What Is a Small Stroke?

By Barry Rueger
Published: Next Avenue
January 26, 2024
1526 words
Read on-line.

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In mid-summer, my partner Susan was concerned. She was sure my behavior had changed in recent weeks and wanted me to get it looked into. I wasn’t convinced and consequently was shocked when our doctor told me that my MRI scan showed that I had suffered “a small stroke.”

When he said “stroke,” I imagined what I had seen on TV or heard from friends whose parents had suffered strokes: half-paralyzed faces, an inability to talk and perhaps the loss of the use of hands or legs. My doctor was upbeat, but I was stunned. And as I left his office, I had many questions.

Read the full article on-line at Next Avenue.

Hacking the Airwaves

By Barry Rueger
Published: 2600 The Hacker Quarterly
October 12, 2023
750 words

Anette

My hacking spirit dates from long before I used computers. My first memory of it dates back to some time before 1980 – before the Internet, before personal computers, and surely before cel phones.

My group of close friends and hard-core partiers included the trio of Marty, Brad, and Frank. Frank and I had met at cooking school in Vancouver, and the rest – as they say – is history. We drank, we smoked, and we partied, including one year when I arrived at a Hallowe’en party dressed as Annette Funicello (as a Mousketeer).

The biggest memory for me though was running a proper pirate radio station.

At some point Marty had been owed money, and had accepted a small FM radio transmitter and antenna as payment. Since he also had a successful and longstanding DJ business it was a match made in heaven.

DJing in those days meant turntables, wooden cases full of vinyl records, big amplifiers, bigger speakers, and on occasion a home-built refrigerator sized dry-ice fog machine. Fill it up with water, stick in an immersion heater for a few hours, then dump in the dry ice. Fog!

Soon that do-it-yourself spirit extended itself to radio.

The DJ setup in his living room was quickly attached to the transmitter, and the antenna was stuck out an upstairs window. It didn’t take a lot of time to figure out where the “empty” space was on the local FM band, and with a little bit of tweaking we were broadcasting a music mix like nothing you heard on commercial radio or the CBC. While Marty filled the airwaves with New Wave and alternative music, the rest of us took turns driving around town just to see how far our signal went.

Marty worked on the assumption that the guys at Industry Canada who monitored such things didn’t work weekends or holidays, and he kept the radio station limited to those days. It was fun, and harmless, and cost nothing.

Still, it felt an awful lot like broadcasting into outer space, and after a while everyone started wishing they knew who was listening, and what they liked.

My friend Brad came to the rescue. He was employed by BC Telephone. In those pre-digital days every phone line was attached to a mechanical switch, and each of those switches was hard wired into the network. That was how you got your phone number. Brad was one of the guys that made those connections.

Brad figured out that there were always a few unused numbers and switches, so every Friday afternoon he would connect one of them to Marty’s home phone. Now, as well as his own phone calls, Marty could get calls from listeners. Each Friday he got a new “On-Air” phone number, and each Monday morning it would disappear when Brad arrived at work.

It was perfect. The radio station was success, there were more listeners than any of us imagined, and we could even take requests! And as far as we could tell, it was risk-free.

That was true until Marty moved into a south-facing tenth floor apartment, and attached the antenna to his balcony railing. Suddenly his radio signal went much further, and was much clearer.

He arrived home from work one day and found an Industry Canada vehicle covered with antennas sitting at his front door. Even though as far as we could tell that spot on the radio dial was vacant, it turned out that he had been interfering with a legitimate radio station 50 miles south of us in Washington state. The broadcaster in question called the American FCC, they contacted the Canadian Industry Canada, and Marty was visited by some very official folks who politely, but firmly, asked that he give them the transmitter. To his credit Marty’s reaction was to smile and say “What took you so long?”

Looking back at it, that experience probably changed my life by getting me involved in legal community radio, moving me far to the left, and by teaching me to generally distrust government.

