Friday 22 December 2017

Season’s Greetings

As we race towards Christmas Day I want to wish all my followers, readers, and their families and loved ones the best of the season. Merry Christmas to all and may you have a fantastic New Year. I’ll see you all back here in 2018.


Tuesday 19 December 2017

Useless machine

Over the years I have accumulated many useless machines, everything from disassembled motorcycles to garden implements to power tools. The only common factor is that they don’t work now and will probably never work in the future. In fact they remind me of some of my co-workers when I was employed by the government many, many years ago. But I digress.

So, yes, I have owned (and currently own) a lot of useless stuff, but never have I set out to purposely create something that is completely useless. Until now.

The idea of creating a machine that serves no purpose whatsoever goes back to at least the 1930s (and probably much earlier) when Italian artist Bruno Munari began creating machines that were completely unproductive as a counterpoint to the future and a world controlled by machines. Clearly he fought a losing battle. Since then many have designed and built contraptions that exist for no other reason than to exist; they are there simply because they are there. Kind of like the Kim Kardashians of the machine world. Then in 1952 a guy named Marvin Minsky, working at Bell Labs, created what he called the “ultimate machine”, more commonly known as a Leave-Me-Alone Box, or Useless Machine. It’s sole purpose in being was, when turned on, to turn itself off. Which is a fascinating concept when one thinks about it, raising some pretty interesting philosophical questions.

Of course most folks didn’t think of it as anything but a curiosity and the concept attracted little interest. Then, in the 1960’s, apparently inspired by the television show The Addams Family, a version called “The Thing” was put on the market. But it was a mere flash in the pan and by the 70s both the Addams Family and “The Thing” were history – relegated to late night reruns and the attic toy trunk.

However, for unknown reasons, there has lately been a resurgence of interest, fuelled by the internet (of course), in building these types of useless machines. And after seeing one such post I decided I must build one. It’s not nearly as complex and sophisticated as some out there, but I wanted something simple in the nature of the original 1952 version and its 1960s cousin.

So, using an old cigar box I had lying about, some electronics components left over from other projects, and a small servo motor I cobbled together my version.

Monday 18 December 2017

The serial hobbyist

The Serial Hobbyist. Doesn’t that sound like it could be the title of Dashiell Hammett’s latest blockbuster? Or would, if he hadn’t died in 1961. But still… Imagine Sam Spade, with a leggy blonde at his side, chasing down a nogoodnik who leaves unfinished projects lying around for unsuspecting spouses to discover and ask, “How much did that cost?” before being silenced … forever.

Sadly, that’s not the case. No, “serial hobbyist” is the caption that appears under my photo in Wikipedia.  The only constant theme has been a love of motorcycles and riding and wrenching – the others come and go and sometimes return. Astronomy – or more accurately stargazing, cabinet making, wood turning, metal work, hobby electronics. Jump in with both feet for a while, then something else catches my eye. “Ooh, look, there’s something shiny over there”. Or, “I could make one of those if I had a plasma cutter.”

But eventually it all comes home to roost, as the saying goes. After finishing the sewing machine table I decided it was past time to clean up the garage (a detested autumn ritual). And while doing so I came across the following: a cigar box guitar that needs to be finished and parts for a couple more, an electronic programmable timer I built for a solar powered light that needs repair along with the solar panel, a fully dismantled Honda Ascot engine that I had plans for (can’t remember what at this moment although I'm sure it was brilliant), a pile of woodturning blanks (just need to cut away anything that doesn’t look like a vase), a completely dismantled 1965 Honda S65 motorcycle (long-term project), a couple of 1981 Kawasaki gas tanks that need repair and paint, a reluctant snowblower (it was free!), an old chainsaw that needs attention, and said plasma cutter collecting dust in the corner. And all that after just the first layer of 'stuff' was removed/organised.

As the expression goes, sometimes the bodies are best left buried.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

The age of ignorance

I’m not referring here to ignorance in the pejorative sense but rather as a simple lack of learned knowledge.

In times past a person knowledgeable in their field would be trained in not only the ‘what’ of an object but also the ‘why’ and ‘how’.  It wasn’t sufficient for a skilled auto mechanic to simply know what a part did, he also had to know how it worked and understand why it was important. It was similar for any tradesperson or other professional and that knowledge was what separated them from us, the ignorant, as it were. They had their secrets and we employed them to get access to that knowledge.

