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Monday, October 1, 2012

News from Loon County September 2012

Hi D,

I hope that you have settled into your new place. Did you move to your permanent room yet? 

How are you doing? We hope to come and see you in the next few weeks...forgive us for not coming sooner, but we've both been busy; me with rowing, Don with the boat.

The boat has been in the water for over a month...we have been out a couple of times, which was great fun. We drove out of the marina into the St. Lawrence and tried out the sails with some major rigging changes. Fairly light wind, coming, as usual around here, from the west. This means that to make any progress under sail is fairly difficult. The current always comes from the same direction (south-west) and is quite strong. So sailing or motoring against this is slow progress. After an hour's sailing, we had made about 1 km and then turned around to sail around a local island, Toussaint Island. 

There is a natural harbour between Toussaint and the shore, fairly sheltered. So we stopped there and tried out our new anchoring system - a manual windlass for dropping of the anchor (and, more significantly, for winding it up again). We keep the anchor, which weighs 35lb (16 kg) on a roller on the bow. Once the windlass clutch is released, a slight shove will drop the anchor in a more- or less-controlled fashion. Then the fun begins.

Anchoring, is another one of those major subjects that boaters get boring about...a bit like paint systems, anchoring "systems" are fraught with expensive choices, variable (often unreproducible) results, prejudice, and a healthy dose of fear, anger and a lot of shouting. The problem is very simple. You want to stop the boat. You've been driving about all day, or sailing, you want to have a rest, a swim, make a meal, or stop for the night. The boat doesn't really want to stop; the effect of wind, waves, current, passing boat traffic, all makes it complicated. You want to stop in water that is deep enough that you don't worry about hitting anything, shallow enough that you don't have to let out too much rope and chain, and far enough out of any channels where boats will be passing; also sheltered from the weather as much as possible. We have done this activity hundreds of times, have thought a lot about it, have read all the authorities. The saint here is Earl R. Hinz; his classic work is The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring; the title of which should be: The Big Boys' Book of Manly Stuff'n'Shit for its completeness as far as heroic thinking about "ground tackle," what could go wrong and how to avoid it.

Anyway, fair to say, we've anchored a lot...we can more or less anchor in any place or any conditions, given sufficient water, some room and up to an hour or so to complete the operation. We are not following the crowd on this. We are constantly surprised by the flimsy and rusty mangled pieces of metal that we see attached to the bows of boats as we walk around marinas. People are trusting their lives, or at least their precious boats to stuff that I wouldn't use to weight down the tarp on my compost pile! We travelled for more than a year, thousands of miles and anchored almost every night. We are happier anchoring than staying at a marina (once you have bought your "ground tackle" and spent quite a while adapting the chain, hooks, pipes leading to the lockers, ropes, shackles, and anchors, plus windlass, rollers, and tie-downs, it's all free! I am prepared to say I judge a man by the quality of his ground tackle, but some people might misconstrue that...! And watching other people anchor, when one has already got the anchor safely set, is a source of endless, and I'm sorry to say, cruel amusement. There is just a lot of things to go wrong and to do badly. All that, plus the stress of fatigue, not enough communication, no rehearsals, and a bunch more shouting, leading to fairly interesting cases of marital discord - most boats are sailed by couples, most sailing couples have a dominant partner who shouts at the usually reluctant (and mostly female) partner until she gets some sense into her head, which as you can imagine, always happens eventually. It's often made more embarrassing for the crew because of the audience of anchored wine-swilling bastards that you (rightly) imagine to be laughing at you, large glass of Merlot in hand.The other largest class of cruising sailors is, strange to say, single males.

I am very happy with the way Don had set up the anchoring system on our new boat. Previously we'd had to haul the thing up by hand, 35-pound anchor plus about 15 feet of chain (weighing about a pound a foot). I know all this rowing is keeping me fit, but it was hard work! Now it just works nicely. As total control freaks, we didn't buy an electric windlass to haul up the anchor - which is the most common solution that people use. To my mind, it's a bit like electric windows on a car. Not exactly wrong, but not necessary and in a peculiar set of circumstances, hazardous...electricity, water, hands and feet and a lot of chain...what could go wrong?...and we're not averse to a bit of manual exercise - there's enough of sitting around on a boat as it is.

