Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bloody Microsoft !!

We take so much technology for granted and a large part of it is affordable thanks to Bill Gates et al. I'll accept that MessySoft has never been great at innovation but they are good at driving the price down at the consumer level. They're greedy bastards but they have a habit of putting competitors out of business by giving away features that most of us never figure out how to use. And the reason we often don't figure out how to use those features is that they are really bloody difficult to learn because Microsoft does such a great job of making the interface un-intuitive. Take movies for instance.

My new camera can make movies. I don't use that feature very often but it does a remarkably good job and we have used it in the past to capture waterski and wakeboard video. It is really helpful to look at yourself skiing. Whenever I see myself ski I realize that the perfect form that I imagine when I am crossing the wake is just that - an imaginary form.

So the other night when we were in Regina at Dove House I took a movie of father with his grandcat and then subsequently attempted to upload it. After three tries on the flaky park wifi I gave up and used our Hughes connection but it just barely fit. On the Hughes connection we are subject to a Fair Access Policy or FAP and the limit is 250 megs in 24 hours. The video was 194 meg and there must have been quite a bit of overhead in the transmission because when it was all done we needed over 22 hours to get our FAP allocation refilled completely. No big deal except that when it was all done the miserable video was lying on its side. I had taken it in portrait format and it displayed that way on my computer but on YouTube it displayed with father lying sideways across the screen.

I considered just propogating the link and telling everyone to turn their monitor on its side while viewing the video but decided I could do better than that. Google is your friend and eventually I came up with an add-on for Windows Moviemaker which lets you rotate a video while retaining the format of the original video. That was the first Microsoft gotcha - Moviemaker let me rotate the video but it left father looking about 200 pounds overweight and that wasn't a glitch. Apparently that is a feature of Moviemaker and I am supposed to just learn to live with it although one forum suggested that there is some way to correct that in Media Player but then if I wanted to go that way I could just have told everyone to tip their monitors and saved myself a lot of bother.

So it turns out that you have to import the video file into Moviemaker and mess around with it a lot and then effectively export it to a new video file but the upshot of all that buggering around is that the file ends up being MUCH smaller. From 192 meg large to 10 meg small which made it much easier to upload.

Other than taking pictures of father and the cat we haven't accomplished much this weekend. My Prevost parts still haven't arrived so I can't do anything on that front but more importantly we can't leave here until they do arrive. I suppose I'll have to phone Quebec and yell at the parlez-vous on Monday. They screwed up big time on the last shipment so this will make two in a row if they have managed to screw it up as well. Merde!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Famous people and places

In a week where the news has been a non-stop eulogy to Chappaquidick Ted I went to the home of another celebrity. I was doing some field scouting for a project I am working on and ended up driving through Rouleau, SK. Rouleau is just another non-descript prairie town with an elevator that obviously was once a Pool elevator but now has the Pool logo painted over. On the way through town I noticed that the elevator was tagged with Dog River but I didn't pay much heed to it. On the way back through town though I realized that the abandoned gas station that I had paid little heed to on the way through town the first time was actually the set for Corner Gas. I didn't look around town for Emma and Oscar's house but I assume it must be there somewhere. I think the surveillance tree must be a prop though. There's no trees there.

The day that Ted Kennedy died I listened carefully to the early eulogies waiting for somebody to stop lionizing him and at least mention Mary Jo Kopechne. I am led to believe that in his career as a Senator Ted Kennedy accomplished many things but I have to wonder if he wasn't driven by demons from his past. All of us have a few peccadilloes in our past but fortunately for most of us they don't involve running from the scene of a fatal accident that we undoubtedly caused by driving drunk. The man was a womanizer and a lush who evidently also did a lot of good work. Given the power and prestige of his family it seems to me that great things should have been expected of him and no matter what his achievements in adulthood they barely evened the score for his abuse of privilege in his youth. Luke 12:48 "For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be expected." If his three older brothers hadn't died young I don't think we would even know who Chappaquidick Ted was today, let alone be eulogizing him across the continent.