The lesson learned is that if you can help someone to break the law just a little bit – like crossing the street when the pedestrian light is red – and if you can quietly point out to them that absolutely no-one was harmed, and no-one arrested, then you’ve started someone down the road to being anti-authoritarian.

If you plant that seed at just the right time you can change their life. Maybe they’ll even turn into a hacker!

Holding onto history

Published: Globe and Mail  (PDF)
December 18, 2021
1258 words

Even though I knew my grandmother for more than 50 years, I had never heard this story of how my family moved from Hagersville, Ont., to the wilds of Western Canada. Some time around 1912, my great-grandfather, Wellington Millard, was afflicted by serious asthma. Because he could no longer live near the smoky Hamilton steel mills, the family decided to leave Ontario for the clean air of Dorintosh, Sask.

While my great-grandparents and six of their children headed west, my grandmother Hazel stayed behind with her mother’s mother, Margaret Dale. Margaret believed the far-fetched stories about blood-thirsty wolves, harsh winters, and the general lawlessness of the West and wanted to be sure that at least one family heir would survive if her fears proved true.

The only reason that I know this story is because my cousin, Crystal Oliver, made a point of recording it in the years before Grandma died.

My mother, Evelyn Rueger, was Hazel’s daughter. In September, aged 94, Mom died of COVID-19. Several weeks later, I drove from Vancouver to Kelowna to meet with my sister Kathy to go through Mom’s house and see what was worth keeping. I knew that most of what was in the house was very old, and of little interest, but it was a job that we had to do.

Like my grandmother, my mom kept everything. As well as records, CDs and VHS tapes, there were decades of Christmas decorations and small appliances from the seventies. We found an electric spin-dryer that predated the modern washing machine that Mom bought with her first pension cheque. Adult clothes, teenagers’ clothes, kids’ and babies’ clothes. And, in an unlocked safe in her bedroom, an urn with my father’s ashes, together with the ashes of three of her previous cats.

Kathy and I didn’t try to make sense of all of this junk. Instead we spent hours looking at family photos. In corners throughout the house we found dozens of photo albums, each packed with pictures of family, both close and distant, each page stirring memories of things that happened decades ago. We looked at pictures of relatives, all looking young and hopeful with their lives ahead of them, many of them now dead. And we looked at similar pictures of ourselves, as children, and teens, and as young adults.

What struck me though was the almost complete absence of anything to do with my father, Ralph. It was not a good relationship, and apparently Mom had quietly purged anything to do with him. Or perhaps there were just never very many pictures of him. All that I know is that at some point he no longer played a large part in my mother’s history, which means that my sister and I can only rely on our own memories to fill that gap.

It was late on Monday when my sister Kathy finally left – saying to me for the first time in her life, “I love you.” Ours is a family that doesn’t say such things for fear of ridicule. That, sadly, is the legacy of my father.

It was only after Kathy left that I found the last box of old documents – letters that I wrote home 40 years ago, more old pictures, wills from several relatives and finally a big, fat Cerlox bound book about my grandmother. Where a Rose Once Bloomed is the family history that I never knew existed.

I did not know that my cousin Crystal was a writer, but in 104 pages she told the entire life story of my grandmother Hazel. In the two years before my grandmother died, Crystal somehow uncovered dozens of anecdotes and stories that I had never heard, and dozens of photos of my grandmother, her parents and their parents as well. I can’t begin to describe what an incredible labour of love this must have been.

Her work and her storytelling ability brought my grandmother back to life. This book made me feel, for the first time, a real connection to her side of our family, and an understanding of the importance of knowing its history. Because I was able to understand my grandmother as a living, breathing person, I was able to understand where I came from, and why I am the person I am today.

And at that moment I came to the realization that my own family has only a part of that knowledge. There are no letters or documents. We have only scattered memory of old stories and family history. We have pictures, but most often no context within which to place them. Even when we recognize the people in old photos, we have no way of knowing the places and times, or why the pictures were taken.

