day.  Yay!


The tech only tracks what you’re doing, it doesn’t actually do any of the work for you.  Some people have noticed my weight loss and they always ask me what it is that I’ve changed about my lifestyle (getting that question so often is the main reason I’m writing this article, so I’d better answer it).

So what has changed in my daily routine:

  • Remove high-calorie items from the everyday diet.  That means no sugared pop, no juice, light beer only (cuz who’s kidding who, I’m not giving up beer), milk only with cereal and just water with most meals.  Drinks are the “easy” ones to get rid of, but I also stay away from high-calorie snacks in general, replacing with lower-calorie options.  I’m now that guy who asks to see the nutritional info before buying or ordering anything.
  • High-calorie items only when I want it enough to put in extra work.  Eat less on days when I’m going out for dinner, Extreme Pita as my fast-food kick instead of McDonalds, extra time at the gym if I’m going out for beer and wings.
  • An exercise routine that I try really hard to stick to.  It’s booked into my work calendar like any other appointment, and if I need to move it for some reason it gets moved to another day or time.  Two visits to the gym per week for weight-training on the machines, and a ninety-minute hike on the weekend while my daughter is at synchronized swimming class.  Extra exercise when I have the opportunity, including walks around the neighbourhood.
  • Track it all.  I honestly don’t think I would have been successful without getting obsessive about tracking.  Yes, I know it’s incredibly annoying especially for my family as I enter things into my iPhone at dinner but it’s been key for me.

I noticed after about three months that my clothes weren’t fitting any more.  I had dropped two inches on my waistline and the pants wouldn’t stay on.  That was a conundrum, because while I needed clothes I was also hoping that I would lose more weight.  I bought enough clothes to get my by for a few more months, and boxed up the clothes that were getting way too big.  I own two pairs of dress pants and three dress shirts that fit, which gets me by for most work functions for now (although I think my colleagues are starting to notice the limited wardrobe).

After a few more months, I actually found myself unable to eat as much as I had in the past and staying under the calorie goal became more the norm than the exception.  They say your stomach shrinks, I’m guessing that’s what has happened.

And to completely bury the lead in the story, this week I hit my 250lb goal and can officially declare my arbitrary goal as having been met.  Yay!  I’m down almost four inches at the waistline, down a full shirt size, and looking visibly healthier in photos. 

I’m not done yet though, turns out that arbitrary goal wasn’t quite enough and I still have some more weight to lose before I’ll call it mission accomplished and go wild on a new wardrobe.  I’ve tried pretty hard not to talk about it all the time because I know that can be annoying, but I figured this milestone was a fair excuse to share.  I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far and look forward to continuing down the path to a healthier lifestyle.

Categories: Uncategorized

Why does my smoke alarm keep going off? (and how to fix it)

February 14, 2013 4 comments

I recently updated the smoke alarms in our house.  Because I’m me, I did all the research to figure out the most up to date recommendations on type and coverage for the home.  We ended up with several First Alert Dual Sensor smoke alarms throughout the house.

These alarms came with a neat feature that allows you to shut off false alarms using any infrared remote control you might have lying around the house.  Useful I thought for burnt toast and whatnot.

Well the fun began that night, as we were watching TV one of the alarms kept going off.  After several false alarms I just took it down and removed the battery, with plans to exchange it.

The fun continued a few days later, as the alarm would go off in the laundry room when we turned on the lights.  What the heck?

This was now too much to be a coincidence, so I hit the internet to do some research.

Remember that neat feature that lets you use a remote to turn off false alarms?  Turns out it also lets you test the alarm via infrared remote.  And you know what else generates infrared signals that can trigger the test function?  Compact fluorescent light bulbs, yep those twisty CFL bulbs that are by law replacing every light bulb in your house.

Legally-required smoke alarms that are incompatible with legally-required light bulbs.  That, my friends, is what we call a conundrum.