Meanwhile father is actually improving. Improvement is by its very nature relative but we'll take anything we can get at this stage. Dove House is an abandoned convent that a couple of nurses have converted into a care home. The pictures make it look better than it is. It could use a coat of paint and there are some maintenance "issues" but the most important feature, human compassion and care is present in abundance. Natasha has demonstrated in a couple of weeks an understanding of father's condition and needs that previous homes haven't managed in months. He doesn't seem to have completely settled in yet but I think he is starting to regard this place as home. When we moved the two of them almost exactly a year ago now our intent was to spare him the trauma of a move after mother's death. That didn't work out and it is hindering his adjustment to his new home. It is really hard to figure out what is going on in his head these days. In some regards he has full possession of his faculties but in other respects he is almost witless.

If I was ever disposed to support an entirely public healthcare system the experiences of the last year would surely have cured me. The level of bureaucratic bungling, incompetence and outright stupdity is mind boggling at times. The system is hampered by layers of management with no regard to efficiency, client care or customer service. The current witless wonder spent 5 minutes lecturing me on the phone yesterday because I inadvertently referred to someone as an Occupational Therapist instead of a Physical Therapist. I had to bite my tongue and take it because the real purpose of my call was to make sure that she had actually done what she said she was going to do before she leaves on an extended trip to some foreign country during which time father will once again drift in limbo because there will be no permanent person appointed to replace her. That alone sums up the futility of the current system - her position is apparently crucial to father's future yet at the same time it is so unimportant to the system that she can go on an extended vacation with no formal replacement being appointed while she is away.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back where we began

We stopped in Airdrie on Thursday because we just couldn't imagine passing that close to Al & Camiel without stopping. When Marilyn phoned Camiel to tell him we were going to stop in he said we would be stupid not to stay for supper. Which was right so we let them feed us. Not that it's ever a hardship to eat with them. We got the lowdown on their trip to the Bahamas to not buy a boat. It sounds like the virtual boat was a lot better than the physical one so they just cruised for a week and came home.

That night we made it as far as Cactus Corner, just east of Oyen. We've stayed in their parking lot several times. On Friday we pulled into Eagle Creek Regional Park west of Asquith and settled in there for what turned out to be a 5 night stay. They got absolutely deluged with rain over the weekend but that didn't bother us because we had no plans to go anywhere. We both got a lot of work done and the rain wasn't hard to take because we knew how desperately they needed the water.

On Monday we picked up Marilyn's car from the storage lot in Saskatoon and she headed for Prince Albert. I had a couple of meetings in Saskatoon and then headed out west of Biggar to do some crop inspections. There is a farmland investment company in Regina who have contracted me to make contact with some of their tenants and at the same time do some new land inspections. That is turning out to be a really fun project. I've been poking into some corners of Saskatchewan that I wouldn't have found otherwise. On Thursday we left the Regional Park and moved to Harris where we parked next to the caboose. From there I toured some more local land and that evening we moved down to Swift Current and got settled in at Ponderosa Campground on the east side of town. Yesterday I did some more visits in the Vanguard area and this morning I did a couple of field visits at Frontier which let us work in a visit with Al & Gail Balfour.
There's some good crops in the southwest - for a change. Its nice to see the countryside green and the crops waving in the neverending wind. The crops look good but they are really late. Coming down from Rosetown we drove past canola in full bloom, maximum yellow. My rule has always been that canola should start blooming the first week in July and bloom the whole month of July. The canola we saw last week was at least a full month behind that schedule and therefore susceptible to fall frost.

Tomorrow we will get moved to Regina so we can spend some time with father. Marilyn has to fly up to the mine on Monday but I will spend the week in Regina. We haven't fully decided when we are going to head west again but it will be in early September. Patti is supposed to be spending some time in Calgary so we will time our trip through Alberta to meet up with her. I've got another contract I'm working on in Saskatchewan - a grain farm refinancing and management turnaround & I'm waiting for news on a strategic planning contract so we may have to adjust our schedule to accomodate those as well.

