Saturday, March 29, 2008

Snowed in at Airdrie

OK - that's a bit of an exaggeration but spring is sure holding out on us this year. It started snowing here about 8:00 this morning and the ground is white now. It hasn't actually piled up anywhere but its definitely winter outdoors. At least its still warmer than Saskatchewan.

And speaking of a chill - how about those Liberals?? Steffie Dingdong was on a roll last week. Apparently his problems are all just a matter of discipline. Who'd a thunk? What do you suppose his decision tree looks like?

Leader is out of touch with partyWhack the party members
Leader is unelectable in his own provinceWhack the party members
Leader has no vision or strategyWhack the party members
Leader maybe has a vision but can't explain itWhack the party members
Leader is a whack jobWhack the party members

Hey - if it works for him why knock it - its certainly an easy decision structure to understand and implement.

Last week felt pretty short - not much to report from it. We didn't get back here until late on Tuesday and we both have had colds ever since we got back so we haven't been too active. There seems to be some hope that mine is going away but Marilyn's looks to have settled in for the long haul.

We had a little excitement yesterday but not the good kind of excitement. Marilyn has her car out here now & it started steaming on the way into Airdrie. It is in the shop at the Ford dealer now with a suspected cracked intake manifold. If you can imagine Ford actually used a plastic manifold on that car - and many others like it apparently. Surprise, surprise, plastic manifolds get cracks. I couldn't tell where the coolant was coming out but the mechanic didn't do much more than open the hood before he said "its the intake manifold". At first I thought he was just a crooked fool who was trying to pad his shop time but it quickly became apparent that this is a well known issue with that engine.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Back from BC

We got back to the bus around 5:00 today. George was pretty happy to see us again. He spent the weekend at the cat hotel south of Airdrie. I think he was pretty lonesome although there were several other cats there for him to talk to.

We had a great weekend on the coast. Jim cooked up some of his superb meals and we got to see the new home on the island. Its in a gated community south of Duncan. They aren't on the water but they might as well be. The view off their balcony is over the strait between Vancouver Island and Saltspring Island. Jim & Judy toured us around their new neighbourhood and we spent the weekend relaxing. It wasn't particularly warm but I guess it snowed in Calgary while we were away so at least we missed that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Moron (continued)

So its the morning after the byelections that the Libs were supposed to sweep. Well they came close - 3 out of 4 shouldn't be too bad a record. Except that they almost lost Vancouver Quadra. Which, in case you didn't know, has been a Lib riding since John Turner won it in 1984. And what about Desnethe-Missinipi-Churchill? In case you forgot that's the riding where Stefan hand picked Joan Beatty to run. Well she didn't get beat THAT badly - Rob Clarke came within a whisker of an absolute majority in the voting but Joan did come in second.

Never fear though - the head moron isn't worried. This very morning he said "dat was a very good results for us". Glad you think so Steffie - good luck with your new career as soon as you figure out what that might be.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Back in Airdrie

Marilyn is back! We met in Medicine Hat last night and moved back to Alison's today. Marlan came for lunch before he went to work. Now its trying to snow here but at least it isn't minus a whole bunch below zero. And my heater has worked for a whole week now so maybe I finally have that solved.

I was in Winnipeg on Wednesday and Stettler on Thursday - busy week. Next week we fly to Vancouver on Wednesday to spend Easter with Jim & Judy. They have a place on the island; we're all going there for the weekend. I'm supposed to be in Guelph to instruct a course the following week but I'm not sure that they have enough registrants so that may get cancelled.

Some day it will warm up in Saskatchewan and we will be able to go back to Nipawin. I'm actually looking forward to getting back to my shop. I've got some work to do on the generator and I need to rebuild the hitch on the bus completely. The generator has been a major pain since we bought the bus and it got a lot worse this winter. I'm undecided as to whether I should replace it or rebuild it but I'm leaning toward rebuilding in order to save money. The advantage of a new one would be that it might be quieter than this one. Its hard to believe that there could be one out there that is any noisier. I've got some ideas about how to build a hushbox around it so - while it is out - maybe I can do something to keep it at least a little quieter. I've seen generator installations that are so quiet you can't tell the generator is running even when you are standing right next to the bus. I won't get it that good but I'd like to be able to carry on a conversation from 100' feet away from the bus.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Heaters that don't work

We have the Cadillac of heaters in the bus, or so I've been told. This may explain why I have always favored Fords.

