Thursday 5 December 2019

Messing about with electricity

I know. I know. One does not simply "mess about" with electricity, as to do so one invites disaster(s) of immeasurable proportion. Or so I'm told.

But still, when most of the dozens of YouTube videos on the subject start with, "Do not try this at home..." one has to discover what it's all about.

And how better to discover than by doing.

So being well aware that "A SIMPLE MISTAKE CAN KILL YOU!" I tried my hand at making Lichtenberg figures.

Step 1 - find an old microwave oven. And where else but the dump?

Step 2 - I pulled the guts out, minding that the capacitor was fully discharged (another thing that can, apparently, kill you), and then removed the transformer which was to become my power supply for this experiment.

Now the risk when using a microwave transformer is, obviously, getting a shock. However when you have 2,000 volts delivering 500 milliamps, it's more than a tingle; it's an electrocution. Hence all the red flags and DON'T TRY THIS warnings.

Step 3 - So, fully informed of the risks, and with multiple levels of safety including a large physical separation and an (unfortunately named) deadman switch, I tried it out on a couple of cherrywood scraps I had lying about.

For a first attempt I'm pretty happy.

There are other, less dangerous, power sources that can also be used - just not as readily available as dump-find microwave transformers. So while this was fun I don't think I'll tempt fate again until I can find a safer option. But the end result will make the search worthwhile.

Saturday 12 October 2019

It never gets old

Enjoying the fall colours, that is.

I’ve circled the sun more times than I care to count and every year I am still awed by the wonderful show Mother Nature puts on for us in the fall.

This year the colours have seemed especially vivid and, given a 13-degree, sunny day, there was nothing to do but take a ride to enjoy them before the inevitable autumn winds and rain turn this particular palette to drab gray.

With no destination in mind I simply followed my nose and explored an area I don’t know too well, west and north of Calabogie.

The little jog south to Ompah took me to a dead-end at Norcan Lake and the Mountain Chute hydro dam.

On that stretch I came upon a coyote, just standing on the edge of the road eating a sandwich. True. I expect some workers in the area must have tossed the remains of a lunch out the window and he found it. I watched him eat while I slowly tried to get my camera out, but before I could an oncoming car spooked him and off he went, sandwich and all, into the woods. You’ll have to settle for this image instead.

After that interesting little interlude I backtracked and swung west and then north to Griffith on  Centennial Lake Road. The roads in that area are narrow and twisty as they meander through and around dozens of lakes and swamps. And although they are rough in places it was a good opportunity to let the horses out and enjoy some spirited riding.  Fortunately I encountered very few other vehicles so it was a great run for 30 or 40 kilometers.

However, once I hit Hwy 41 that all changed. From there it was pretty much a straight shot into Renfrew and very busy. Few places to pass and lots of traffic demanded a more sedate pace. Which wasn’t entirely a bad thing as I had a chance to sightsee and enjoy the views as the highway skirted Mount St. Patrick and the highlands.

It was a great day, and I now have a nice little 215 km loop that I can do again, although next time I’ll skip the Mountain Chute dead-end.

Friday 4 October 2019


I suppose back in the early 80s these bikes were considered cool with their pullback bars and sit-up-and-beg stepped seats, but in truth they’re an ergonomic nightmare in stock trim – especially for a 6-footer.

So flat bars were the first change but I had trouble finding a seat option that didn’t involve cutting and welding a new frame loop in place for a different type seat - and I hate the idea of chopping up old motorcycles. But I finally found one that uses the stock seat pan but a different shaped foam and replacement cover.

Fortunately the seat pan was still in great shape and all it needed was a shot of paint.

Then I put on the new foam and cover.

And voila. It’s been too cold to ride (7C is too cold – I’m a wimp.) so I’ve only had a chance to sit on it in the drive, but it’s sure a lot more comfortable and doesn’t feel nearly as cramped. And I think it looks better too.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Back at 'er

I know I haven’t been spending much time online lately, (with one exception: but I have excuses.

We had some nuptials in the family in September and they happened at our house. So many, many hours were spent trying to pretty up the joint for the big event. And we were away for a while on an Alaska cruise out of Vancouver, visiting Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Then there’s golf, riding, and … etc. Let’s just say I was busy enjoying our all-too-brief summer.

But now with the cooler weather and turning leaves it’s time to refocus on projects that have been neglected for the past few months, the main one being the second Kawasaki.