How to fix it

In order to stop this annoying false alarm, you need to disable the IR sensor on the smoke alarm.  This won’t affect the ability to detect smoke, it will simply turn off the IR remote control features.  It’s pretty easy to do:

  1. Open the battery door (disconnect the battery)
  2. Hold down the test button on the alarm
  3. Close the battery door while still holding the test button
  4. You will hear a chirp, and can let go of the test button

You’ll need to do this every time you replace the batteries, because it will reset back to normal when you pull out the battery.

Toboggan Hills in Milton

December 28, 2012 1 comment

After a nice deep snowfall, I took the kids out tobogganing yesterday.  Finding a decent toboggan hill in Milton is a tough mission, but there are a few around.

I’ll share our tobogganing spots, and point you to a toboggan hill database where you can both look up some hills or add some of your own.

Best In Milton – Lowville Park
Okay, it’s more *near* Milton than in it but it’s the best hill we’ve got.  Steep, an okay size, easy to get to and park.  On the down side it tends to be busy and if there’s not much snow, bumpy from all the brush.  Watch out for trees near the bottom, although I think they’ve started to put hay bales there now for safety.

Best Nearby: Food Basics
Near the corner of Laurier and Ontario, there is a park with a decent hill.  Mid-grade slope and plenty wide.  Parking is available in the Food Basics parking lot.

Most Popular: Sixteen-Mile Creek
People flock to the hill near Commercial and Laurier, a very wide spot with lots of room for everyone.  It is a steep but pretty short slope.  People park on the road, but I’d rather see you park at the highschool or in the parking lot of Rad Brothers (near Derry & Ontario).

Hidden Gem: Livingston Park
I stumbled across the hill at Livingston Park during a summer cleanup with my daughter’s Girl Guides troop. We went to visit it yesterday, and there was nobody at the hill with pristine powder.  It’s not a very steep slope, but a decent size for young kids.  Parking is available at the end of Margaret Street.

I’ve added all these slopes to  Are there any hills you can share?


Categories: Uncategorized

Halloween 2009

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Once again, we’re all having lots of fun with Halloween this year.  Katlyn, Jaimee, and Jodie all dressed up as princesses, Diane as a witch, and I as a hunchback.  And once again, we all stepped it up with the pumpkin decorating.  Jodie stole the show (as usual) with her “Help Me” pumpkin and a carving of our house, Katlyn did a castle, Jaimee a jack-o-lantern, and my entry this year was Mr. H1N1 who was puking his guts out while getting a needle.


Categories: Uncategorized

Katlyn’s Squirrel Friend

September 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Several months ago, a squirrel started to visit our patio.  At the time, he was quite clearly a young squirrel and retreated back to his nest in the Wisteria vine.  As he grew, he became accustomed to the fixtures in our back yard including the kids and even the cats.  We tried feeding him by hand once, and with some tail waving and hesitation he decided that was okay.  He hangs around with the cats when they go out to bask in the sun, and he actually runs up to the patio door to greet us when we go outside.  Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to say “we” when really the one he likes most is Katlyn.  He’ll let her do anything!

I took some pictures and videos today of Katlyn with the rodent she’s named “Bouncy”.


Categories: Uncategorized

My Server Is Down

August 30, 2009 Leave a comment

I lost my server this weekend and haven’t been able to get it up and running.  I blame these guys for making bad hard drives and refusing to own up to the data loss issues they’ve cause me.

Anyways, the web site will be down for at least a week so in the meantime I thought I’d provide you with some links to keep tabs on the Near family.

Pete’s Twitter Stream:

Jodie on Facebook:

Categories: Uncategorized

Getting Microsoft Security Essentials in Canada

August 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Microsoft is testing a new free antivirus tool, but if you try to download the beta from Canada you’ll be blocked.  In my testing, Microsoft Security Essentials is a nice and easy to use antivirus option for Windows 7, and comes in x86 and x64 flavours.  You can download the beta from Softpedia, and it will work just fine on your Canadian Windows 7 machine.

Categories: Uncategorized

Windows 7 RTM – Where’d my d: drive go?

August 12, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the first things I do when setting up Media Center is to dedicate a separate drive for storing all of my recorded TV.  Been doing it since the very first release and “how to put an extra hard drive in your HP 873n” was one of my first newsgroup contributions.  With each subsequent upgrade since that initial release, I format the c: drive, install the new operating system, and then point Media Center to the d: drive to pick up all of the previously recorded TV shows.  I suspect I’m not alone.

