Sunday, June 27, 2010

Punks, hooligans and assholes

Toronto G20 rioting

Ya gotta wonder what kind of brain dead witless wonder would ever think that setting cop cars on fire was going to endear the public to his cause, no matter what the cause may be.  I’m not a big fan of a heavy handed police state but I was chortling today as I watched the Toronto cops sort things out.

I just told Marilyn a story that Aunt Janet told us years ago.  She didn’t have much patience with “hippies” – which to her meant anyone with long hair and/or an anti-establishment attitude.  There was some kind of a sit-in happening – anybody else remember sit-ins?  Some fool had planted his ass in the middle of an intersection and was sitting there cross legged, probably humming.  Up comes a Vancouver city cop riding his horse.  Grabs the hippy by the hair, lifts him clear off the ground and transports him to the curb.  Nip it in the bud.

On a more positive note it sounds like Prime Minister Harper sat the chosen one down and explained the facts of life to him.  Any bets as to whether he goes home and does what he said he is going to do?  I’ll give you odds the U.S. deficit in 2012 is significantly larger than it is today, Obama’s promises to the contrary notwithstanding.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pretty pretty pretty

The night before last we were parked at the rest area in the top of Roger’s Pass. Yesterday we ran half way up the icefield parkway and then headed east toward Rocky Mountain House.  We’ve never been over that stretch of highway before and there’s a whole lot of pretty along the way.

IMG_3353 Marilyn missed a lot of the prettiest stretch because she got one of her periodic bouts of carsickness.  The picture above is some little lake on the parkway – Bow Lake maybe.  We stopped there for lunch.  At one time it was likely one of Kodak’s most profitable spots.  There was a regular United Nations photographer’s parade through the parking lot while we were eating lunch.  Marilyn thought she recognized Greek being spoken and there were plenty of other nationalities represented. 

Last night we pulled back into the green slime lake from hell, AKA Alberta Beach.  Five years ago we swore we would never come back here but never say never.  It turns out that our Holiday Trails membership gives us a park here on the east end of the lake.  We’ll use it as a base to get some work done and do some visiting.  I don’t suppose we’ll even go look at the previously mentioned lake.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not looking after the customer

I don’t believe in putting up with bad service.  That often embarrasses Marilyn when I go toe to toe with some fool who has violated my perception of basic customer service.  It doesn’t often happen though that I get to blow off bad service and move directly to exceptional service.

A couple of years ago when I started messing around with stocks I subscribed to 2 charting services.  The first one really doesn’t deserve to be called just a chart service.  Dorsey Wright is more a way of thinking about the market that includes a chart service than simply a chart provider.  The second service though was strictly a chart provider – something called IncredibleCharts out of Australia.  And they were very good – the best I could find at the time and at an attractive price  point.  I believe I was paying around $10 per month which they faithfully billed to my credit card every month.

Back at the start of June I got an email from them saying that they were unable to process my credit card charge.  I couldn’t think of any reason why that would be true but I did go to their website to check that my credit card information was current and correct which it was so I forgot about the message.  About a week later I got another email informing me that “per my instructions” they had cancelled my recurring billing and therefore my chart service as well.  That pissed me off.

I checked the chart immediately and it still worked.  The email advising me of the cancellation had a link embedded in it saying something about clicking here for further information or to complain so I did.  That brought up Outlook and I composed a nice email explaining that I hadn’t asked for this to be cancelled and inquiring why they would have done so.  The email bounced.

It bounced but it came back with a nice message advising me that they no longer accepted direct emails because of spam and that I would therefore have to go to their website and fill out one of those damn webforms.  Remember – this email bounced at the address they had linked in their erroneous email telling me my service was cancelled (even though it still was working).

By this time I was 3/4 pissed off but I followed the link, recomposed my message, explained what all had happened and sent it off.  Its going to Australia remember so everything takes an extra day but finally I got a reply.  It was on one of those web tickets where they copy your message and reply to it and then you are supposed to click the link and respond on their webform again.  The essence of the message was that they were changing their billing system, I would in future be billed by PayPal, my service wouldn’t be disrupted and basically to ignore everything that had happened so far. 