Since I last posted an update the new bearing and seals arrived and were installed with minimal fuss. The engine was put back in the frame, with maximum fuss (!). And then all the odd bits like carbs, battery box, starter, exhaust system, etc., etc. were reinstalled. Much to my surprise I remembered how most of it fit together and had to refer to the shop manual only rarely. (When all else fails, RTFM - it’s a guy thing.) Even more surprising, I had no random parts left over.

It seems to run fine just up and down our lane, but a proper road test is still required. Since I have neither license nor insurance for it the logistics have still to be worked out. But I’m optimistic!

It’ll be nice to get it done.

Tuesday 17 September 2019

A Woman of No Importance - a review

I first came across this book last year, and the subtitle, “The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II”, caught my eye. It took a while but I finally got to read it last week. And what a story!

Born in 1906, Virginia Hall was a Baltimore socialite who travelled the world extensively and looked forward to a career in the Foreign Service. An unfortunate hunting accident in Turkey in 1932 resulted in her losing part of her left leg and dashed her prospects with the Foreign Service. Undeterred, she continued to travel and found herself in Paris at the start of the Second World War.

During the early months of the war she volunteered as an ambulance driver in France and then in 1940 she made her way back to England. Her love of France, however, made her want to return to be part of the fight. And so, after many roadblocks and rejections because she was a woman – and a handicapped one at that – she finally accomplished her objective, to join the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and return to Vichy France to assist in the war effort.

For the next 15 months she gathered intelligence and recruited and coordinated resistance efforts in Vichy France. When Germany seized all of France in 1942 she narrowly escaped by walking (wooden leg and all) across the Pyrenees to Spain, where she was promptly arrested. Eventually released, she returned to London in 1943 and then back to the USA.

Once in the States, she joined the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and requested to be sent back to France. From March 1944 until Allied forces arrived in September, she identified drop zones for weapons and allied commandos, trained Resistance forces in tactics and guerrilla warfare, found safe houses, and maintained radio links with the UK, providing valuable intelligence to assist in the Normandy landings.

This is the story of those harrowing years, the constant fear and expectation of being caught and tortured, the challenges she faced as a woman in a man’s world (France, 1940s), and her incredible bravery throughout. Virginia Hall was a true hero and her contribution to the allied war effort can never be fully appreciated.

It’s an excellent read and highly recommended for anyone with an interest in WW II.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Well that explains it.

Way back in April ( I posted about a final drive issue with the Kawasaki motor I’m currently working on. I removed the engine (lots of twisting, wiggling, and cursing involved – along with a beer or two) but then it sat on my bench for a long time whilst other priorities took precedence. I finally got back to it the other day.

With the crankcase removed the problem became evident. One of the cages in the caged bearing had split and the balls were loose in the race. It’s not clear to me how long it had been like that but fortunately it seems the only damage was to the oil seal which was torn by the broken cage. Everything else in there looks good.

So now, with a new bearing and oil seal on order, it still sits on the bench until I can start reassembly – hopefully in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Finally! A ride report.

Between the weather (which has sucked!) and other obligations (far too many!) there wasn’t a lot of riding happening here this spring. Today made up for it.

The stars finally aligned in that I had a whole afternoon with nothing critical to do, and good weather. So I got to go for a nice, long (310 km) ride.

I didn’t have a destination in mind, only that I’d head up towards Eganville and follow my nose from there. When I stopped for a break and checked my map I realised Foymount was just down the road a piece. My brother will recognise these pics as he was stationed at CFS Foymount before the base was closed and sold off in 1974. There are people living and working there still, but the base itself is pretty decrepit, not at all the well-manicured CF base I recall from many years ago when I was stationed just down the road at CFB Petawawa and would sometimes visit. But the sign was nice!

From there I headed north, through Killaloe and up around Round Lake towards Pembroke. Just outside Alice I came across this sign, familiar to all Valley Heritage Radio listeners. “We don’t do windows and we don’t do doors” says their ad.

Of course I had to stop for a pic to prove I was there. But I didn’t buy anything, especially no windows or doors.

With a few short exceptions the roads were in great shape with practically no traffic, so 110-120 in an 80 zone was no problem. Just a great day of riding.

Then I came to this at roadside.

I was tempted to follow the sign but then I thought that I was having such a nice day of riding it would be a shame to spoil it with a rejection at the gates. So instead I stopped for some cool refreshments at the local country store and headed home. With a smile!

Monday 8 July 2019

Nickeled and dimed...

