Saturday, 15 June 2019

When did 'Olympic-size swimming pool become' a unit of measure?

With all the recent flooding here in the northeast and storms battering the central US we’ve been hearing a lot about Olympic-size swimming pools. The water spill over dams is described as "the equivalent of X Olympic-size swimming pools per minute”. Water rushes over rapids at a rate of “Y Olympic-size swimming pools per second”. And, most ridiculous, I actually heard heavy  rainfall being described as so many Olympic-size swimming pools per hour dumped on city Z.

I understand that the media want to convey the idea that this is lots of water, but surely there’s a better way to communicate that message. I have never seen (outside of TV) an Olympic-size swimming pool. I know it’s big, but how big? I have no idea. Nor does the International Olympic Committee as no standard exists that limits the depth of such a pool, only it’s length and width. And even those dimensions are minimums only.

If they are going to use meaningless comparisons, why not 747s? “That’s the equivalent of 36 747’s full of water going over that dam every 13 seconds.” I can get a visual from that.

But, better yet, why not use an actual, legitimate measure? There’s the ton (either short or long), or tonne (1,000 kg, 2200 lbs)? Or even the homonymous tun (4 hogsheads, 252 Imp. gallons). All would be more meaningful, and certainly more accurate. Even gallons themselves, although I expect when reporters begin talking about millions, or even billions, of gallons eyes will glaze over and people will probably wonder “How many Olympic-size swimming pools is that?”

But then again, the average person doesn’t know when to properly use “number” versus “amount”, so perhaps we’re stuck with Olympic-size swimming pool.

Thursday, 13 June 2019


CODDIWOMPLE (v.) To travel purposefully toward a vague destination.

Could there possibly be a better word to describe what many (most?) motorcyclists do? I rarely have a destination in mind when I head out on a ride. I will have a vague notion of direction, and possibly even an idea or two of where I might stop for lunch, or a coffee. But for the most part I wing it. “I wonder where that road goes.” “Well, let’s find out.”

And so we discover new places, and new ways to get to old places. We chase the sun, or try to avoid threatening storms. We get lost, and found again. We meet new or old friends sharing the same journey.  We add to our repository of riding experiences. And we return home knowing we had a great ride, no matter how long, or short.

Yes, it is THE perfect word.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

But is it art?

A few years ago, when we were in New York City, we visited the Museum of Modern Art. One of the exhibits that caught my eye was Marcel Duchamp’s “Bicycle”.

(Picture MoMA)

In case it’s not clear from the photo, this work of art consists of an inverted bicycle fork and wheel (sans tire) stuck in the top of a stool. That’s it. That’s the whole piece.

I remember remarking to the spousal unit that only an established artist could get away with this. Imagine an unknown artist (me, for example) showing up at MoMA’s door with this contraption and having it on display the next day - and a sizeable check in my pocket? Not a chance in Hell.

Still, I did think it was kind of cool in a silly sort of way. Along the lines of my bicycle in the trees. (Which MoMA could acquire for significantly less than what they paid for this piece, if they were interested.)

Now it turns out I can have my own version of “Bicycle” should I want a companion piece to my “Bicycle in trees”. (See what I did there? I gave my 'art' a proper name, thus increasing the value tenfold.) A local Facebook for sale page just listed this copy for a cool $350.

(Picture FB)

But I think I’ll pass. I have some old bike parts around and need only to find a stool. I figure $10 tops for my very own “Bicycle”. Easier than copying the Mona Lisa, for sure.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

A shed full of 'Sea Kings'

For more than 5 decades, the Canadian Navy flew the venerable Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King. Long past it’s projected life span, they were finally retired in 2018 after a 35-year project to select a replacement finally resulted in a new helicopter for the Navy. It was the very definition of a political football as successive governments tried to out-stupid each other over the project.

Now this has nothing to do with anything really, except that it was reported that, in its later years, the aging Sea Kings required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every flying hour.

Which is pretty much like every mechanical device I own. Well, except for that whole life or death thing associated with equipment failure at 10,000 feet.

I was all set to put the second little KZ 440 on the road, until I discovered a dodgy bearing. (Here) Other than pulling the engine from the frame little progress has been made on that front because I’ve been too busy fixing other stuff.

Then I went to use the lawnmower the other day and it wouldn’t start. No spark. A few hours later I had it apart on the bench and discovered the magneto/coil ignition gap was incorrect. Put that all back together and now it’s running again, for a while. Of course I’m not too upset about the lawnmower as it was a good deal. (Here.) But I haven’t found a suitable replacement at the dump yet, and I don’t want to have to buy one.

And today was a nice day to till the garden in preparation for planting season. I hauled out the ancient roto-tiller and it wouldn’t start. It’s always been balky, but eventually I would get it running with liberal doses of quick start or raw gas poured into the carb. This time, no go. I’ve been able to isolate a fuel problem of some sort but that will now have to wait a day or so before I can get to it.

And in the middle of all that I discovered that the “professionals” who shingled the house roof 13 years ago had left a cut in the shingles, exposing some roof sheathing to 13 years of rain, snow, and ice, with the predictable result. As a dry attic is pretty important, everything else was put on hold as I replaced a 2’ by 4’ section of rotted roof sheathing and re-shingled the area.

All of which is to say I’ve spent the better part of the past week just fixing stuff so it could be used, while not actually using any of it. I must be getting close to that 30-1 ratio.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Killers of the Flower Moon - a review

In the early part of the 20th century some of the richest people in America were the Osage Indians in Oklahoma. Like many tribes, in the 1870s the Osage were forced from their ancestral home in Kansas and relocated to a part of Louisiana, land that was “broken, rocky, sterile, and utterly unfit for cultivation”. However it did sit on vast oil reserves.

And so, by the 1920s, the nascent oil boom was making the Osage wealthy beyond their imaginings. Mansions dotted the countryside (staffed with servants), most families had at least one motorcar (often with a chauffeur), and the wells kept pumping. Then the murders began as, one after the other, dozens of Osage land owners met untimely ends.

This is the story of those murders and the work done by dogged investigators of J. Edgar Hoover's fledgling FBI to uncover the secrets and bring the perpetrators to justice. It’s also a story of racism, greed, and a lawless territory where corruption among lawmen, judges, bankers, and others in positions of authority were, seemingly, the norm. A far, far cry from the Roaring 20s as we normally think about them.

This is a series of events in American history that had largely gone under the radar until author David Grann began poking about in the dusty archives to bring the story to life. It’s a fascinating read and highly recommended.