But today? More and more of those secrets are now available to the world through Google, YouTube, and the other great equalizers of the internet world. Who cares what a link arm does? It’s sufficient to know you need them and there are thousands upon thousands of YouTube videos that explain how to diagnose a faulty suspension component and replace it with minimal fuss. There’s probably even one for your specific make and model of vehicle in order to make it really simple. So now you’re an ‘expert’.

Case in point.

I’m currently working on a small electronics project. I am not an electronics engineer, nor do I have any electronics training beyond basic high school physics. I couldn't design a circuit from scratch to save my life. However, armed with nothing more than an idea for this project I started digging. Google came up with numerous sites of folks who had done something similar and who shared their tips, tricks, and circuit designs. Likewise YouTube offered up a few dozen videos showing how others had tackled similar problems.

With that information I was able to create and build a circuit that does what I want but which I don’t really understand. I have a 220 ohm resistor in there because that’s what someone else said I needed. I’m still not completely sure why it’s there and why it’s that specific resistance. Ditto for the capacitors and diodes and all the other little bits and pieces of which I only vaguely know their purpose.

It works – which is a good thing – but I feel a bit like I cheated, not having earned the right to create something without having been schooled in the underpinnings of the technology. It’s a bit like claiming to be Van Gogh because I’m adept at paint-by-numbers. Or, I suppose, a better example might be the baker who can churn out loaf after loaf of delicious bread without ever understanding the chemistry behind the process, or developing their own recipes.

It is but one of the many, many ways technology has significantly changed our world. But still, somewhere, sometime, someone has to be the creator, the designer, the chemist. And as long as they continue to share the fruits of their expertise and creativity the rest of us can continue living in the age of ignorance.

Wednesday 6 December 2017

From the shop

Some time ago I acquired an old Singer sewing machine base with some vague plans of using it to make something. Six months later it was still taking up space in the garage so I decided I’d best get to work. Besides, riding season was over, as was the golf season, so I had nothing else to do with my time. Right, my dear?


So first job was to repair, sand blast, and paint the treadle frame.  Fortunately, other than being rusty from being out of doors for a while (previous owner), it was in decent shape with only a couple of small cracks to be repaired. I got it all moving freely and made a replacement treadle arm. All it does is spin the wheel, but that’s okay. With a fresh coat of paint it finished up even better than I expected.


Then it was time to decide on a top. I always have a pile of leftover scraps from various projects (never, ever throw anything out!), and I found a small piece of padauk which I thought would make a nice table. But it was too narrow, so in order to make it fit I had to cut it diagonally and slide the two pieces past each other to get the necessary width, which left an unsightly seam. Rather than try to hide the seam I decided to accentuate it by gluing in some bits of maple and cherry I also had laying about. Then it was lots and lots of hand sanding and finishing.


Today was the big day when I put it all together and I think it turned out pretty nice. So nice that the missus has already claimed it as a Xmas present. Perfect – one less shopping trip to make.


And now I have a little more room to work on some of the other projects on the infinite list of things to do.

Monday 4 December 2017

The pendulum has swung too far

Although I have my own opinions on the current frenzy around sexual harassment and the whole #metoo hashtag thing I have avoided publically commenting on any of it because, as with every social issue, context and nuance are important but are virtually impossible to have come across accurately in a short blog post. But this issue blundered into the realm of the ridiculous when a sitting Liberal MP, Sherry Romanado, stood and made a statement to the House of Commons today.

Here’s her statement in its entirety:

"In May, the member from Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman [James Bezan] publicly made inappropriate, humiliating and unwanted comments to me that were sexual in nature. These comments have caused me great stress and have negatively affected my work environment."

Immediately the mind thinks of explicit and unwanted propositions, snide comments about her person and/or body, or any of a number of other possible and serious transgressions. Right?

Well, before manning the barricades, it’s important to know what actually happened.

Back in May (7 months ago) Ms. Romanado, a Liberal, was posing for a photo with 2 Conservative MPs, one of whom was Mr. Bezan. In a joking manner Mr. Bezan made an off-the-cuff comment about it not being his idea of a threesome.  A bit boorish? Perhaps. But these are coworkers and colleagues and, presumably, adults. He was clearly not serious and made the comment in reference to having 2 Conservatives and a Liberal together in the same photo and not at each other’s throats as they are often portrayed.

Since then Mr. Bezan has apologized personally to Ms. Romanado, stood and apologized in the House of Commons, undergone sensitivity training, and had the chief human resources officer review the case, in response to a complaint by Ms. Romanado, and determine that “no sexual harassment had occurred”. And still … still …. Ms. Romanado felt the need to stand and make the above statement today.