It’s become a sad fact of modern life that the price is NEVER the price. Airline seat sale prices pull you in until you realise “the deal” will cost you as much in extras as you thought you were saving, everything from baggage charges to airport fees and fuel surcharges. The Las Vegas hotels comp your room but then add a mandatory “resort fee”. Our electricity provider charges a separate delivery fee. (No thanks, I’ll pick my power up at the electricity store.) Even the post office tacks on a fuel surcharge. It makes me crazy.

What brought this to mind was I just found a hotel invoice for our golf trip to Niagara in May. We got a good room rate (we thought) at $60 a night. But the ten add-ons - facility fees, mandatory charges, taxes on all of it, plus a municipal accommodation tax - pushed it up over $100 a night.

Now I know many of these charges do not accrue to the hotel but rather various levels of government, and the hotel wants its customers to understand where the money is going, but seriously?  And pity the poor desk clerk trying to explain all that to an irate client (me) whose budget has just been blown. There has to be a better way.

Friday 28 June 2019

Non-smoking home

I (sort of) follow a number of Facebook marketplace sites where people advertise everything from furniture to used makeup to garbage bags full of clothing (“All boys, size 6”). Truth be told it’s mostly junk, but every so often something catches my eye, like this 12” cast-iron fish. (I know, one man’s junk….)

A bit of a cleanup and a coat of paint and it could be worthy addition to my collection of garden art. Of course the seller would have to reduce their asking price by about 50%, but maybe.

What intrigued me though was the vendor felt it necessary to describe the fish (remember, it’s cast iron) as being from a “non-smoking home”. Really? How much second-hand smoke do you think a chunk of cast-iron can absorb? Your entire family could smoke until your house smelled like a blast furnace and no one would ever know it from the fish. Besides, it’s probably spent its entire life outdoors.

I don't really understand why this irks me, but it does. And it's pervasive. Of course, furniture and fabrics of any kind, they do absorb the smell and it’s good to know that won’t be a concern. But for pots and pans, dishes and cutlery, metals of all kinds, porcelains, and even bricks (yup – used interlocking bricks from a “smoke-free home”) it’s just plain dumb.

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.

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.

Friday 19 April 2019

Starting to itch

Here we are again, in April. Finally, after a long winter, we’re starting to see some relief from the cold. The snow is mostly gone and the sun’s heat warms the soul. But there’s still enough frost in the ground that paved roads are randomly buckled and pot-holed and gravel roads turn into a kind of gumbo that sticks to every exposed surface like cement. Frequent rains, sometimes torrential, swell the creeks and rivers to overflowing, but haven’t yet washed enough sand, salt, and other debris off the roads to make two-wheeled travel any less exciting. And periods of below freezing temperatures and multi-centimetre snowfalls can still surprise at any time. In short, April’s capricious weather can drive one to drink, sometimes making it seem the longest month of the year.

Yet some are riding, mostly city folk who venture out on the four-lane and back again, but not many. The rest are using the time to get their bike(s) ready for a new season, changing oil, charging batteries, checking everything twice. And then it’s a matter of wait, wait, wait, until the rains stop and the roads clear up. And try to ignore the itch.

Sunday 14 April 2019

A special guest

Our small rural area is home to a vibrant community centre. Managed by locals for the benefit of locals, the centre hosts all the usual sorts of events and activities one would expect – euchre groups, yoga classes, dinners, a garden club, and so on. It’s a busy place.

But yesterday was extra special. The Live ‘n Learn group had arranged for a visit by an Ottawa historian and author, Tim Cook. Tim is the Great War historian at the Canadian War Museum and the author of numerous books focused on Canadian military history, for which he has received many awards, including the Order of Canada.

I first came across his work several years ago when I was given a copy of At The Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1914-1916.  Having greatly enjoyed that book I proceeded to acquire additional volumes and now I can say I have read most of them, including his most recent, The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War, which I reviewed here. I am a big fan.

So I was very much looking forward to meeting Tim and hearing him talk about his research and his writing. And he did not disappoint, keeping us all enthralled as he talked about his latest book and took the audience back to what life was like for those young men during those terrible years.

The time flew by far too quickly, but to have such an accomplished individual come and spend even a few hours with us was indeed a pleasure. Thanks Tim.

Saturday 23 March 2019

Dear Abby

Dear Abby: I just finished rebuilding my master cylinder and I have a piece left over. Why do manufacturers always use more parts than needed? Signed: Give me a brake.

Dear Give Me A Brake: It’s brakes, you moron. Do it again, and this time RTFM (read the f$^%$^# manual). Who let you loose with tools anyway? Signed: Abby.