By this time I was well past 3/4 pissed off so I followed the link back to their webform only to discover that my “service ticket” was closed.  Despite the fact that it showed as “closed” I was still able to enter a response and I did.  I said something to the effect that I had been hitherto delighted with their product but that their incompetence in handling such a minor change was at least going to cause me to canvas the market for charting services.  And I did.


What I found was that in the intervening 2 years there have been incredible strides in what is available and IncredibleCharts simply hasn’t kept pace.  I thought it was pretty good 2 years ago but its not even in the running now.  And it gets better.  I ended up switching to a free service that provides way more functionality and features than what I was getting.  Its easier to use and provides more information plus its free.  Ya gotta love that.

(follow up)

I tried to cancel my IncredibleCharts service just to make sure that they don’t somehow bill it to me again on July 1.  The area of their website that used to deal with credit card information is gone so I sent them an email telling them to cancel.  In reply I got the same canned message telling me they are switching to PayPal.

At least they are consistent.  Now we’ll see what happens on July 1 – I anticipate a fight.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Electrical troubles

We arrived in Peachland yesterday and pulled into Dwight & Bobbi Kirkwood’s yard.  Their yard is gorgeous but I sure don’t envy them the work they put into keeping it the way they do.

They very kindly parked us in their bus barn which comes complete with water, sewer, wifi and 30 amp electrical.  Some other friends are here, parked next to the guest house where we were parked last fall.  We hooked up and then joined them for a Mexican dinner so it wasn’t until about 10:30 when we returned home that we discovered we had no power.  I did some cursory checks and decided that it could wait until morning so we ran the generator for an hour or so and then went to bed.

This morning I started troubleshooting the problem and made a classic troubleshooting error.  I didn’t start at the beginning and I assumed that the problem had to be on the bus because Dwight had been parking his own coach here and had parked other friends here in the past.  When I finally broke out of that mindset the problem was very simple.  Somewhere along the way the 30 amp plug had the hot and ground wires reversed.  That’s not an unusual situation on older 15 amp installations and I should have checked that first thing before even hooking up but I didn’t.  It ended up taking the whole morning to diagnose and fix the problem but we are well powered now. 

We left Al & Camiel’s place on Thursday but we don’t travel very far anymore.  We got as far as Crazy Creek, east of Sicamous on Thursday but that is only 375 km which is roughly half of what we used to do on our slowest days and 1/4 of what we once were capable of. 

We stopped at the top of Rogers Pass just because we always stop at the top of Rogers Pass.  That kind of attitude is a big part of the reason we don’t get many miles in the rearview mirror anymore.  I love the story of the discovery of the pass.  Pierre Berton wrote a lot of schlock in the course of too many books with too few original ideas but his story of the building of the CPR is a classic as far as I am concerned and should be required reading for every Canadian.  The story of the stubborn Scot who was convinced that there was a southern path through the Rocky Mountains is one that has stuck with me since I first read The National Dream probably 40 years ago now.

The hot pools at Crazy Creek beckoned and we succumbed but we won’t likely ever go back.  The pools are not much more than really hot swimming pools.  For some reason we were expecting natural pools.  They were plenty expensive for what they provided and the campground was poorly laid out.  I don’t think there were 3 level sites in the whole park and they all were perfectly suited to a converted Volkswagon bus.  Of course in that case the sites were long enough to park 3 rigs end to end but if you tried to get into a site with a rig the size of ours the roadways were simply too small.  It looked to me like a campground laid out by someone who has never used an RV.

Similar to Rogers Pass, Mara Lake holds a mysterious power over both of us so we timed our departure from Crazy Creek such that we could stop scarcely 20 minutes later for lunch on the shore of Mara Lake.

Our kids and everyone who has ever spent time with us on Mara Lake will recognize the location in the photo.  The first time we arrived at the old tree leaning over the water with a frayed rope hanging from it we were very nervous about letting the kids jump.  Fortunately we did let them jump although at first we made them wear life jackets.  As they got older the kids told us that the life jackets rode up and hurt them when they hit the water but they never let that stop them from going back for more and soon we relented on the life jacket rule.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Coalition of Park Supporters

I got my spring newsletter from the coalition of park supporters for P.A. National Park.  Those of you who use and appreciate Waskesiu should consider sending CPS a few bucks in order to get on their mailing list.  I think they have actually accomplished some change and improvement at the park over the years since they were incorporated. 