Really? Has it come to this, that any flippant comment deserves a full, and preferably very public, broadside? That a stupid remark causes the person who hears it “great stress” and negatively affects their work environment? (As an aside one wonders how Ms. Romanado can even function as a politician with such thin skin.)

And that’s the crux of the problem. Sexual harassment is real and, as we have recently seen, usually a result of a power imbalance. Women (and some men) have had to deal with very serious issues around use of force, physical assaults, unwanted and persistent harassment, and so on. It’s not right, does not belong in our workplaces or our politics, and needs to be weeded out. But when we tip the scales for every Chicken Little who claims to be aggrieved over some trivial matter we debase the plight of those dealing with serious issues of harassment. And we make it just a little bit harder for those truly harmed to find justice.

We need to find some balance, and soon.

Monday 27 November 2017

Accepting the inevitable

At this time of year I procrastinate when it comes to putting the bikes away, hoping against hope for that one last, glorious, sunny day when I can go for a short, even if it’s chilly, ride. Usually it works out, but not this year. Riding season is done.

And that explains why the Harley was sitting, idling, on the snow-covered driveway yesterday, warming up the oil in advance of its pre-winter oil change. Which is a messy affair at the best of times, not helped by melting snow off tires and boots mixing with the inevitable oil spills that somehow manage to always get past the drain pan.


But now it’s done and she’s ready for a long winter’s nap. I’d also like to think I’ll be smarter next year, but I know I won’t.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Red Notice – a Review

Red NoticeThis book had been on my must-read list for a while and with Russia commanding the news cycles these days it seemed like an opportune time to pick it up.

Red Notice is the true story of Bill Browder, an American financier operating in Russia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He is the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and was the largest foreign investor in Russia until highly placed and influential members of the Russian government decided to loot his companies for personal gain and to drive Hermitage Capital out of the country, and out of business.

He escaped Russia with his family, but as he fought back against the state-sponsored corruption, colleagues still in Russia were harassed, intimidated, and sometimes jailed. His friend and lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was jailed, tortured, and beaten to death by the authorities because he wouldn’t lie to wrongly indict Browder and his company in the thefts. This one event, more than any other, triggered Browder’s relentless crusade against the Putin regime, eventually resulting in the US Magnitsky Act which denies visas to, and targets the finances of, named Russians involved in Magnitsky’s incarceration and brutal death.  Variations of that law have also been passed in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere. Vladimir Putin and his partners in crime are not pleased, but then that was the intent.

This is a true-life thriller that reads like fiction. It gives the reader a fascinating and frightening glimpse into what it’s like to do business (or politics) in today’s ‘modern’ Russia. Which makes one wonder why Western businesses continue to do so. But then, as in Browder’s heyday, there are billions of dollars to be made – it’s all relative.

A highly recommended read.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Moderates need not apply

Scott Kelly is a retired US Navy Captain and a retired astronaut. He has completed 4 trips into space, including a year-long mission aboard the ISS in 2015. He has recently published his memoire, Endurance, which talks, in part, about those missions and the impacts his experiences, shared by so very few others on this little blue planet, have had on his life. I haven’t read his book yet but it’s on my list.

Scott Kelly was recently interviewed by the CBC’s Anna-Marie Tremonti on her show, The Current. (You can listen to the entire 20-minute podcast here.) The interview was very interesting but it was right at the end when a question about any political ambitions he might have started me thinking.

His response to that question about political ambitions? “I am too much of a moderate. I’m not on the edges of either political party and unfortunately, in the US, to get elected in a primary, you have to be an extremist.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

If he’s correct – and the current political climate would seem to indicate he is – what it means is that if you are a highly accomplished professional with the kinds of extensive skills and experiences we say we want (and so desperately need) in our leaders you will likely never get elected. Your contributions to society over decades of service will count for naught with party brass. Your informed, moderating voice will never be heard. Your ability to see the gray in every situation will never be there to counter the black and white of the extremists. And the people who think like you, who are decent, common folk with no particular axe to grind will never have your voice speaking for them and working for them.

However if you contribute nothing of value to society other than being a frothing-at-the-mouth rabid partisan you have a shot. If you appeal to the worst extremes (on either side) you have a shot.  If your only qualification is that you are not “the other guy” you have a shot. (And if there was ever any doubt, President Trump endorsing Roy Moore simply because he’s not a Democrat proves the point beyond debate.)