Thursday 28 February 2019

A Canadian scandal

Like many Canadians who follow politics I have been consumed by the bizarro world that Washington inhabits these days, Canadian politics being dull and boring in comparison. However we now have our very own home-grown scandal upon which to focus our attention.

First, some background. SNC-Lavalin is a large, international engineering firm based in Quebec. They have a history of dodgy business dealings and are currently either in court or under investigation for various offences including bribery of Libyan officials under the Gadhafi regime. Previously the company lobbied hard for a deferred prosecution agreement to be established in law (essentially a get out of jail free card) to protect it from further repercussions related to these offenses. Dutifully, and somewhat shadily, the Liberal government passed such a law a couple of years ago. (This kind of law is currently in place in the USA and Great Britain, so it’s not unique in that regard.)

SNC-Lavalin, facing these charges of corruption and fraud, have now been pushing hard for the federal government to use that deferred prosecution agreement option to allow it to avoid prosecution. But the auditor-general and her staff, having done their own research, felt the law didn’t apply in this case and proceeded with the legal process.

As the story develops, the Prime Minister, his key advisors, and some other Cabinet members, all subsequently applied unrelenting pressure upon the auditor-general, Jody-Wilson Raybould, (who was also the Minister of Justice) to go easy on SNC-Lavalin and give them the easy out. One of the main reasons proffered  was that damaging a Quebec-based company the size of SNC-Lavalin would hurt the electoral prospects of the governing Liberal party in the province.

But she refused, and insisted the legal action should continue.

For this she was demoted from her position as justice minister and shuffled off to a more junior position in Cabinet, leading to her subsequent resignation. (Effectively a constructive dismissal.)

After weeks of speculation, the details of this sordid mess came out yesterday in a she-said, they-said series of appearances before a parliamentary committee, public statements by various principal actors, tweets, re-tweets, accusations, rebuttals, and mud-slinging. (Sound familiar so far?)

Now Jody Wilson-Raybould, while accomplished, is likely no saint herself. (She is a politician, after all.) Though she is lauded by some as a hero for standing up against a white male dominated “system” (she is also Aboriginal) there is still a question as to whether her passionate defense of her position is more a matter of integrity or vengeance.

Probably some of both, but that doesn’t really matter.

What matters is the independence of the attorney-general and the scrupulous avoidance of any real or perceived political interference in the Canadian justice system. And that line has been clearly crossed in this instance. It was crossed when the Prime Minister and his acolytes (who do have the right and responsibility to lobby in support of their constituents) refused to take “no” for an answer and continued, and in fact escalated, the pressure on the auditor-general and her staff. And it was crossed again when the Prime Minister demoted her from a job which she was, reportedly, doing well to a lesser position, to be replaced by a, presumably, more agreeable Quebec minister.

Of course the opposition parties feel like it’s Christmas all over again and they’ve just been given the gift that keeps on giving. So this is sure to consume many, many more days of recriminations, counter charges, explanations, excuses, and personal attacks, not to mention charges of sexism and racism, sprayed around like water from a firehose.

All in all it smacks of the most Trumpian of politics. Sad.

Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould in sunnier times (Photo: Canadian Press)

Wednesday 27 February 2019

True believers

We hear about true believers in many contexts. Faith and politics are the two most common but there’s a third, and that’s technology.

The younger generation(s), those who Gerry Seinfeld once described as “our replacements”, have an inordinate (and unhealthy, in my opinion) belief in the infallibility of electronics. Not unlike the serfs of medieval times for whom the minutiae of daily life was controlled by the local priest, these young people are well and truly lost without an electronic device to provide guidance. And, like the serfs of yore, they rarely question or challenge their modern oracles.

We frequently read (on-line, of course) about drivers who follow their GPS into a swamp, or down a one-way street, the wrong way.

And we’ve all, at one time or another, been confronted by a cashier who is unable to do the most basic of math processes – providing change – when their cash system isn’t working for some reason.

Now, I love technology. I have worked with and on computers since 1966. I’ve owned personal computers since 1980. And if I’m not an early adopter I’ll at least be in the second wave of any new technology. But, really? This unquestioning faith in computers and the infallibility of the designers and programmers behind the scenes baffles me.