Their website is at CPS-PANP and while I don’t agree 100% with their action items I do agree with their goals.  Their mission is to keep the park true to its mandate which is to be accessible for visitation and enjoyment by the people of Canada.  Over the years the park bureaucracy has tried to twist that into a mandate to preserve the parks at any cost and with no regard for the enjoyment of the current generation of Canadians.  While no one will argue with the need to preserve these precious parts of our country, the lengths that Parks Canada has on occasion gone to in the name of preservation are nothing short of ridiculous.

A good friend of mine told me a story about his grandmother getting accosted by the park nazis for picking mushrooms in the park.  Anybody who knows anything about mushrooms will tell you that they are a fungus, that they are here today and gone tomorrow.  “Preserving” them has to consist of picking them and putting them in the fridge.  Similarly picking any wild berries in the park is strictly forbidden.  Over the years that we have visited the park we have seen some criminal stupidity on the part of park management like letting the old spruce trees die a slow death from spruce budworms and tearing the weir out of the river which allowed the marina to go dry.  Maintaining the infrastructure is a foreign concept to the park management but that criticism could be levelled at most governmental organizations.

CPS started out as the acronym for Concerned Park Supporters and sometime over the years morphed into the gentler “Coalition of Park Supporters”.  CPS has initiated as regular a program of meetings with the park management as they are allowed.  Some park managers are more amenable to listening to their customers than others.  If you know and love Waskesiu the way we do at least take the time to visit the CPS website and give them your input on how you think the park should be managed.  It likely won’t make any impact on Parks Canada but for sure if you don’t try you won’t have any impact.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Until yesterday the last time I flew in a light plane was about 25 years ago and the pilot was Gord Hjertaas.  He’s dead now but not from anything to do with flying.  At the time we were both in Regina, likely for the Farm Progress Show and for some reason I bummed a ride back to Saskatoon with him.  It must have been really late when we left Regina because I recall it being a night flight and it doesn’t get dark until close to midnight in June in Regina. 

We had to break camp in Kananaskis early yesterday so that we could get back to Airdrie in time for Camiel and me to go flying.  He has bought a 1/3 share in a little Grumman and he is having a lot of fun with it.  Apparently one of the partners only puts about an hour a year on the plane and the other only flies a couple of hours a month so its like having a plane but only paying for 1/3 of it. 

We left the airstrip at Airdie around 3:30 and headed east for Drumheller.  Airdrie is inside the Calgary control zone but as long as you stay under 5,000 feet you don’t have to deal with Calgary control so we snuck out around 4,300 feet.  The strip is at about 2,600 so we were close to the ground but we got a lot closer before the day was out.  Its way more fun to fly close to the ground where you can see what is going on and feel the sense of movement.  When you fly commercial at 30,000 feet you don’t have any connection to the ground and even in a light plane at 10 or 12,000 feet you feel pretty insulated.  When you get down under 1,000 feet above ground level though you can see individual people on the ground, you can watch your shadow moving over the ground, you have to dodge the occasional flock of birds or soaring hawk so you generally feel like you are really flying. 

There’s a lot of water lying around.  You really get a sense of how wet the country is when you fly over cropland that looks like this picture.


We stayed in the Red Deer river valley until we were about straight east of Red Deer and then headed southwest toward Olds. 

We wandered around the hangars in Olds until Camiel recognized another Dutchman who keeps some experimental planes in a spotless hangar at the airstrip.  The plane he was polishing on Sunday is a kit plane with a 300 HP Lycoming that will do close to 400 MPH cruise.  He said its an 8 minute trip from Banff to Olds.  Probably around $50 per minute for fuel but no doubt a fun way to travel.

Weekend disconnect

We left Lethbridge fairly early (for us) last Friday and stopped in Fort McLeod after about 35 km of travel.  We very conveniently parked directly in front of the liquor board store which didn’t open until 10:00 – that shows how early our departure was.  I had a little nap while we waited for the store to open and then we stocked up on beer, scotch and wine.

