A Photo Walk Along Eglinton West (2008)

I was going through some old photos and I came across a batch I took about nine years ago in the Eglinton West area in Toronto. I thought I’d revisit some of these photos.

Now and then I like to wander around and take photos. On this day in April 2008, I took an exceptionally large number of photos, 250 all together. When started out in the Eglinton West area, the sky was dull. That’s okay. Although the photos look dull in color, desaturating the photos can give a different flavor to the pictures.

As you can tell by the photos, this is gritty working-class neighborhood, typical of west Toronto. Like most of the city, there’s a variety of different cultures.

Adventures in WordPress

I’m an old school programmer. I remember a time when internet access was slow and we could see images slowly appear on web pages. At the time, understanding the technical aspects of HTTP and HTML were important to properly balance out design considerations and performance.

But times change. And I’m getting too old to worry too much about the nitty-gritty details. In my professional life, I dealt with one content management system, Zope. We were trying to develop a system based on Zope and Plone, but for various reasons, the effort wasn’t successful. I’m a big fan of Python. But sometimes it seems that, because the language is so easy to use, systems built using Python can get bloated very easily.

About five years ago, I learned PHP. It’s an ugly language with a less than stellar reputation. But it is ubiquitous and widely supported. Likewise, there are aspects of WordPress that grate with my old-school programmer creds. But it is widely used and supported. Sometimes you just have to be pragmatic.

For about 6 years, I was the webmaster for our church, the Kingston Unitarian Fellowship. Up until recently, the site was hard-coded HTML using SSI and Javascript. And it took some effort to make the site mobile-friendly. But back in January, the board directed me to use WordPress for the church website. It was not entirely surprising since we talked a bit about it before. And it made sense since other people in the congregation would then be able to update content. That was an important consideration for me since I knew it was only a matter of time before we would end up resigning our membership.

Starting from zero knowledge, I had most of the site converted within a matter of hours. Over the next week, I gained the knowledge to move over the dynamic content, and fix a few other glitches. And after a few months, I learned the “right” ways to do certain things, such as where to load the custom CSS and Javascript files.

With that new knowledge and experience, I decided my own web site needed a revamping. It most definitely was not mobile-friendly, and I hadn’t done much with the site for years other than occasionally update the genealogy section. But there was some content that sometimes prompted visitors to drop a few bucks in my “tip jar”. So I set out to bring my web site solidly into the 21st Century.

My site had literally hundreds of static pages. How to approach such a task? First, photo albums took up a large number of pages. I decided to implement the photo albums using a custom WordPress plugin with Ajax loading of the photos. Conversion of the content was made easier with a custom script.

The next biggest group was a set of about 200 pages, each one for a specific area in the city of Toronto. Again, I wrote a custom plugin with Ajax loading of the individual pages, and converted the pages using a custom script.

The rest had to be handled manually. That put a lot of pages in the main menu. So many in fact, that I reached a hard limit, making it difficult to update the menu. I ended up adding smaller sub-menus included at the top of some pages. Over time, I’ll do more of that to make the main menu more manageable.

Finally, I copied over blog postings from my blogs hosted on Blogger.

There are always trade-offs with any project, such as a web site. I like the freedom you get with a hard-coded site. But that takes much more of an effort. I’m not a big fan of the choices of theme you get with a content management system, but I can live with the options provided by the default scheme that comes with the current version of WordPress.

Cheers! Hans

Solving Sudoku – Four Group Intersection

Here we come to the most challenging technique yet for solving Sudoku. This one involves looking at the intersection of two rows and two columns. Look for a situation where you have the same possibility in four unsolved cells, where those four cells are the corners of a rectangle. Consider the following diagram:

Here we have 4 as a possibility in the fours cells marked in green. Examine the other marked cells. If 4 does not occur in any of the red cells, then it must not exist in any of the blue cells.

That is, if 4 is not in any red cells, then there are two possible arrangements for the 4‘s in the green cells: upper-left and lower-right; or upper-right and lower-left. Either way, with just the green cells, the columns will already have their cells with value 4. If there are any 4‘s in any of the blue cells, they can be eliminated as possibilities.

In practice, this situation is rather rare. Sometimes, you’ll find cases where you’ll find the same value in four corner cells. But more often than not, you find that value in both the rows and columns. In those cases, see if it’s possible to eliminate possibilities to get to a state where you can apply this technique.

Note that this technique can also scale up to three columns and three rows. But that’s an even more rare situation.

Well, those are all the techniques I’ve figured out. To summarize, continually use the basic techniques until you reach an impasse. If you’re lucky, and the puzzle author is kind, the basic techniques will be sufficient. But once you find yourself needing to make notes, you’re probably into the realm of the advanced techniques. First look at the groups with lots of solved values, and the cells with few possibilities. And keep plugging away at it. With experience, you’ll find it easier to recognize the situations where you can apply the more advanced techniques.