What brings this to mind is a recent discussion I had concerning a driver who couldn’t find their destination even though they had a GPS in their car. It seems that the default on the GPS unit was set to the shortest distance, which was via a road that was not maintained during the winter. So when Trixie (or whatever pet name the GPS was assigned) said “turn left” the driver, seeing nothing but a 6-foot high snow bank, continued on straight only to then hear the dreaded “recalculating” and instructions to make a u-turn. Only to be confronted with the same snow bank, on the other side now. It was a classic you-can’t-get-there-from-here scenario, resolved finally by a phone call (via cell phone, of course).

Fortunately someone was there to answer, otherwise the driver would never have known that there was another entrance a bit further along that was kept open during the winter. It just wasn’t Trixie’s preferred shortest route. And, unlike a human, she was not programmed to look at a physical map and work out an alternate route.

All of which is to say, when the zombie apocalypse happens we’ll have nothing to fear if we just hand out paper maps, because they’ll all blow their tiny minds trying to figure out where they are.

Sunday 24 February 2019

No. 2

Well I finally dragged the second 440LTD in from the shed. I decided to go with the '83 belt drive model as it seemed to be in the best and most complete condition. The belt is in good shape which is critical as replacements are near impossible to find. But if needs be I can swap it out for the chain drive off the '82. We’ll see.

A preliminary once-over shows it will need a few things like brakes, new bars, and cosmetic work - lots to do. But before investing any serious time or money I want to make sure it runs. So job 1 was to check out the carbs. Sure enough, one of the diaphragms was torn so it was back out to the shed to pull the carbs off bike no. 3. I was in luck; one of the diaphragms was still good (the second was also torn). This was good news for a number of reasons, not least of which is replacement throttle slides with diaphragm can run upwards of $150 each, used.

Cannibalized a few other carb parts and now I have a complete carb setup that seems in good shape.

The proof will be in the running, of course.

So now it’s time to put enough of the bike together to hopefully (fingers crossed) get it running. With the crappy weather forecast for the next few days perhaps I’ll have some good news in a week or so. Wish me luck.

Friday 22 February 2019

Has the time come for flying cars?

Some time ago I clicked on a link (no idea which one) in Facebook that put me on a list of recipients interested in human-sized drones and flying cars. And it’s now a rare day that goes by without some sponsored ad or video showcasing the latest technology. All of which got me thinking a bit about flying cars and whether they’d ever become a reality in my lifetime.

Flying cars have been predicted as being imminent for at least 50 years now with magazines such as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics leading the charge. For many reasons – cost and technology being but two – they have never really taken off (pun intended).

But that is now all changing, and quickly.

Multi-rotor drones of the type predicted in this 1967 issue are becoming commonplace as toys for hobbyists. They are also being used more and more in support of safety and security and business operations. Working prototypes have been developed that can transport a person some distance, limited only by the capacity of the battery power plant. And battery technology is also advancing at a rapid pace, further improving performance.

Another concern was the skill required to operate such a vehicle. With a majority of the population incapable of safe, focused use of a 4-wheeled motor vehicle operating in two dimensions, one can only imagine the chaos adding a third dimension would create. However, advances in AI for self driving cars will be the saviour here, taking control away from the lipstick-putting-on, texting, yelling-at-the-kids-in-the-back-seat, road-rage-inducing typical driver and putting it in the hands, so to speak, of computers. The only way these machines will fly is if they are capable of operating independently and without human interference.

The major roadblock will be the various well-entrenched bureaucracies such as the FAA and Transport Canada under whose authorities these vehicles would likely operate. Their starting positions will be that autonomous vehicles operating in shared airspace with regulated aircraft is a no-go from the outset. Which is not unreasonable as long as there’s a human behind the wheel/joy stick. But once the computers take charge of critical safety factors such as inter-vehicle clearances, etc., the doors will be well and truly opened for these types of vehicle to begin inhabiting the space above our heads.

Which will then lead to congestion, demands for runway space/landing zones, noise complaints….

Ah, progress.

Thursday 21 February 2019

Montana Canada?

My favourite news aggregator had these two items posted together this morning. One wonders what would happen if both were to occur.

Canada’s redneck province, Alberta, has decided that it’s not getting a fair shake from the Rest of Canada (ROC) leading some to call for separation. This is mainly because, for a variety of legitimate and not so legitimate reasons, initiatives to build more pipeline capacity to move crude oil out of Alberta to tidewater and/or the US have been stalled for years. There is some validity to this argument although there is also the point to be made that the oilcos have significantly increased production without the necessary delivery infrastructure in place, leading to over production and the inevitable downward price pressures that creates. Add to that the fact that successive provincial governments have been fiscally irresponsible, borderline criminal, by not making provisions for the typical boom-bust cycles of resource development and you have a population that feels hard done by, looking over the fence to our southern neighbour as being a more reasonable dance partner than the ROC.