I just about had a heart attack after installing the first beta of Windows 7 and all of my Recorded TV had disappeared.  I was most concerned about what my wife would do to me since I hadn’t properly backed up her audience appearances on Dr.Phil and The Price is Right.  Eek!

Turns out it was just a bug, and that the Windows 7 installer forgets to assign a drive letter to your secondary drive in certain scenarios.  It was reported and I had hoped fixed as part of the beta, but alas my Recorded TV was missing again after installing the RTM version of Windows 7.  By the power of Google, I hope that if you found your way here because of a similar panic attack I can show you how to easily fix the problem.

First, navigate to “Computer Management” by clicking on the Start Button and typing in “Computer Management” followed by enter.  You’ll notice here that all of your drives are listed including the one that isn’t currently working.

Now, Windows has automatically assigned the DVD drive the letter d:, but I’d rather have my Recorded TV drive had that letter.  So the first (optional) step is to change the DVD drive to something else so that d: becomes available for Recorded TV.  Right-click on the DVD drive and select “Change drive letter and paths…”.  This will bring up the Change Drive Letter and Paths dialog for the DVD drive.  We want to click on “Change…”.

Next, click on the drive letter dropdown to change “D” to “E” and click OK.  You’ll get a warning that this may cause issues for programs that might expect to find files on that drive, I haven’t noticed any problems since my DVD drive is removable media and no programs point to it.  Click Yes and OK to get back to the main disk management screen.

Now, right-click on the unassigned drive and select “Change drive letter and paths…”.  This will bring up the Change Letter and Paths dialog for the unassigned hard drive.  We want to click on “Add…”.

Click on OK to accept the auto assignment of the letter “D” and click on OK to return to the main disk management screen.

Windows will pop up the autoplay dialog once it detects the new drive.  You can simply close the window by clicking on the X in the top right corner, and close the computer management window as well.

You should be back up and running now with your lost drive!

Categories: Uncategorized

Windows 7 Media Center in Canada

August 10, 2009 1 comment

With the release of Windows 7 comes an updated version of the Media Center component of Windows.  There’s a bevvy of new functionality available, and you can find a good review of the new features by clicking here (link to Engadget).  In this post I’ll point you to some additional flavour that will make your Media Center experience north of the 49th parallel that much more interesting.


Over The Air HDTV
Did you know that all of the broadcast stations in Canada and the United States are switching to high-definition? Yep, pull out your old rabbit ears and prepare to be amazed by the eye-popping clarity of the free TV signals flying through our airwaves in Canada’s major cities.  Click here for instructions on how to get Media Center to pull in those signals and turn your PC into Canada’s best high-definition PVR.
In the Windows 7 version, you can now tell Media Center to give preference to high definition broadcasts and using my little hack you can get access to all of the subchannels coming across the US border as well.


Cable and Satellite HDTV
For years, you’ve likely heard me complain about the PVR options available from the big cable and satellite companies in Canada.  Once you’ve used Media Center it’s really hard to go back to using a cable company PVR, but until recently that’s been your only option for getting access to high definition cable channels like TSN and Discovery Channel.  With Windows 7, you now have some options for getting high definition cable into Media Center.  You’ll still need a set-top-box from your cable company, but you can opt for the lower-priced non-PVR version and connect it to Media Center using the HD-PVR from Hauppauge (currently requires DVBLink addon to work, I expect native support in a few months).


Channel Logos
A hidden feature that is easily exposed using a little program called My Channel Logos adds some nice sizzle to the Media Center interface.  Canadian channel logos are planned for the next release, but for the time being you can get a Canadian logo pack by clicking here.


Internet TV
Here’s where I bring you some sad news in the “cool stuff that’s happening but doesn’t work in Canada” category.  Windows 7 adds Internet TV functionality to Media Center, and Hulu desktop can be integrated as well to bring you on-demand access to high quality versions of all of the hottest shows on TV.  Unfortunately due to licensing constraints, Canadians are blocked from these services and all attempts to work around these barriers seem to be plugged very quickly so I can’t recommend anything right now that will make this viable in the long term for the Great White North.  For now, you can get some low-quality versions of your favourite TV shows from the CTV, Global, and CBC.