Thanks to Crystal we now have a good history of my mother’s side of the family, but we have literally nothing to tell us our father’s story. We know next to nothing of his childhood and youth, and even less about his first wife. I certainly can’t tell you what motivated him, or what made him so damaged. I can’t tell you why Madge, the nearly mythical first wife, killed herself by walking in front of a train. I am sure that there once were paper records that might have led us to answers, but they all seem to be gone.

And now that my mother is dead, I can see no way to ever collect that history. This makes me very sad.

Surrounding ourselves in those memories was the best thing that we could have done to honour my mother. Each of those tiny images on paper, some colour, some black and white, and some faded almost to nothing, captures a specific moment in time and preserves it in way that is almost lost by our streaming culture. TikTok will never replace Polaroid and Kodak for permanence, and a Facebook post can’t possibly resonate the way a 5-by-7 inch photograph does. Scrolling on the internet will never be as evocative as the tactile experience of turning pages in a big black photo album and pointing to pictures and sharing the stories behind them.

If there is one lesson to be learned from my experience, it is this: Take the time and effort to talk to family members and collect their stories. Interview your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and write down your own histories. Even if you think you will never want it, this is important. If not for you, then for your children, or your grandchildren.

And collect all of those old photos, and paste them into albums, and write beside each one who is in it, what was happening and when. It will take time, and effort, and will seem old fashioned, but you’re doing this for family members who will find it in 50 years – or a hundred. You cannot imagine how much they will treasure your work, and how much it will enlighten them.
Instead of abandoning your family history to Facebook or Instagram, print it out and save it in a drawer or a shoebox. Computer hard drives crash, and even the biggest social-media companies can disappear. A cupboard full of books and albums in your home can last forever.

Crystal is urging me to take up the challenge and begin building my own family’s history. I don’t know if it’s even possible, but she is making me believe that I may be able to do it.

I’m hoping it’s not too late. I surely understand why it’s so important.

 

How to Move Abroad and Keep Earning Money

Published: Real Simple Magazine
May 17, 2021
1176 words

For many of us, the pandemic years of 2020-2021 have wildly changed how we approach work and earning. Maybe you’ve gone fully remote and want to stay that way; maybe you’re planning a semi-retirement that involves downsizing just how much work you do. Maybe, like me, you’re making a long-held dream of moving to another country a reality. But if you’re emigrating and planning to earn money in a new country, things can get complicated fast, especially where taxes and work visas are concerned.

My wife and I are preparing to move to France this year; the selling price of our Vancouver home will buy us a lovely rural property in the Dordogne, with money left over. Although yes, we could just live off the proceeds of this sale, we both really want to keep working—me as a writer, my wife as a pianist and teacher.

Here’s how we’re planning to make the move across the globe, downsize our working lives somewhat, and yet still earn money in a foreign country in our semi-retirement.

(full article)

Oh, so you think you know us olds?

Published: The Line (PDF)
August 11, 2020
1116 words

A few months ago my wife Susan and I travelled to Vancouver Island to meet a breeder of Great Dane puppies. After decades of rescuing dogs and cats, we had decided that it was time to finally splurge and adopt the dog of our dreams.

We met the breeder, and his Danes, and his puppies, and spoke at length about our experience with dogs, our training as dog handlers, and about the life that we expected to offer our new pet. Even though his prices were higher than some breeders, we were ready to pay it. These were lovely dogs.
We returned home and waited for the email telling us when our puppy was born. And waited. And waited.

After the breeder ignored us for more than a month, we finally put the pieces together: he had decided that we were too old to adopt a dog. Our income, experience, and knowledge meant nothing because we had grey hair – especially since he had said his “best” puppies were all reserved for cool young couples living in Vancouver’s trendy Yaletown neighbourhood.

In an age when almost everyone accepts that you can’t refuse people service on the basis of race, religion, culture, or disability; when right-wing pundits cry in their beer because they’re expected to be respectful of people who are different from them; when #MeToo, and #BLM, and Trans rights are part of the public discourse, there’s still one group that you can mock, insult, and discriminate against: old people.