Then we headed into the foothills and turned north at Lundbreck.  I think the Lundbreck/Pincher Creek area is ground zero for wind power in Canada.  I can remember travelling through that area 20 years ago and there were lines of windmills marching across the hills at that time.  Now there’s whole fields covered with them.  

For some reason I have always wanted to drive that stretch of 22 from #3 in the south up through Longview, Turner and Black Diamond but never managed to drive the whole road.  I drove a portion of it last summer but on Friday we went the whole way up and eventually landed in Bragg Creek where we stopped to wait for Alison & Camiel.  When they arrived we followed them into Kananaskis Country and eventually settled in for the weekend.  There’s so many campgrounds out there that I’m not 100% sure which one we were in but I think it was this one.  

It doesn’t really matter which one it was, there’s dozens of spots along 66 highway west of Bragg Creek.  All of them are not much over an hour’s drive out of Calgary and many of them are 1st come spots so all you have to do is get there early to get a site.  Some of the sites along the river were absolutely gorgeous and none of them were too shabby.  No services but that doesn’t really matter just for a weekend and with our solar we didn’t even start the generator until we were ready to leave on Sunday.  The only reason I started it then was to warm up the hot water tank.

Marilyn had a tough weekend.  She did something to her back last week and it slowly tightened up to the point where it was painful to watch her move on Saturday.  I expect she was hurting a lot more than we were but we were hurting just watching her.  It has finally started to mend but it is taking its time.  Last night she soaked it in Alison’s new hot tub/swimming pool.  Its one of those pools with a high power pump that sets up a current for you to swim against.  I’ve heard about them but never seen one – its pretty cool.  And it works as a hot tub too which is the only way I will ever use it.

On Saturday I tried something a little different with a rack of back ribs.  I’ve always boiled them first but I watched a segment on Canada AM where the resident chef told us about slow cooking them over smoke.  Since I don’t have a smoker I had to improvise and I think it worked out damn well, if I do say so myself.  I rubbed them first with some hot dog mustard and then with a dry rub of brown sugar, garlic, paprika and some other secret herbs and spices.  All the mustard does is serve as a binder to stick the dry rub to the ribs.  Then I put them on the top rack in the barbeque and covered the flame disperser (I don’t have tiles or briquets in my BBQ) with thinly split logs.  If you look close in the picture you can see the charred logs under the ribs.

I set the BBQ on its lowest heat and left it to smoke for about 3-1/2 hours.  It wouldn’t have hurt them to go longer but we were getting hungry and they were ready after 3 hours.  The next time I do it I’m going to have some 1 x 8 pine or fir boards cut to the right length for the BBQ and soak them in water overnight.  You need to watch the boards carefully because eventually they catch on fire but its amazing how long that takes.  Once they catch on fire though they will flame up and burn the ribs so you need to change them before that happens.  Beer works well to put the fire out and can be used to extend the life of the lumber but I think soaking the wood overnight would probably work better.  I think with the wet plank I can likely let one side get charred and then turn it over and char the other side before I have to replace them.  And I think two planks will be enough for over 4 hours of slow cooking.  The ribs were pretty damn good but we ate them too late in the day so they kept us both awake that night.  Next time we’ll have them at noon.

All in all it was a glorious weekend.  One night at the campfire Camiel told us a story about hearing some rich dude being interviewed about what was important for success in life.  Apparently his first advice was to make lots of friends early in life.  We are fortunate to have many close friends.  Our nomadic lifestyle lets us spend some wonderful times with those friends.  Its not often that great weather, a great location and great friends come together the way they did this weekend but its pretty special when it does happen.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Turnabout is fairplay

George Bush had to wear Katrina despite the fact that a lot of the problems in New Orleans were caused by a corrupt, inept mayor combined with lethargic, apathetic citizens.  At the time I didn’t think it was fair that the president of the United States should be held responsible for an act of nature but responsible he was nevertheless. 

original_plume_1 Today I heard reports that approval ratings for Obama are plummeting.  They were already pretty well in free-fall but now he is arguably being hurt worse by the BP fiasco than Bush was by Katrina.  Two months ago I’d have said that was impossible. 