While the US is clearly a leader in this particular dysfunction we have numerous Canadian politicians who also view the world through that same “us or them” lens, all the while bemoaning the fact that political participation, particularly among young people, is at an all time low and sinking like a stone. And I'm afraid we are only a few election cycles behind our friends to the south before it becomes endemic to our political process as well.

It really is a depressing state of affairs.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Can’t ignore the signs…

We’ve had such a fabulous fall we got lulled into believing (with just a little bit of wishful thinking involved) that winter was still far, far off. Well, yesterday morning proved that wrong with a smattering of snow on the ground and temperatures of -10C (-25C with the wind chill). And today is even colder.

So now I’m looking at next week when temperatures may reach the lofty heights of 4C or 5C to take the bikes for a short warm-up run in preparation for their fall oil changes.

Meantime I’m getting everything else ready to go. The tractor has been serviced and tire chains installed. The big snow blower is checked, lubed and ready to hook on and go. An old walk-behind snow blower that was recently given to me (gotta love great neighbours) has been tuned up and is waiting anxiously to prove its mettle with the first big blow.

The last of the garden ornaments have been tucked away, along with various and sundry pots, deck chairs, and all the other ‘stuff’ that gets dragged out each spring at the first sign of nice weather.  The vegetable gardens have been turned over and next year’s garlic crop is in the ground, ready for the big chill. The wood shed is full and snow tires installed.

Now all that’s left (other than the oil changes) is to clean the shop/garage of all the summer clutter so that this winter’s projects can begin in earnest. Let it snow – I’ll be warm and busy.


Monday 6 November 2017

Zombie Law

According to the this news item an Ontario legislator has tabled a bill, dubbed the “zombie law”, that would make crossing the street while looking at your cell phone illegal, with scofflaws being fined $50 and up depending on the number of times they have been caught in flagrant disregard of yet another Nanny-state incursion into the realm of legislating stupid.

zombie phone

This province is certainly not alone in this regard but few jurisdictions seem to have the same degree of enthusiasm for protecting us from ourselves as Ontario does. Liquor laws are still firmly set in the immediate post-prohibition years where it was felt the population could not possibly control their thirst (pun intended) for the demon rum. Several years ago an attempt was made to limit motorcycle passengers to 14 years of age and older for “safety” reasons. (Blogged about here. Fortunately the bill did not become law but it was a close thing. ) Periodically legislation is floated (so far only as a trial balloon) that would see already legally-required helmeted bicyclists subject to training, testing, licensing, and insurance, again for “safety” reasons. And recently an intoxicated canoeist was charged with “impaired driving” which is a criminal offense and which could result in the loss of driving privileges if he was found guilty.

The one thing these laws, and countless others just like them, have in common is that they are all attempts to stop a few idiots from doing stupid things. Except that the broad legislative brush treats everyone the same as the idiots, whether they are guilty or not.

So here’s an idea. Scrap all these individual laws and replace them with a common sense law, something along the lines of “If you do something stupid you’re on your own, pal. And if society has to pay to rescue, resuscitate, rehabilitate, or, if all else fails, inter you, you’ll be getting a bill.”

In other words, let Darwin do his work unencumbered while making sure the taxpayer isn’t on the hook. Much cleaner, and we improve the gene pool as well.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

One thing leads to another.

There’s probably a famous quote by some renowned philosopher on the subject of how one small action can have a ripple effect far beyond expectations. I think I once read something about the unintended consequences of a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo – or maybe that was Godzilla.  But, whatever, I couldn’t find it so you’re stuck with “One thing leads to another”. Just imagine someone famous said it. Or something like it.

As my loyal followers know, a little over a year ago I acquired, for the princely sum of a bottle of great Canadian whisky (Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest – if you haven’t tried it, treat yourself. You’ll be happy you did.) a 1981 Kawasaki 440LTD. It had issues but since then I have sorted out the carburation problems and got it running, fixed the safety items like tires and fork seals, and it is now licensed and on the road. However there are still a few things I want to do to it cosmetically, including fixing the tank.

There’s really nothing wrong with the tank except for a largish dent in the side and a few deep scratches in the paint. My plan was to repair it myself and paint it over the winter (kind of partial to Jade Green), drawing heavily on the expertise of a friend who’s past life includes years as an autobody technician and who passes his spare time these days hand sanding his 1969 Barracuda Notchback in preparation for a trip to the paint shop some day soon. I think he’s down to 1200 grit wet by now.