Solving Sudoku – Rectangle

This is the fourth posting in the series of techniques for solving Sudoku puzzles. First, I discussed the basic techniques. Then, I discussed single-group partitioning and two group intersection. Those techniques are enough for the vast majority of puzzles. Here, I discuss another technique that might be useful.

This technique takes advantage of an important characteristic of Sudoku puzzles. All puzzles have (or should have) one unique solution. Consider the cells at the four corners of a rectangle, for example:

Consider the cell at the lower right. If values 6 and 7 were eliminated, we would be left with an ambiguous state. That is, these four cells would all have the same two possibilities. There would be two possible solutions. But we can’t have that. We must have a unique solution.

Therefore, the possibilities 6 and 7 must remain, and we can eliminate the possibilities 4 and 5 from that cell:

And of course, once possibilities are eliminated, other opportunities to proceed will open up. In this particular example, if there were only three possibilities instead of four, we could write that in directly.

Next up, four group intersection.


Solving Sudoku – Two Group Intersection

Let’s continue with a study of the advanced Sudoku solving techniques. In my previous post, I looked at partitioning the cells of a single group. In this epistle, I look at what you can do with two intersecting groups. In this case, it’s a 3×3 square intersecting with either a row or a column. (If you consider the intersection of a row and a column, you can apply one of the basic techniques.)

Consider the groups marked in green in the following:

We have two groups: a row and a 3×3 square. Look at the three cells that belong to both groups, and consider the value 4. Within the row, the value 4 exists only in the intersecting cells. Within the 3×3 square, the value 4 must exist in one of those two cells that also belong to the row. Therefore, the value 4 can be eliminated from the other cells of the square.

With the techniques described up until now, you have the means at your disposal to solve the vast majority of puzzles. But there are still a few tricks left, which will have to wait until later postings. Next up, we look at the corners of a rectangle.


Solving Sudoku – Single-Group Partitioning

Okay, so you’ve mastered the basic techniques to solve Sudoku puzzles, and you’re still stuck on a puzzle. At this point, you’ll need to make notes, writing in small print the possible values at the top of each cell. There are a number of “advanced” techniques that can help you progress. At no time should you have to guess at a possibility. All puzzles should be solvable using analytical methods. However, note that most of the advanced techniques only help you to eliminate possibilities. You’ll still need to basic techniques to finish the puzzle. But eliminating possibilities should provide more opportunities to apply the basic techniques.

The technique I describe here involves looking at the cells of one group. Consider the following group with possibilities listed:

Before continuing, have a look to see if you can spot any possibilities can be eliminated.

Note that the values 1 and 2 exist in only two cells in that row, and not in any other cells. Since those two values can only be in those two cells, all other possibilities can be eliminated:

At this point, with those values eliminated, you may find opportunities for applying the basic techniques, allowing you to move forward.

One more note on this particular example: The full 3×3 square at the left is not shown. However, now that we know that two cells of the square only contain the values 1 and 2, we can now eliminate those values from the rest of the cells of that square.

Note that the technique can also be applied with three values. Look for a set of three values that exist in only three cells. All other values in those three cells can be ruled out. Likewise for four or more cells.

In the next installment, I look at an advanced technique involving two intersecting groups.


Solving Sudoku – The Basic Methods

Do you want to learn how to solve Sudoku puzzles but don’t know where to start? Read on! In this missive, I discuss the basic solving technique.

To start, consider the following puzzle:

Look at the cell marked in blue. An experienced player should be able to look at the puzzle and immediately know what the solution is for that cell. Scan the puzzle above that cell and also to the left. Consider that the value 1 cannot occur in any of the empty cells marked in green. We see that the blue cell is the only cell in the lower-left 3×3 group where the value 1 is possible.

(The keen observer will see another opportunity elsewhere in the puzzle where a 1 must be the solution for a cell.)

While solving a puzzle, as you’re entering values or eliminating possibilities, constantly look for these opportunities since these are the easiest to find.

Okay, so you applied this technique as much as you can and you’re stuck. What next? Consider the following diagram of the above puzzle but with a few values filled in:

Although we can still apply the first technique, let’s see if we can apply the second basic technique. Consider the cell marked in blue. That cell belongs to three groups: a column, a row, and a 3×3 square. Note that the value of the blue cell cannot be the same as any other value in those three groups. So, for that cell, list out its possible values. We see that eight possible values can be eliminated, leaving only one possible value for the cell: 1.

To find opportunities to apply this technique, look for groups with lots of values already filled in.

I’ll leave the rest of the puzzle to you. Click here to print out a clean copy of this puzzle. It’s the first puzzle in that document.