Its not hard to understand why either if you think about it.  I hope everybody is horrified by the pictures coming in from the gulf.  I’ve sat here watching the oil billow out of the sea bottom on the remote cameras and its a terrible sight.  It just keeps coming and it is hard to imagine how immense the quantities involved are.  The damage will endure long after every one of us is long gone.  Having said that, it is not too hard to make a case for why Obama supporters would be even more likely to be horrified and more importantly why they would need to blame somebody.

I’m not saying every Obama supporter is an anti-business, granola crunching tree hugger but some of them certainly are.  Some of us are more likely to accept that sometimes bad things just happen and that business isn’t by its very nature evil.

And now for something completely different – how about the latest GM recall.  Can anybody think of an invention that the world was less in need of than heated windshield washers?  Leaving aside the fact that washer fluid with antifreeze is readily available everywhere it is needed, what percentage of GM’s production do you suppose is sold into markets that don’t even know what frozen washer fluid looks like?   I hope whichever marketing genius came up with that idiot idea is currently unemployed and pensionless.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Spaghetti and electricity

When they converted the frenchy-bus from a tour bus into a motorhome they relocated the front electrical panel that should be easily accessible from the outside driver’s side.  It is now located under the top step as you enter the coach.  I suppose the idea was to allow a completely smooth exterior and for the most part it works.

IMG_3262 But its also more or less a spaghetti bowl.  It needs to be regularly cleaned because dirt migrates down into the box.  And like the rest of the bus it didn’t come with any schematics.  I have the schematics for the original coach but there have been several changes since then.  Some of them I have caused (and sometimes forgotten why I made the change).  Others were no doubt made by Doofus (the previous owner) whose grasp of electricity was possibly worse than my father’s.  I think father was always surprised when he cut into a wire and found that it wasn’t hollow.  He was never afraid to tackle a project but whatever I know about electricity I surely didn’t learn from him.

The project for this week was to get my hazard flashers wired so that they would work without having the key turned on.  That’s kind of a basic first principle for hazard flashers – that they should work all the time, whether or not the engine is running.  At the same time I elected to move the headlights and clearance lights onto an always-on power source as well.  That will no doubt be a mixed blessing and will likely be a genuine pain in the ass the first time I discharge the batteries by leaving the lights on.  However I think it is the “right” way to have them wired so I went ahead and moved them anyway.  As it turned out there were no always-on power bars inside the electrical spaghetti bowl so I had to relocate some circuits in order to free up one bar and convert it to an always-on.

I also happened to have a daytime running light module kicking around in the tool bay so I installed it as well.  It was a leftover from a repair to the Exploder that ended up not needing the module.  I’m still looking for a 12 volt buzzer to warn me that I have left the lights on with the key off but otherwise the changes are complete.  More importantly for future reference I have made extensive drawings describing what I have done and filed them away for the future.  Its surprising how clear something can be today and how completely forgotten it can be a month from now.

Over the weekend we participated in the customer appreciation nonsense that Holiday Trails put on.  On Saturday I showed up at 7:30 to help cook pancakes and yesterday Marilyn scrubbed dishes after the barbeque.  The more we learn about this outfit the better we like it.  Right now they are in the midst of building a campground completely from scratch about 10 miles east of Hope on #3 highway.  When that is complete it will be a year round facility which we will have access to at no additional cost to our membership.  It sounds like a first class facility with all 50 amp outlets and large semi-private sites.  They are also expecting imminent approval for their development proposal for a piece of property that they own in Osoyoos.  I believe the intent is for that to be a year round facility as well.

The guy next to us told me yesterday that they were paying $50 per night and he didn’t seem to be complaining.  It was just a matter of fact statement about what he was paying.  In that light the $600 per year that we pay for unlimited camping doesn’t seem like very much.  And once there are a few more year round facilities then staying in them year round becomes more of an option for us.  Not that we want to be here in January but BC winters aren’t necessarily bad and several airlines fly out of Vancouver every day through the winter.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wind bloody wind

We made a leisurely departure from Regina yesterday.  We used to be so good at getting on the road early in the morning but now we’re lucky if we see pavement before 10.  By the time we got around Regina and then stopped for a 2nd check on the wheel seal we didn’t really go very far in the morning.  We ended up stopping for lunch at some shore bird museum in Chaplin.