Be that as it may, being the consummate professional I wanted to make sure I had a Plan B in place for when I screwed up the tank beyond salvage. So I started looking for a good used tank in all the usual places – eBay, Kijiji, Craig’s List. In the process I discovered there are lots of used tanks out there that already look like the anticipated outcome of my Plan A (in which case I could do that myself) and those that didn’t were outrageously expensive.

Then I discovered, quite by accident, a fellow who had 2 – count ‘em – 2 good used tanks for sale at a very reasonable price and he was only a couple of hours’ drive away. And, best of all, the tanks came with the rest of the motorcycles still attached!

So it was that yesterday found me on a 500-kilometre road trip to check them out. The bikes (and tanks) were as specified and generally in very good condition for being 35-plus years old. One is an ‘82 and the other is an ‘83 but most of the parts for those years are interchangeable so I would have many, many options that would result in two, if not three, serviceable motorcycles at the end of the day. And so, after a bit of negotiation and the requisite transfer of funds, they were duly loaded up and I was on my way home, having just tripled the size of my Kawasaki fleet.


But now the garage is full so I really must stop checking out used bike sales for a while.


Tuesday 24 October 2017

“It’s just a jump to the left…”

There’s a local radio station here that plays a pretty eclectic mix of music, all wrapped around rural favourites such as radio bingo,  how many people attended Mabel’s 90th birthday celebrations and from how far afield (“Mabel’s third cousin once removed on her mother’s side, Ernestine, travelled all the way from Pembroke (about 50 miles) to partake of the festivities…” ), the current price of hogs, and Elspeth’s recipe of the day (Grandma’s amazing meatloaf made from kitchen scraps).

There’s a lot of country, and Sunday is full of gospel music. (Which is why I don’t usually tune in on a Sunday.) Canadian icon Stompin’ Tom figures prominently and there’s even a patriotic song of the day which is typically some sappy tune invoking images of rocks and trees and rocks and whatever....

But what I like about the station is you never know what they are going to play next. It could be the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine or a yodel tune by Cindi Lauper.

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to hear this blast from the past.

Took me back a ways to the mid-70s when, I think it was probably our second or third date, I took the (now) missus to a house party hosted by one of my fellow motorcycle safety program trainers. A typical party of the time, there was lots of beer being consumed and the hippie lettuce was being passed around generously. The Rocky Horror Picture Show had just come out and when someone put this song on the stereo and all these strangers immediately leapt up and started doing the Time Warp, singing along at full throat, I think she began having some serious doubts about this particular group of people, me included. But we persevered and soon won her over to the dark side.

Anyway, with that memory firmly in mind I was happily singing along, poorly, but with gusto, as I was driving into town. It was only later in the day I realised how lucky I was to not have been in Montreal where this guy just got a $149 ticket for singing in his car; Time Warp would be worth at least twice that.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Perseverance pays off

A while back I posted (here) about a hazardous road situation I was trying to get corrected. Well, it took some escalation, a few conversations, and several more emails but finally the county took corrective action, albeit in a sort of using-a-sledgehammer-to-kill-a-fly way.

All I wanted was to have some signage erected to warn that the pavement ends and the road becomes gravel after the intersection. The intent was that would slow riders enough so that when they hit the gravel they would be able to do so under control.

The county’s first effort was a dismal failure, but their second attempt will have the desired effect, even if it is, in my opinion, overkill.


Hopefully pulling errant motorcyclists out of the ditch at this intersection will now be a thing of the past. And all I have to do is contend with all my rural neighbours who are now pissed at me because there’s yet another stop sign to deal with on their drive home. But they’re not likely to stop anyway, so I’m not too worried.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

A short’ish ride and a mystery

After a summer that never really got established we’ve had a late season run of spectacular weather. But we also know it won’t continue indefinitely. So when the tasks I needed to do today (winter prep the tractor) were done I took a long way ‘round ride into Arnprior for a few maintenance items and a Timmy’s coffee. As you can see from the map it wasn’t the most direct route, but 140 km of country road on a sunny warm day is never a bad thing.

Dunrobin loop

While I was out and about I came across this apparently abandoned house. I couldn’t get close as it was off the road a ways but it’s unfinished appearance got me thinking about shattered dreams. Why was it unfinished? Did someone die? Did a marriage break up? A bankruptcy? The possibilities are many and the speculation lends an aura of mystery to the building.