On one day it’s oh-so-cool tech gurus complaining how they need to dumb-down products because old people can’t understand computers and smart phones. That might include the people who literally invented the Internet and personal computing. They’re now in their sixties and seventies.

On another it’s being ignored at a local restaurant because the servers believe that Old People don’t tip. (We do. Usually 20%. Unless you ignore us.) Incidentally, the American AARP claims old people tip more.

The most absurd are thirty-year-olds who apologize all over themselves for dropping a “fuck” into conversation as if we’re poor innocents that will be shocked into a heart attack if we hear a “curse-word.” That wasn’t true when I was 20, and it’s sure not true now. I grew up with George Carlin’s “7 Words You Can’t Say On Television” so you’re not about to shock me.

Every few years a movie or TV series will appear that tells of an older (invariably widowed) couple who fall in love. It will be a comedy because obviously old people falling in love is just ridiculous. Their children will be very concerned because, well, their parents are OLD people. And the writers won’t dwell on sex because 70 year old people don’t do that, and besides, it would be gross!

Still, I’ll take that bad romance over the inevitable inspirational stories about people 60, 70, or 90-years-old who run a marathon, hike the West Coast trail, or climb Mount Everest. Or get a law degree, or get elected to office, or do important scientific research. Or get married.

“Look Martha! That old person is doing stuff that young people usually do!” Or “Isn’t that sweet, that old guy just kissed that old woman.” Or “Wow, she’s 60, and just started a business!”

Well, big whoop-di-do.

I’ll actually place the blame for these prejudices at the feet of the media, and especially advertising. Whether it’s the sheer inanity of Norwich Union’s 1990 “It’s Patrick He Took Out Life Insurance!” ad series, or the infomercials for Acorn stair lifts and walk-in bath tubs, the truth is that advertisers of all stripes portray older people as infirm, often confused, and not very bright — yet loaded with cash to spend on junk that claims to improve their lifestyle.
Contrast that with the image of older people presented by retirement communities and the government: happy healthy Senior Citizens, with (moderately) active lives, great big smiles, and some kind of unspecified comfortable income that lets them relax, dress well, and take cruises to Alaska. Ah yes, those fabled days of happy retirement!

That picture ignores the hard reality that not every old person is enjoying that happy, healthy lifestyle. The government’s own figures show that about 5% of the senior community lives in poverty, and while those statistics do suggest that the elderly are wealthier than many working-age people and their children, the truth is that many of us continue to work just to make ends meet.
Unlike younger people — who still enjoy health, energy and time to get ahead — many older people are forced into retirement with no real hope of escaping poverty.

Then there’s the matter of healthcare. Being an old patient means that your busy life is not a priority. Everyone in health care assumes that you can be scheduled to whatever time is convenient for the doctors or nurses. Surely you’re not holding down a job anymore? More frightening is the growing sense that there are some medical procedures that you’re just not offered because of age. Then there are the frank statements by doctors who warn that, in the face of a shortage of ICU and ventilators, elderly people will not get access to life-saving interventions.

The picture of the cute, befuddled, but loveable old senior, working the garden of the (fully paid for) family home with no worries beyond the next bingo session at the community hall is nonsense. We have responsibilities to our families; we struggle to pay our bills, just like everybody else.

But it’s this nonsense that provides cover for governments that don’t want to provide pensions that meet the poverty line.

I’ll acknowledge that some old people are doddering old fools. The secret is that they’ve always been doddering fools. I’ve known people that were “old” at age 25, with a boring job, a boring house in the suburbs, and a boring minivan.
Stop and talk to the old people that you do know. Don’t ask about grandchildren or Facebook: ask about how little they get from their pension, or how much of that money goes to medicine and health care. Find out where they’re cutting corners to cover the rent increases every year.

Armed with that information, ask yourself if the pensions and services we’re offering are enough for older people that haven’t had the luck to build up healthy RRSPs or real estate holdings. This matters because sooner or later it’s going to be you that needs them. In the meantime wise up to the truth that the 70 year old you saw in the park could easily be a friend, a business partner, or even a lover — if you could get past your prejudices.