The Montana petition is a slightly different proposition as the proposal is to sell the state to Canada for $1 trillion to help reduce the US national debt. The proposal has attracted interest from residents of the state for a variety of reasons: “Kristen Inbody, a columnist for the Great Falls Tribune in Montana, told CTV Regina she has spoken to a number of residents who listed legal marijuana, healthcare, better tea, and Tim Hortons as potential draws in Canada”.  All worthy objectives to be sure.

While neither proposal has a hope in hell of becoming reality – Alberta separation is the wet dream of a loud-mouthed minority and selling Montana is a joke – I can’t help but think of a scenario where both occur and a separate Alberta finds itself totally surrounded by Canada, with no access to anywhere, while the ROC simply bypasses the country-previously-known-as-Alberta by swinging a few miles to the south. One almost wishes it could happen.

Besides, Montana Canada has a nice ring to it.

Thursday 14 February 2019

What happens in Vegas...

Well, I’m now back from a four-day guys trip to Vegas. While a core group goes yearly for Superbowl weekend, I tag along only periodically. As one would expect there’s usually some golf involved, some drinking involved, some eating involved, and some gambling involved, and this year was no exception. What was the exception was the weather. It was, compared to previous years, dreadful. Freezing temperatures, cold winds, drizzle, and some hail made the golf memorable, even if for all the wrong reasons.  And having to bundle up in layers to go walkabout was not my idea of fun – even if the scantily-clad showgirls on the Strip still managed frozen smiles in hopes of getting tips for photos from parka-clad passersby.

And, as usual, there were the characters. The most memorable for me was the 60-year-old (she told us) female cabbie who entertained us with tales of her grandfather’s golf with Sam Snead, how her grandmother was a rich socialite from Pittsburgh. Married twice, subject to spousal abuse in both cases, divorced, she now has a room-mate (male) who spoils her dogs, softening them up to the extent that the police are no longer afraid to come to her house. Never prejudiced before coming to Las Vegas, she now hates pretty much everyone – and she wasn’t shy about articulating why. And Uber drivers “are the worst”. It was a 20-minute monologue, frequently punctuated by a smoker’s hack, that left one wondering if it was all just an act put on for the rubes.

Then there was a friend’s shuttle driver whose story was he hailed from South LA. A gangbanger gone straight (he says) after a couple of prison stints. He has 9 children by 9 different baby-mamas back in LA. He was married to a “crack whore” but that didn’t last once he found out she was into drugs. He is now remarried but is having trouble with his wife because he refuses to buy a tent for her homeless brother so he’ll have a place to sleep. “He can get a job and buy his own damned tent!” He doesn’t know how long this marriage will last. Perhaps he’ll soon need his own tent. And just what are the qualifications for driving a cab in Las Vegas anyway?

But the strip was as gaudy and glitzy as ever, the new Harley dealership was imposing, the casinos were rowdy, and the drink girls were omnipresent and generous, so it was a good time overall. And a nice break from the bone-chilling temperatures we’d been enjoying (?) in January. Now if only I had more than lint in my wallet when I got home...

Thursday 31 January 2019

The Secret History of Soldiers - a review

I don’t consider myself an expert on the First World War, but I have always had an interest in the human side of that horrific conflagration. Books exploring the soldiers’ experiences in the trenches, behind the lines, and back home fuel my fascination with the incredible sacrifices made by those men (and a few women) in a war, and at a time, that is quickly fading from our collective consciousness.

Some of the very best books I have read in that genre include William Faulks’ Birdsong, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, and Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. There are many others but those come first to mind. And now I can add to that list The Secret History of Soldiers by Tim Cook.

Tim Cook is an historian at the Canadian War Museum and has written several books about the Great War (many of which I have read) but in terms of hitting my sweet spot, this volume nails it. In it he explores (from the flyleaf) “the daily lives of the combatants, how they endured the unimaginable conditions of industrial warfare: the rain of shells, bullets, and chemical agents.”

While not a fictional rendering like the books previously mentioned, The Secret History of Soldiers draws from thousands of letters home, postcards, trench art, and other sources to provide a brief glimpse into life in, and behind, the trenches. With life expectancy at the front often measured in hours and days, Cook describes the ways in which soldiers found the strength to face horrors beyond imagining and “push[ed] back against the grim war, refusing to be broken in the mincing machine of the Western Front.”

Highly recommended.