Using these two techniques, you can solve most puzzles published in newspapers and magazines. To practice, try out the Beginner Puzzles. In my opinion, the best way to solve Sudoku puzzles is by pen and paper, relaxing in an easy chair.

When starting out, it may be useful to write in the possible values in small print at the top of a cell, crossing them out as you progress through the puzzle. But with experience, you should be able to apply both of these techniques without making any notes.

In later columns, I’ll cover the more advanced solving techniques. Next up, single-group partitioning.


Three Disruptive Technologies

This is the column I wrote intended for the May 2017 edition of our church newsletter. Given recent events, that issue will be my last. With that in mind, I decided not to include this column. Instead, I offer it up here, on my own personal blog:

For almost two years, I’ve had the privilege of acting as editor for KUFLinks. In that role, I’ve taken the liberty of writing a monthly column under the banner “Communications”, most of which have been on one particular topic, technological change. In this missive, I look at three pivotal changes, that have been quite disruptive on society.

First, when editing KUFLinks, I use a piece of software called “LibreOffice Writer”, which is well-suited to desktop publishing. This program is a member of a large class of software known as “free software”. Although much of this software is available at no cost, the word “free” primarily refers to freedom. That is, you have the freedom, granted by the software license, to do what you want with it. Either without restriction, or with one specific limitation that in practice doesn’t affect the users of the software. (There is fierce debate between these two camps, but the details are not relevant to this discussion.)

Most of you aren’t aware of this, but free software underlays much of what we do today. The most popular web browsers, Chrome and Firefox, are based on free software. Most of the software running the internet is too, from the operating systems, to the web servers, databases, and content management systems. If you use a smart phone or tablet, you’re using products based on free software. Even the WordPress software running the KUF web site is free software.

Second, let’s go back a few centuries to the invention of the printing press in Europe. This of course led to immense change in European society. Of interest to Unitarians is the story of one man, Michael Servetus, who used the printing press to publicize his views. In doing so, he got a lot of people mad at him, especially the Catholic church. Servetus expected a safe haven from the Calvinists in Geneva, but unfortunately, they too were not happy with him. Later, Servetus came to be considered the first Unitarian.

Third, we come back to the present. Many of us still remember a time without the internet. Looking back, it now seems strange that we had to look up information in books, often having to wait until the chance to visit the local library or book store. In many cases, we had to travel some distance to find the right repository of information. When doing research, patience was definitely a virtue.

But of course today, everything is on-line, often just a simple search away from the convenience of our home, either on a desktop computer, or on a mobile device. And if we want to connect with other people with the same interests or values, that too is a simple matter of pressing few buttons.

I can say a whole lot more on each of these three disruptive technologies, but I’ll leave it at this. For now.

Cheers! Hans

Tangled Webs in Nijkerk

Looking back at my posts in this blog, I haven’t done one of these drop charts in almost two years. First, it takes a bit of work to create one of these charts. But also, I haven’t found much in the way of tangled inter-relationships in my research. About a year ago, I signed up with Ancestry and spent some time on the German side of my family. However, the records for Mecklenburg-Schwerin on Ancestry only go back as far as 1876, and so I soon exhausted their resources. Later, I spent a few months researching distant cousins in the Achterhoek region of Gelderland, but without finding very many tangles.

But once done there, I turned my sights back to Nijkerk, where many of my ancestors lived. My great grandfather Gerrit Moll (1849-1929) was the first Moll born in Nijkerk, but his wife Geertje Beukers and most of her ancestors lived in the town for generations.

This chart explores the inter-relationships between my ancestors and a couple of other families, in particular, the van den Pol family and the van Dronkelaar family. In this chart, ancestors are marked in red. Blue indicates other blood relatives. (It may help to open the image in a new tab or window.)

Let’s start at the left side of the chart. We see my second cousins three times removed Wouter van Werkhoven (1823-1891) and Rengertje van den Pol (1840-1918) married respectively to Evertje van Dronkelaar (1838-1912) and Wolbertus van Dronkelaar (1845-1922). Wouter and Rengertje were first cousins, and so were Evertje and Wolbertus.

The rest of the chart is more complicated. There are five cases of a distant cousin married to a member of the van den Pol family, all descendants of Jacob van den Pol (1770-1860) and Aaltje Koppen (1781-1865):

  1. Gerrit van den Pol (1807-1877) and my first cousin four times removed Aaltje van Werkhoven (1804-1853), married 1939.
  2. Gijsbert van den Pol (1824-1893) and my second cousin three times removed Aaltje van Woudenberg (1821-1897), married 1848.
  3. My second great granduncle Lubbert Beukers (1822-1896) and Hendrina van den Pol (1824-1877), married 1850.
  4. My third cousin twice removed Evert van den Pol (1851-1938) and my great grandaunt Antje Beukers (1853-1934), married 1883.
  5. Jacob van den Pol (1826-1913) and my second cousin three times removed Geurtje van Woudenberg (1823-1885), married 1848,

It is interesting that, although there are many tangled inter-relationships in this chart, there is only one case of cosanguineous marriage, between second cousins once removed Evert van den Pol and Antje Beukers. Their common ancestors are Evert Teunissen and Aaltje Aalts, at the top of this chart.