I spent this afternoon with my head buried in the arse end of the bus. We're still having intermittent non-starts. When we pulled in here I shut it down in front of the office and it wouldn't turn over about 10 minutes later. It started immediately on the rear start but the front key was still dead when we got parked so I had high hopes that I would be able to track the problem down while we were here. Unfortunately once again it healed itself after sitting for a couple of hours. I'm sure there are people who can diagnose intermittent electrical problems when they aren't being a problem but I'm not one of them. Beyond cleaning everything and making sure all the connections are tight I'm not sure what else to do while the miserable SOB is working. Right now I'm inclined to blame it on an intermittent ignition switch but that's really only because that's nearly all that's left. It's a really simple circuit: key -> front panel -> rear panel -> front/rear switch -> start relay -> solenoid. I've already replaced the start relay and solenoid plus they are common to the front and rear start so they can't be the problem. Right now it appears that it has to be either the DPDT switch that selects front or rear start or the ignition cylinder itself. Today I hooked a wire to the DPDT switch and left it sticking out of the panel so I can easily check to see if power is getting that far the next time it acts up. Of course it never gives any problem when we can take our time troubleshooting. When it fails it is always when we are pulling into a campground or away from a fuel pump - IOW times when I don't really want to stick my head up the bus's arse and start troubleshooting.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mountain Pine beetle

We left Chilliwack Weds morning heading for Whispering Pines at Mara Lake. Along the way we stopped in Kelowna to have lunch with Bryan St. George. On our first trip to Mexico the first travelling Canadian we met was Dick Merrick from Comox. He appeared out of nowhere as we were checking into our favorite spot in Alamos, Dolisa Motel & RV Park. After introductions he said he'd be back once we got settled in.

After we got set up I went looking for Dick and found him talking to a guy who turned out to be Bryan. Bryan's face was all scratched up and he looked like he had road rash on his forehead so naturally I asked what had happened. Dick and Olive had this big semi-out-of-control Golden Retriever "Trini" who travelled everywhere with them. Dick and Bryan had been visiting and Bryan had absent mindedly thrown Trini's ball, not realizing that Trini had wrapped his long lead around Bryan's feet. Bryan lost a pair of glasses and made one hell of a mess of his face but he took it in stride.

We have stayed in touch with both the St. Georges and the Merricks ever since that first visit. One memorable trip we ran into Bryan and Dean in Alamos where they had picked up 3 Irish girls who were hitching their way around Mexico. The girls ended up riding in the back of Bryan's Dakota pickup all the way to our next stop in Guasave. We offered to let a couple of them ride with us and the third one could have travelled with our friends the Coneys but the girls felt safer together, even if together meant together in the back of a micro-truck towing a fifth wheel trailer.
When we bought the bus it was located in Kelowna, which is where Bryan and Dean lived so naturally they were involved in the sale and our subsequent trip to pick it up. We bought the bus without ever seeing it but before Bryan would let me even think about driving it home he went out to the Roberts' orchard and pulled an oil sample which he shipped off to his favorite oil lab in Calgary. Bryan's business was a moving and storage company and he used 8-92s in his trucks so he was my source for information as I learned about my new toy. When we flew to Kelowna to pick up the bus naturally Bryan picked us up at the airport and we spent the night at their place. When Bryan & I actually picked the bus up I thought we had agreed that he would be driving it back to their place but at the last minute he said "you'll be OK - stop if you get in trouble". Yeah right. Stop a 40 foot bus in Kelowna traffic. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? To cap it all off Bryan and Dean lived at the top of this narrow lane in the swankiest neighbourhood of Kelowna so I got to back the bus that I had driven for all of half an hour up the hill around a corner on a 10 foot driveway.
Bryan lost Dean to a heart attack about 3 weeks ago now. I went up to Kelowna for the funeral but Marilyn was at McLean Lake. I think it is important to visit people after the funeral. Too often people make a big fuss over the bereaved ones the week of the funeral and then forget about them. So we wanted to stop in to see Bryan after the hustle bustle of family and friends had settled down a bit. Then we carried on up to Mara and spent the night with our Whispering Pines family.