P1020658 (2)

But when I got home I looked more closely at the photo. There are some signs of activity around the place with a truck out back and curtains in some windows. The weeds growing on the roof look like they might be intentional, as in a sod roof. The edge of the roof looks like it consists of weathered boards to hold back soil and the heavy log rafters are there to support the weight.  On closer inspection the walls seem to be plaster or perhaps concrete spread between vertical risers of some sort. Plus, the real giveaway, a truly abandoned building in these parts wouldn’t have a single window intact and graffiti would be scrawled on every flat surface.

P1020660 (2)

So what do we have here, a derelict building or a back-to-the-earth type, environmentally conscious, nouveau construction technique, residence? (If the latter I’d love to know how they got a building permit.)

And another clue – Google’s satellite image (undated) of the area shows no building in that location.  But if it has a grass roof would it look any different from the surrounding fields?


Monday 2 October 2017

Sad of heart

I am saddened beyond words at the senseless violence that occurred in Las Vegas yesterday. The dead will feel pain no longer but their families and loved ones will have to bear the burden of this terrible crime for the rest of their lives. Likewise the wounded, their friends and families, the first responders, the medical staffs at dozens of hospitals, and other concert goers just out for a fun night of entertainment will all be dealing with the demons of Sunday night for years to come.

And for this to happen in Las Vegas, “America’s playground”, where thousands of visitors were peacefully enjoying an outdoors concert, makes it even more troubling. People go there to have fun, not to be indiscriminately slaughtered by some madman with a grudge and a few thousand rounds of ammo.

We may never know what set Stephen Paddock off on his murderous rampage, but one sad fact is that while he was possibly the most successful mass murderer in modern US history he has plenty of company. 9 out of every 10 days, somewhere in the US, there’s a mass shooting (defined as having 4 or more victims). That’s more than 1500 events in the past 5 years.

That such a great country, populated by intelligent, caring people, can foster an environment where so many think the answer to everything is to pick up a gun and start shooting, frankly baffles the rest of the civilized world. And for politicians, even in the blood-soaked shadow of such a horror, to seriously consider a further loosening of already weak gun laws, is unfathomable to any person of sound mind. And yet it happens again… and again…. and again…

There’s a saying that a doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient, but in this case, for this particular sickness, only America can and must treat itself. And for all my friends and family members in the US I can only hope they finally recognize the cancer within and take the political actions necessary to start the recovery.

Saturday 16 September 2017


We are currently enjoying one of the nicest stretches of weather since last summer (and I’m referring to 2016 here). It’s been a week of temperatures in the high 20s with no rain. Perfect weather for riding.

And today was no exception.

Now that I have the little Kawasaki more or less sorted I’ve been casting about for my next project to keep me occupied over the winter and one of these for sale in the local Kijiji caught my eye, an ‘84 VT500 Interceptor.


I admired them back in the day so I thought, “better late than never”. The bike for sale didn’t look this clean in the ad but it was supposedly complete and running, came with a spare donor cycle, and was price negotiable. So I decided to go have a look and combine that with a nice ride on a hot, sunny, September day.

All was going well until Richmond where I ran smack into a parade that totally blocked my route. The oh-so-helpful police officer that was directing traffic gave me, another biker, and a lady in an SUV, instructions on how to get around the parade. Which put us in a working gravel pit. I guess he really didn’t know the town that well. After a few other false starts and u-turns on dead-end streets we all decided to just wait it out, which we did.

After 15 minutes or so I was back on the road and soon at my destination.

The owner was a young’ish lad who bought the bike with the intention of putting it on the road but became a bit overwhelmed with the amount of work it would take, to say nothing of the $$ required. He was right to be concerned. It doesn’t appear to need any major surgery but will require lots of TLC – certainly more than I’m willing to put in.  And with the engine and 4 carbs all shoe-horned into an impossibly small space in the frame, they are notoriously tough to work on. So I think I'm going to pass on this one but will keep looking for something simpler.

But then, while having a quick lunch at a nearby Tim Horton’s, one of these showed up.


It has been a long time since I last saw a Water Buffalo (Suzuki GT 750) and this one was pristine. 39 years old and it looked like it came straight off the showroom floor. Not a scratch on it. The owner claims he bought it like this a few years back and all he did was clean it up. It’s all original – paint, exhaust, etc., everything but the tires. He didn’t want to sell it; said it was his favourite to ride. Bummer.

After a pleasant parking lot chat it was back on the road again, taking a slightly longer route home. And four-and-a-half hours and 230 kilometres after heading out this morning I was having a refreshing swim in the lake to cap off a great day.