Windows 7 Media Center provides enough compelling new features (Photo Wall, HDTV Recording Priority, Subchannel support, h264 video streaming to XBox 360 Extenders) that I would strongly recommend the upgrade to my fellow Canadians.

Categories: Uncategorized

Enabling ATSC & QAM in Canada for Windows 7 RTM

July 27, 2009 12 comments

I’m thrilled to see so many people have taken up the challenge to get ATSC working in Canada with Windows 7 since the untimely demise of the Vista hack.  Alas, as time marches on some of the holes that made new hacks possible were plugged and more capabilities were removed from Canadians (notably QAM).  I’m pleased to present this new method to enable ATSC and QAM here in Canada with the release version of Windows 7.

First, some background.  Like the United States, Canada has decided to transition all television broadcasts from analog to digital.  These new digital signals have greater effective range, provide a crystal-clear high definition picture, and as with all over the air network TV broadcasts are free and legal to access.  It’s worth noting that over the air signals represent the best high-definition picture quality you can get for network television – better than cable and much better than satellite.  While high definition is available for a fee via cable and satellite, those high definition channels are subject to ever-increasing compression and picture quality degradation as they try to squeeze more and more content into your subscription.  And unlike cable and satellite, over the air broadcasts are not encrypted and can be easily incorporated into a Media Center setup, copied over to your iPod, and are generally easy to use.  The United States has nearly completed their digital transition, and will be shutting down the analog broadcasts in February 2009.  Canada is well into its transition, with most major markets now broadcasting in digital and 100% of the country switching over to digital by 2011 before we shut down our analog transmitters.  Here in Toronto, I can get access to every major US and Canadian network in full high-definition glory using a $40 antenna that I put in my attic.

QAM is very similar except that instead of getting the signals over-the-air using an antenna, the signals travel over your cable company’s network.  However in most of Canada this isn’t useful, as Canadian cable companies tend to encrypt or scramble their signal making it completely useless without buying their cable box.  There are some lucky regions in the country however who do get access to unencrypted QAM, and for those people it’s a virtual nerdvana of digital TV.

Here’s how to get digital high-definition broadcasts into Media Center.

If you’re using Media Center in Windows XP or Windows Vista, follow this link for detailed instructions.

If you’re using Media Center in Windows 7 or Vista with TV Pack 2008, continue reading below.  I’ve tried to provide excruciating detail, but don’t get scared.  It’s not difficult, I’m just going a bit overboard with screenshots and explanation.


  • For ATSC, you should get a good quality UHF antenna.  In most cases I’ve read about it comes down to a Channel Master 4221 or Channel Master 4228 depending on your distance from the transmitters.  Consult this handy chart (PDF) to select the right antenna for your area.  I personally have a 4221 in my attic which was both easy to do and very neighbour-friendly.
  • For ATSC, you will need an ATSC tuner for your Media Center PC.  Any tuner that is supported in Windows Media Center will do.
  • For QAM, you will need a QAM tuner for your Media Center PC.  Any tuner that is supported in Windows Media Center will do.
  • None of these items are the sort of thing you can walk into WalMart and find on the shelves, but there are several online vendors including eBay sellers who carry these items.  I personally have purchased from Sensuz, a Toronto-area HTPC dealer, and have been very happy with their service.

Step 1 – Force Media Center to allow ATSC and QAM in Canada

I’ve prepared some files that will automate the process for you.  Simply download and extract the provided zip file (click here) to your desktop or any location on your desktop.  Double-click on the file “EnableATSCandQAM.bat” which will insert some configuration information into the Media Center database that forces ATSC and QAM tuners to be recognized.

Step 2 – Configure Media Center to use your tuners

I’ll walk you through the setup of the tuner in Media Center, although this isn’t any different than what would normally occur out of the box.  Launch Media Center and navigate to Settings, TV, Setup TV Signal.  We want to set up Media Center using the correct region, Canada.  If Media Center doesn’t automatically detect that you’re in Canada, be sure to select a different region and choose “Canada”.

