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.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

California Road

It was a beautiful day today so I thought I’d take a run down California Road to see how much spring runoff damage there was.


There was still snow in places and the swamps and ditches were full of water. The road was muddy and wet but passable until I got five kilometres in, to find it had completely washed out.

This spot regularly floods in the spring, but usually just over the surface of the road. This year the spring runoff took the road out completely and even managed to shift the culvert (put in a few years ago to avoid this happening) about 30 feet downstream.






As I wasn’t about to start chopping trees to build a 30-foot bridge, that pretty much halted my forward progress.

Being a seldom-used back road, California seems to attract a number of people who view the world as their personal garbage pit. It gets particularly bad during hunting season when all sorts of interesting trash appears under the cover of darkness.

For example, this boat. A couple of kilometres from the nearest body of water larger than the puddle behind it, someone decided it would make a nice roadside attraction. Filled with rubbish, the registration numbers were all removed so finding the previous owner would be near impossible.


And this mattress, queen-size I believe, was left at one of places where hunters pitch their tents for a couple of weeks in November. Except for the mattress the site had been nicely policed and cleaned up, so perhaps it was some local left it over the winter and here I am blaming the hunters. Doesn’t change the fact though that some moron thought it was perfectly okay to toss this old mattress in the woods.


I just don’t get the mindset.

However in the making-lemonade-from-lemons tradition, I did find enough beer cans and bottles to pay for my gas.


Every spring the local community bands together and has a roads cleanup day. We make a bit of a celebration of it with a BBQ and prizes for the most outrageous trash discovered in the ditches. Mattresses are, unfortunately, pretty common, but I may enter the boat this year.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Three steps back

No, this is not in reference to any 60's dance craze.

I did get the second little Kawasaki running. Not great but good enough to warrant proceeding with a carb refresh and making a few other repairs like brake master cylinder and caliper rebuilds. Then, while waiting for the carb kits to come in, I though I’d pull the rear wheel to check and clean the rear brakes. And it was while spinning the wheel I first heard the “clunk”.

It was coming from the front sprocket, so I pulled the cover off and, sure enough, at one point in the rotation the drive sprocket drops a couple of millimeters. This is NOT good.


I might as well forget about carbs for now; the entire engine needs to come out. Fortunately I have engine no. 3 in the shed so I guess I’ll be doing a swap in the near future.