Manotick loop

Tuesday 12 September 2017

There is no solution…

… so simple that the bureaucrats can’t screw it up.

This is a Google Maps satellite image of an intersection near our house.

Bellamy intersection gravel

The through road, coming from the bottom and exiting top left, is posted at 80 kilometres per hour. At the red line, at the apex of a curve, the surface changes, without warning, from newly-paved to loose gravel.

Two months ago the missus and I pulled a rider and his motorcycle out of the ditch on the far side of the intersection. He lost control when he hit the gravel at speed. He was a bit banged up – cuts and bruises – but otherwise okay. His bike was rideable after we bent a few things back into place. He was lucky and was able to ride home.

Three weeks ago, two other riders collided in that same spot when they both went down after hitting the gravel unexpectedly. Both were injured, one seriously enough that he had to be medevaced by helicopter to an Ottawa hospital.

CaptureAfter the first accident I contacted the township of Mississippi Mills, in which jurisdiction this intersection falls, suggesting that this, or a similar, sign be posted giving riders advance notice that the pavement is about to end. Their response? Mississippi Mills is only responsible for the road beginning where the gravel starts and so they couldn’t post such a sign because the location where the sign should go (marked by an “X” on the above photo) was on a county road.

When the second accident happened I contacted the county – Lanark Highlands – to see about getting a pavement ends sign put up. I spoke to the Superintendent of Public Works who advised that they were aware of the situation and it would be remedied in a few days.

Here’s their solution. At the spot marked with the “X” on the aerial photo they put up this sign.


An astute observer will note that the diagram bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual geometry of the curve; it’s a simple curve, not an “S” bend, and the intersecting road is off to the right, not the left. The 20 km/h is an advisory only, ignored by every road user in the province except big rig truckers with tippy loads. They also put a stop sign on the gravel road side of the intersection, which serves no useful purpose whatsoever as the problem occurs with riders transitioning from pavement to gravel at speed, not vice versa. But worse than all that, there is still no warning about a surface change, which is all I asked for in the first place.

I have tried to point out the errors and request, again, a simple pavement ends sign, but I now appear to be on the shit list as I get no response to emails or phone calls to the county. However I will continue to escalate and hopefully this will be fixed before someone dies because of simple bureaucratic ineptitude. Stay tuned....

Monday 4 September 2017

Any job worth doing is worth doing twice. (II)

Unfortunately I seem to be making a practice of this.

IMG_20160925_113842892webAfter no activity for a few months I am now making some progress on getting the little Kawasaki roadworthy, and one of the main jobs was to replace the tires. Now a previous owner had done just that, but it was 18 years ago. Although the tires looked brand new, the rubber was hard and the sidewalls cracked, so they had to go.

So new tires on the floor and tire irons in hand I tackled the job. 4 hours later…..

Let’s just say it was a bear to break the beads. It was like the rubber had vulcanized right into the pores of the cast wheels. But finally, using a lot of creativity, a bottle jack, a few 2X4’s, and the tractor for weight, the old tires were off and the new were on.

At the time I considered changing the valve stems but that would require another trip into the city and a couple more days’ delay. Besides, the old tires were holding air just fine so they were probably okay.

Next day the front tire was flat. Yup, the valve stem was leaking, presumably after being disturbed during the tire change. So another trip into the city for a new stem, dismount the wheel, remove the tire, etc., etc.


You think I’d learn.

Wednesday 16 August 2017


As part of the Canada 150 celebrations the National Capital Region engaged Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal to create an exhibit reflecting Canada’s history and diversity. The end result is a spectacular kilometer-long walk through some stunning horticultural sculpture.

We’d been meaning to visit and finally got around to it today. We were blown away by the artistry and attention to detail – all done in various types of plants, grasses, mosses, and so on to provide the texture and colour the artists desired. It is reported that 3 million plants of 80 different varieties were required to create this magical garden.

problem neighbour Aside from seeing the odd trimmed cedar in a front yard I’d never paid much attention to this art form. Supposedly all the rage in Victorian times it had fallen out of favour but is now making a modest comeback.

It is, understandably, extremely labour intensive and expensive (reported cost – $10 million to put on this particular exhibit of 100+ sculptures) so don’t expect to see this type of exhibit  too often. But if you ever get the chance to visit one, go for it, as these examples were truly beautiful.

Walls and roof of 'station' covered with mosses.

Canadian Pacific train crossing the Prairies. Life-sized and all plants.