Enter your postal code, and agree to the terms of service (assuming you do indeed agree to the legaleze).

At this point, Media Center will configure all of the signal types that were detected.  For any cable or satellite tuners, it will automatically link to the guide data for the region.  For digital antenna (ATSC) it won’t find any guide data since it’s not officially supported.  No worries, we can add in guide listings later.

Next, Media Center will scan for ATSC and QAM channels.  This process took awhile for me, up to fifteen minutes.

Congratulations, your tuners are now set up!  However at this point, you likely won’t have any guide listings associated with the channels that were detected via the scan.

Step 3 – Map guide listings to your ATSC channels

For those of you who have used the Vista hack, you may like me be pleasantly surprised by the way the guide works now.  For each channel on each tuner you can specify which guide listings should be used, which is incredibly flexible.  Media Center also now has some much-welcomed logic in the Advanced Record Settings that allows you to specify that any given recording should be recorded in HD Only, HD Preferred, SD Only, or SD Preferred.  Because of this feature, I personally would recommend that you always attempt to associate your high-definition digital channels with listings from your cable company’s high-definition channel lineup or the US over-the-air listings so that the recording logic works properly.  I’ll walk you through how to set that up.

First, navigate to Settings, TV, Guide, Edit Channels.

Select the channel that you want to work with by clicking on the callsign of the station.

In the settings page for the channel, click on “Edit Listings”

You’ll  now be taken to a list of all the channels that your Media Center is aware of (including channels that were set up via other sources, such as Analog Antenna, Satellite, or my multiple guide listings hack).  This list is organized alphabetically, and you can type in letters to skip to the appropriate point in the list.
Select a channel with HD listings.

If you select a channel that also comes in via some other source (for example you get CBC Toronto on both cable and antenna) you will be presented with the option to merge the guide listings or to copy the listings.  Select “copy” so that you can manage the high definition channel independently.  Once you’ve selected the correct listings, you’ll now see that the listings are associated with the digital ATSC or QAM channel.  Click Save.

Click on save, and at this point you can keep assigning channels or you may choose to go to the guide and test things out before continuing.  Once you assign guide listings to all of your ATSC channels, you’re done the setup and should be able to enjoy pristine high-definition recordings on your computer and throughout your home on your extenders.


Questions and Answers

I’ll try to capture some key answers that come in over time here in this section.  To kick things off, here are some things that came to mind for me.

What happens if I select “Merge” instead of “Copy”?
I’ve found that by selecting merge, Media Center assumes that all sources for a given channel are standard definition.

Doesn’t Media Center support Analog Antenna in Canada, and can’t I use those guide listings?
Yes analog antenna is supported and you’ll get the listings for your local channels, but because it’s analog Media Center will assume that all channels that use these guide listings are standard definition.

But isn’t it incredibly stupid for Microsoft to support Analog Antenna but not Digital Antenna, given that analog channels are all shutting down and digital is the government-mandated standard for all of North America?

Media Center didn’t automatically detect all of the ATSC channels that I’m able to receive, is there any way I can manually add them?
One of the users at maintains a list of all the channels that you should be able to receive in major centers of Canada.  You can use these lists to manually add stations to media center using the functions in Settings, TV, Guide, Add Missing Channels, Add DTV Channel.
Southwestern Ontario
Niagara Region
Toronto & Hamilton Areas
Montreal & Surrounding Areas
Ottawa & Surrounding Areas
Vancouver & Surrounding Areas

I’m not able to find guide data for all of my over the air channels, is there any way for me to get guide data for more channels?
Yes, you can force Media Center to load in guide information from any region using my multiple guide listings hack.  For example, my cable provider Cogeco doesn’t list many of the Buffalo-area over the air stations since they source their high definition content from Detroit instead.  I added the listings for Buffalo over-the-air digital antenna to Media Center using the multiple guide listings hack, and used those to complete the mapping of my channels.

Categories: Uncategorized