Down in the bowels of the bus sits a little diesel furnace called a ProHeat. The original market for these furnaces was to keep highway tractors warm without having to run the engine while the driver is sleeping. Its a fairly simple unit designed to burn diesel, hooked into the engine coolant loop and in theory capable of keeping the bus warm when it isn't warm outside. And quite a bit of the time that is exactly what it does.

Last November I fired the ProHeat up and it worked fine. We got the bus packed and left for Regina with no hint of trouble. Then the first night in Regina we woke up to a cold bus. Fortunately the furnace fired up again and we were able to get the engine running. From then on we ran the generator so we could run electric heaters but most of the time we kept the engine running until we got to warmer places.

Over the years I have replaced most of the pieces that are bolted onto the basic ProHeat chassis. I pulled it apart again this winter and cleaned it which appeared to get it working again but only briefly. The last two nights I have woke up to a cold bus and I'm about at my wits end now. A few days ago I posted my troubles on a bus conversion forum and last night I got a call from a guy in Michigan who told me more in a 15 minute phone call than I have figured out in 4 years of ownership. He gave me the name of another guy who really knows his stuff - just got off the phone with him. I'm still not sure what the problem is but at least I have some ideas so I can spend some more money on it today. When I was a kid I remember father cursing about oil furnaces - now I've got one and I'm pretty certain I know why the world changed to natural gas.

Other than the heat issue life is pretty good here at camp Sunstrum. We were in Banff last weekend. Al and Camille came out Tuesday and took us out for supper. We had the trucklet hooked up for an early departure Wed morning and I had Marilyn at the airport well before her 9:15 flight to Saskatoon. Then I moved back up to Airdrie where we intend to stay for at least the next couple of weeks. I've been enjoying the +10 or better temperatures while Marilyn sends me texts telling me how cold it is in Saskatoon. Of course I have been waking up to a cold bus but it warms up quickly and my electric blanket (and cat) keep me warm at night. The heater seems to always fire when it is cold (as opposed to when it has been cycling regularly) which may be a clue to what is wrong with it.

Yesterday I drove up to Stettler and met with a guy from UFA's Occupational Health and Safety division. I've been writing an ops manual for UFA's new fertilizer plants and integrating the manual into their OHSA program. That's been pretty educational for me - I hope UFA feels the same way. Next week I have to fly to Winnipeg for a couple of days and then at the end of the week I'm going to take the bus to Medicine Hat and meet Marilyn there. We'll have a visit with Marlan and then come back here to Airdrie.

Good books to read: Fooled by Randomness by Taleb & When Genius Failed by Lowenstein. I'm not sure how I ended up reading them at the same time but it was certainly appropriate. When Genius Failed is the story of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) which was a hedge fund that failed spectacularly in September 1998. The failure of an unknown hedge fund wouldn't make much of a story but this is the story of incredible hubris on the part of the LTCM partners who were largely PhDs and included two Nobel Prize winners and greed and incompetence on the part of the largest bankers in the world. In the space of 5 weeks in August and September 1998 the partners lost $4 billion that they had accumulated over the two previous years. Both the rise and fall of LTCM are incredible stories - some would say that the fact they happened to the same partners in such a short space of time is a 10 sigma event but not Taleb. Fooled by Randomness is an appropriate companion book because it deals with the way we rationalize that our good performance is the result of some innate personal quality and our bad performance is largely a result of external factors. Taleb argues that the truth is that a lot of what happens to and around us is largely the result of random events. The connection to LTCM is that the "rules" and sophisticated financial models that LTCM used to accumulate (and lose) obscene amounts of money were not sufficient to predict the random event that ultimately led to their downfall. You'll have to read the book to see what the random event was.

Cigarettes, CBC and stupid ideas

Evidently the Akwesasne smuggling operation is alive and well. I'm not just taking CBC's word for this, having long since learned to take with a generous helping of salt any so-called facts that those spin doctors present. But they aroused my curiosity this morning with a "news" report that suggested the solution to the ongoing smuggling problem is for the feds to lower tobacco taxes. Evidently the smuggling is just a case of the Indians running a business that is enabled by our federal taxation system. If Canadian tobacco taxes were lower then it wouldn't be so lucrative to illegally import cigarettes and illegally sell them once they are smuggled into the country.