Inukshuk and puffins.

Copy of a famous Orca sculpture by BC’s Bill Reid.

Inukshuk and polar bear.



Celebration of Canada’s links to China.


Mother Earth. She’s probably 30’ high.

Not horticultural art but still amazing creations by a British artist (forget her name) who uses driftwood as her medium.

All in all a great way to spend the day. Best of all, it was free. (Worst of all was the $53 parking ticket I got because I misread the sign. The fact that there was actually a free space should have been my first clue. Sigh.)

Friday 4 August 2017

Tinfoil and vinegar

I decided it was finally time to get down to doing some work on the Kawasaki. A while back I had cleaned and rebuilt the carbs. (One of the POs – don’t know which – ‘forgot’ to replace a few small parts like springs and such and mis-installed a few others, proving once again that some people should never be allowed near tools.) Not surprisingly, once the carbs were set up properly it fired right up and ran well. Since the heart seemed strong it was now worth my time and effort to get it into reasonable shape to pass a safety check and, ultimately, get it licensed.

IMG_0140Fork seals were leaking and the clutch cable was frayed. The exhaust system was also leaking. And just overall, the bike looked ratty, which could trigger a more detailed safety inspection that I wanted.

Seals were easy to replace, as was the clutch cable (although very messy as it’s routed next to the front sprocket and is therefore subject to a lot of chain lube spray). A new, less radical, set of bars was obtained (surprising how many new parts are still available for a 35-year-old motorcycle), and the air box was replaced by 2 separate air filters.

IMG_0077But I wasn’t sure how to proceed with cleaning up all the surface rust on every chrome surface. As you can see from this shot of part of the rear fender it was pretty ugly. And every chrome surface was similar. Enter Google and YouTube where I discovered that a bit of tinfoil dipped in vinegar would remove that surface rust and leave the chrome, if not pristine, at least shiny.

I was pretty skeptical but decided to give it a try.


Et voila! Worked like a charm. The chrome is still pitted and will rust again if left to the elements, but the improvement is remarkable.


And just to highlight the difference, one muffler has been cleaned up and the second has yet to be touched. That’s tomorrow’s job.


So who knows? I might get this thing on the road this summer after all.

Saturday 29 July 2017

La Machine

La Machine is a street theatre company from France known for it’s larger-than-life mythical mechanical creatures. (

Never having heard of them before I was intrigued when I heard that they were making their North American debut here in Ottawa, and so we decided to head downtown today to see them in action.

Of course, so did a few hundred thousand other people (it seemed), resulting in quite a crush as folks tried to jockey for position to see these creatures up close and get that perfect photo. One of our small group suggested that going up into a parking garage might give us a better vantage point and so we did. Fortunately for us it turned out that the machines – Kumo and Long Ma - would eventually come right past us. Good call Max!

It was quite a spectacle, and a great way to enjoy one of the first really nice days we’ve had this year – on my birthday no less.

Monday 10 July 2017

Getting motivated … or not.


Day after day we continue to be deluged with near-record rainfall. May was about 3 times normal accumulations, June came in at about double normal, and we’ve already had a normal July’s worth of rain and we’re just 1/3 of the way through the month. Golf has been rained out more often than not and riding hasn’t fared much better with only a few hundred kilometres put on the bike since I got it – about 4 fill-ups worth. Our garden is drowning and all I’ve done with the boat this year is bail it out – several times. And if one does decide to venture out of doors the fact that mosquitoes and black flies are breeding at a rate previously unheard of for this time of year will drive you back inside in short order. Depressing seems too mild a term.

IMG_0050Instead there’s been a lot of indoors activity, including adding to my collection of ‘some day’ projects.

As some may know I’ve started making cigar box guitars just for fun. Up until now they have been acoustic only because I didn’t have an amp. That changed Sunday when I picked up a gently used practice amp that will allow me to start putting pick-ups in my guitars and test them out. I have a few that now need to return to the workbench to be modified and they have been added to the projects list.

IMG_0135I also scored a vintage Singer treadle machine base on Sunday. Not sure what I’ll do with it just yet (the most obvious solution is to make it into a table, but I have some other ideas as well). It’s intact but for the pitman arm which is missing and I’ll need to make a replacement for that. On this particular model the arm was made from wood so I should be able to create a reasonable approximation from some scrap oak or maple. That’s another project for another day.

Now I just need to get motivated to “git ‘er done”, as the locals would say, and start finishing some of the dozens of other small projects I have underway.