Neither one of us is much for looking at birds unless they have been basted for a couple of hours in the oven so we didn’t do much more than eat lunch and bugger off.  We did climb up the steps to the viewing platform and have a look at the tailings pile from the sodium sulphate mine.

Its hard to get a sense of the scale of the tailings pile but the D8 provides some perspective.   Its not a particularly attractive part of Saskatchewan so the tailings pile doesn’t look all that much out of place.  There’s a lot of alkali sloughs in southern Saskatchewan – this just looks like one that got a little carried away with itself.  Pano-ChaplinChaplin may not actually be the arsehole of Saskatchewan but I’m pretty sure its a local phone call from there.

We got as far as Medicine Hat and parked on the old Wallymart lot.  I’m not 100% sure where the new Wallymart is now but the old store is still vacant and the lot is used by various truckers that need a place to park for the night.  Marlan came to have supper with us – he was the only one of the boys in town last night.  RJ is helping his uncle finish up mudding the crop in at Fox Valley and Michael is in search of love in Ft. Mac.  The story of how he met the woman he is visiting is too bizarre to tell here.  I have no reason to doubt what Marlan told us but if I were to retell it I would be accused of making it up so you’ll have to get it straight from Michael. 

The twins are only days away from leaving for New Mexico with a crew of custom combiners.  Marlan passed his 1A earlier this week in preparation for the trip.  From New Mexico they will go through Oklahoma, Kansas, the Dakotas & Montana.  Michael did the trip last year; Marlan is clearly looking forward to this year’s adventure.

Today we fought the wind west to Lethbridge and settled into one of our membership parks at Bridgeview.  Its a very scenic spot but the 50+ MPH winds are really annoying.  I have always had a low tolerance for wind.  I spent 2-1/2 years living in Regina and hated every windy minute of it.  We look out our front window at the Old Man River and hope that tomorrow won’t be so bloody miserable that we don’t want to venture outside.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Movin’ on

Tomorrow morning we will hook ‘em up and head ‘em out.  By the time we got to Regina Friday night I knew that we had a seal problem on the curbside tag axle.  I have never had much luck with Stemco seals and this time was no exception.  For whatever reason, Stemco seals seem to almost always leak and Scotseal or CR seals seem to always work.  It may be as simple as the CR seals ride in a different spot on the axle but whatever the cause I have bought my last Stemco seals.

I decided that I could likely change the seal myself.  It didn’t likely save me any money because I had to buy a few specialty tools but it certainly didn’t cost any more to do it myself than it would have to have hired it done.  Of course at the end of the day I have the tools for next time so I ultimately come out ahead.  I didn’t bother looking for parts on Saturday – maybe I could have found them but just as likely it would have turned into a gong show.   It was also still pissing rain on us most of the day Saturday but I guess that wouldn’t have stopped me from making phone calls.

Yesterday I made a few calls and a woman at NAPA said she could get the seals I wanted overnight.  So right after dinner today I went to NAPA and picked up a pair of CR 40086 seals.  I only needed one immediately but this way I have a spare if the other miserable Stemco decides to start leaking.  The tags are really easy to work on because I can lift them so they just barely clear the ground.  I had a bit of trouble getting the cap screws that hold the drum to the hub removed and eventually ended up buying a set of hex sockets which won’t go amiss in the future either. 

All in all the project went remarkably smoothly.  I don’t think I even shed any blood.  Usually I lubricate whatever I am working on with liberal amounts of blood but today all I did was get dirty.  About 3:00 PM I got everything buttoned up and we took the bus for a quick roadtrip out to Balgonie and back.  We didn’t go far enough to know whether the seal is holding but my bigger concern was whether I had the hub too tight.  Prevost has this amazing system for holding the bearing preload which is actually very easy to deal with but very complex nevertheless. 

As soon as we got back to Dyer Straits we scurried around and headed into town to visit father.  He’s doing really well so we don’t feel nearly as bad about leaving him as we did the last time we left here.  Moving him into Wascana has made a tremendous improvement in his quality of life.  It is really unfortunate that he couldn’t have been moved there earlier because he lost a lot of ground while at Dove House.  At the time we thought they were doing their best and they may have been but their best simply wasn’t close to what Wascana considers normal treatment.