Apparently its very difficult for the police to enforce the law which says that Indians can't sell tobacco to white men unless they charge the appropriate Canadian taxes. We won't even get into the logic that allows Indian to Indian tax exempt sales. The argument then says that we should help our police by changing the tax structure so that there would be less incentive for Indians to break the law.

It occurs to me that this model could be extended to other areas of society. Why stop at tobacco? For example - some of us like to drive faster than the posted speed limit. A lot of the time the speed limit is an arbitrary number - like a tax level. If we raised that arbitrary level then there would be less incentive to speed. This would save the police a lot of effort spent writing tickets and appearing in court. And what about drugs? Maybe we should legalize crack and meth. If you couuld buy crack in the 7-11 there would be little incentive to purchase it from some low life behind the neighbourhood bar. This would certainly lower the incidence of drug related crime.

There are days when I truly think that humankind is too stupid to survive evolution.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

1992 redux

In 1992 Wee Willy Anklepants and the inventor of the internet were trying to beat GW's daddy. The Reagan landslides had left the Repubs with a stranglehold on the business vote and Willy needed to differentiate himself. Enter NAFTA. Willy's polls showed that he could drive a wedge into the Repubs if he opposed NAFTA, which he did. When he actually got to the White House he discovered that NAFTA wasn't that bad a deal after all and didn't actually do anything to the deal but by then he had the keys to the Oval Office (and the authority to hire interns).

Fast forward 16 years and Billary is in trouble cuz nobody really knows what the black guy stands for but he sounds better than she does. But guess what? Wee Willy can remember back to 1992. So herself comes out against NAFTA coincidentally just before the Ohio primary. Ohio - in case you didn't notice - is one of those so-called rust belt states. That means its a state with an old manufacturing sector that has been hurt by globalization. And when people lose their jobs they want to blame someone. Far better to blame those dirty Mexicans and devious Canucks than to point the finger at themselves and question what they have done to adapt to the 21st century. Anyway, Billary went negative, blamed NAFTA for all the US problems, the voters in Ohio spoke and the rest is history. Of course Billary may still be history too.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

They let us back into Canada!!

I guess the bonehead at customs hasn't heard that I think that most of them are idiots or else he just doesn't care. They let us back into Canada at about 8:20 Friday night. We left somewhere in southern Idaho that morning and the forecast for Montana was poor for Saturday so we decided to run all the way through to the border. Not that it was really that far - we used to drive a lot further in a day but the new program calls for shorter days and when SWMBO says we will drive shorter days, we drive shorter days.

We got to Lethbridge and found camp Wally-Mart. I usually manage to get lost in Lethbridge and this time was no exception. Purely by accident we found the visitor centre parking lot complete with signs that told us we couldn't spend the night there. Microsoft Streets 'n Trips came to the rescue with directions to the Wal-Mart. Yesterday we had a kind of lazy morning, found fuel and breakfast in Vulcan and eventually made our way to Camille & Allison's yard.

George started out the day aboveground. Normally when we haven't been travelling for a while he starts out under the couch. This time was no different - he spent the first couple of days out from Mesquite firmly planted under the couch from the time I started the noisemaker until the time I shut it off. Typically after a couple of days he starts to mellow out, first appearing after dark to watch the lights or ride in Marilyn's lap. When we crossed customs he was wandering around and even drew a "nice kitty" from the idiot in the customs booth. Yesterday he had apparently decided to spend the day aboveground. Somewhere north of Lethbridge we crossed a weather front, the temperature dropped abruptly and it started to snow a bit. George came up front from on top of the couch, took one look out the front window and promptly headed under the couch again. Can't say I blamed him and I felt like going there myself when I paid for the fuel. $1.19!!! - what's that all about? We were paying $0.69 in Mexico. What happened to free trade?

Today we're going to move out to Banff and get set up there for a couple of days. I've got a conference there starting tomorrow morning and Marilyn has some work to get done before she flies to Saskatoon on Wednesday. After I put her on the plane I'll move back out here and set up for a couple of weeks. Its a pretty good deal here - the price is right and the yard comes complete with power and a blistering fast wi-fi connection.