Along the way I took these photos of Pine Beetle damage. Its no wonder BC is burning this summer but I have to think the worst is yet to come. You can drive for 10s of miles and all you see is vast swaths of dead trees. One of the camphosts at Whispering Pines claimed that the southern part of the province is good compared with the central areas around Quesnel. If that is true then it is only a matter of time until there are uncontrollable wildfires. If you have ever thrown a dry pine branch on a fire you know that it literally explodes into flame. Imagine a valley filled with not just branches but whole trees like that.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Abbotsford airshow

I've heard about the Abbotsford airshow for as long as I can remember but yesterday was the first time I have attended. It was worth the wait.

Marilyn spent the first part of the week up at McLean Lake getting radioactive. I met her flight at 8:30 in Abbotsford and we went directly to the airshow. I wasn't dressed warmly enough but once we were on the grounds there was no way I was going to give up any show time just to get some warm clothes.

We started out on fighter row and then moved to the heavies. I was wishing that one of the boys was with us to tell us about each of the planes because they weren't particularly well identified. There were plenty of airmen around to answer questions but you need a base level of knowledge to even ask a question & I don't have that level of knowledge. So I mainly just wandered around taking pictures and looking. One thing I didn't need to ask any questions to learn was that the Americans spend a lot more money on their Air Force and Navy than we do. But I didn't need to go to the airshow to learn that. Anybody who knows anything about the Canadian Sea King helicopter fiasco will appreciate the irony of the open hatches and mechanic in the third picture above.

In addition to the current technology there was an extensive collection of vintage warbirds, starting with a Tiger Moth owned by a local preservation society. This year was the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in Canada. I happened to be standing by the Tiger Moth when the pilot showed up to do his preflight. Shortly after the picture was taken this Tiger Moth flew to open the show.

These two P51 Mustangs still have their covers on but you can see the difference in the canopies if you look closely. I believe the closest one is a P51-B and the more distant one is a P51-D (distinguished by the bubble canopy) Both of these planes flew during the opening ceremonies as well.

The highlight of the show for me was the Harvards. American readers may know them as a "Texan" but to commonwealth airmen they were Harvard Trainers and plenty of airmen got their first taste of a real airplane at the controls of a Harvard Trainer. There were four Harvard Mk IIs on the grounds and they managed to put together a fairly decent close formation in the early afternoon.

The first time I saw a Harvard was about 40 years ago at a fly-in at Leask, SK. There was a brief period in father's life where he thought he was going to learn to fly. He joined the local flying club and took about 15 hours of lessons. I believe he soloed but I'm not sure about that. He didn't get a lot of support for his dream - OK - I was probably the only family member who actively supported him and the dream died completely when we left Shellbrook. Along the way though there was a fly-in at a grass field somewhere near Leask and somebody brought a Harvard. I can still remember the excitement when they cranked the big Pratt & Whitney and the smoke started seeping out of the cylinders but that was nothing compared to when the pilot buzzed the field. We could hear him coming behind a ridge of trees to the west but when he popped over the treetops the noise was deafening and it felt like he was going to take our heads off with the prop.

The Canadian forces jump team - the Skyhawks - were performing at the show but the low ceiling made their jump pretty mundane. They did their best but we saw them jump in Nipawin several years ago on a clear blue day with unlimited ceiling. Yesterday's performance didn't come close to what they are capable of.

The day closed with a Snowbird performance but my feeble photography skills don't do their performance justice. I really screwed up by taking my snapshot camera instead of the Rebel. Next year I will be better prepared.