I’m not done with this area of research, and so there may be more interesting tangles to discover.

Cheers! Hans

A Personal Theology – Heresy and Universal Truth

The following is a short talk I gave at the Kingston Unitarian Fellowship (KUF) back in 2012. Note that although this reflects my opinions at the time, given the changes in Unitarianism during the past five years, I’m not sure if this would be appropriate today at KUF:

I really appreciate the opportunity to give my own personal testimony on the Sunday when the theme is “Freethinkers and Heretics”, because I do consider myself as a freethinker or heretic. Probably many of us here do. When I was young, my mother brought me and my sister to church on Sunday. At first, to the United Church in Collins Bay. Later, to the Christian Reformed Church just a few blocks north of here, presumably because the United Church was not sufficiently orthodox. At that time, I thought I should be a Christian. My first act of heresy, then, was abandoning the faith of my ancestors.

When I first started thinking independently about theology, I thought about the concept of “universal truth”. That is, is there a religion that would apply everywhere in the universe and at every point in time. I quickly came to the conclusion that no Earthly religion could possibly make such a claim. Later, in university, I took a course in world religions. And although Buddhism and Taoism appealed to me in theory, in practice they too seemed to miss the mark.”Freethought”, according to the Wikipedia, is the philosophy that opinions should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, and not authority, tradition, or other dogmas. By that definition, I suppose I am a “Freethinker”. But I’m not really comfortable with the term, probably for the same reasons I’m not comfortable with the term “atheist”. Consider the question of “God”: Science doesn’t really tell us that God doesn’t exist.

Following the scientific method, the most we can say is that God is untestable. And if untestable, there’s always the possibility that there is such a thing. That is, to me, saying that there’s no God seems just as dogmatic as saying there is. Which is perhaps a heresy to most freethinkers.But to be clear, although I can acknowledge the possibility that there may be a God, since it is untestable, I find little use in the concept. Even those who do fervently believe in a God can have vastly different opinions about the deity. And so, at a practical level, I believe we must live our lives assuming there’s no such thing, and use our intellect and compassion to guide us. I like the quote attributed to the Italian heretic Galileo: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

The way I see it, science is the best tool we have to understand the universe around us. But scientists themselves are the first to admit that science has definite limits. (Or they should be.) While science can model how something happens, it can’t explain why. For example, why do some things seem to happen just when we need them to happen? Often, I want to know if there’s some specific reason for my existence. And, I think many of us have some vague sense of something just beyond our five senses. I know there are no definitive answers to these questions. But that doesn’t stop me from pondering them and considering the possibilities.

I first learned about Unitarianism in the early 1980’s from an article in the Toronto Star, and later, I started attending Sunday service at the First Unitarian Congregation, when Chris Raible was its minister. After a few years, I moved further away and stopped attending. So for a while, I considered myself a “lapsed Unitarian.” When we moved to Kingston in 2010, Sylvana suggested that we check out KUF, and I readily agreed. And soon thereafter, we signed the membership book. We came for several reasons: First, we wanted our daughter to benefit from the religious exploration program. Second, as newcomers to the city, we wanted to meet new people. Third, I liked the idea of a weekly spiritual retreat.

But finally, I come here to be challenged. To me, the most important avenue to personal growth is to stretch the limits of your comfort zone. I don’t just want an environment where people are unconditionally accepting of my beliefs and values. Although we should be respectful of each others’ beliefs, I believe that you honor my beliefs best by understanding them and expressing your thoughtful disagreement with them if necessary.

Lately, I’ve been participating in a number of UU discussion groups on Facebook. On-line, I see a lot of diversity among UU’s. So much so that, when I offer my point of view, I sometimes feel like a heretic. But the way I see it, the diversity is a real strength of Unitarianism. Many of us approach the great questions of “Life, Universe, and Everything” through spirituality. It seems that fewer of us deal with these questions analytically. Can we use analytical tools in matters of faith? I believe we can. For example, I think the validity and usefulness of the “Golden Rule” can easily be demonstrated empirically. And it’s the one principle that practically everyone can agree on regardless of faith, or heresy. And so, the way I see it, the “Golden Rule” is probably the closest we can get to the concept of “universal truth”.

Cheers! Hans