The basic technique is to decide where you want to anchor. Decide how deep the water is using the chart and depth sounder, and this determines how much anchor "rode" to put out. The rode is the combination of chain and rope that is attached between the anchor and the boat. Long tradition and empirical testing, has put the "right" ratio of rode length to water depth at between 3 to 1 and 10 to 1. That is, if one is anchored in 10 feet of water, the rode length should be anything from 30 to 100 feet!...the actual amount to vary on weather conditions, the type of "ground" under the water, whether there is to be a change of depth from the state of the tide, and a bunch of other arcane things called "experience". The longer the rode, the less strain there is on the anchor - the angle of pull becomes more horizontal and the anchor is basically a hook in the sea bottom.

So the helmsman drives the boat to the desired position where the "hook" will be dropped, while the anchorman lays out the correct amount of chain/rope and unties the anchor ready for launching. This may take some time; perhaps the boat has to be driven around in a few circles until we're ready to go. Usually a bit of shouting at that point, but we have lots of time to do this...Then a last look at the depth sounder...15 feet? OK that's minimum 45 feet of rode, OK. The anchor is launched and the bottom of the water while the boat is stopped, engine in neutral...the wind/current then take the boat backwards (we try to approach the drop heading upwind) as the anchor chain/rope is gently paid out. Then the exciting part...the rode is tied off and we watch the way that the boat swings to the anchor. Ideally, there is a snatch as the anchor hooks into the mud or sand, the head of the boat swings around as the anchor digs in and we have an initial "set". Now we wait, watching the world not going by, looking at the way that the rode is sloping out into the water. The idea is that the anchor digs in a bit and, ideally, settles down. After this, we'll put on the kettle for a nice cuppa or, more likely, have a wee glass o' wine. And start to watch for other boats anchoring. After another 10 minutes or so, it's time to test the set of the anchor. We'll run the engine in reverse for about 5 minutes, gradually increasing speed, watching the rode and watching the land. If the land starts passing by, or the rode goes slack...the anchor has dragged and we have to start over - with the exception of the wine, perhaps!

There are variations, type of anchor...some are better in mud, some in rocky bottoms, some in sand. The absolute weight of the anchor isn't the key, although it is helpful. The design also matters. There are also harbours with a lot of boats anchored in the "best" spots and every boat has to have swinging room. On one memorable occasion, at the end of a very long day we anchored in the harbour of the town of Wrightsville Beach (North Carolina), the guide book said it was a good harbour and we couldn't believe our luck, it was virtually empty of other boats. Unbeknownst to us, the harbour had recently been dredged as it is very subject to silting up. There was not a lot of sand or mud on the hard bottom to anchor to. There is a swift tidal current in both directions here. So we tried the normal anchor - on our old boat, a 60-pound monster that rarely had problems. Set, but it dragged when tested. Hmm. OK, we tried the 45-pound "fast set" claw anchor. didn't even set...bouncing along the bottom. So we pulled out the littlest folding anchor, which only weighs 6-pounds, is made of lightweight aluminum alloy and has an adjustment for setting in soupy mud. We put it on the end of a 10 to 1 scope (probably 120 feet of rode) and set it gently, ever so gently. We waited half an hour before backing down on the anchor, very slowly...and it held! 

By this time, the front of the boat was covered in water, mud, weeds, slime and so was I.  Hauling up the anchor brings up all the crap that is on the sea bottom (and sometimes interesting jetsam, we once found we had hooked an old anchor, another time an entire tree). The wine (or tea) had long worn off, and it was about 9 pm. We had dinner in a foul mood, worried that the boat would drag in the night, and decided that one person should wake up at regular intervals to check on the boat position (GPS is wonderful for this). The boat went round in circles all night, as the tide came in and out, but we didn't drag towards the bridge at one end of the harbour, or the open sea and the marshes at the other end, but it was a long night...we tested the set again in the morning. The weather was good and we could have moved to another anchorage a few miles away, but the anchor held. So we went out in the dinghy to do our laundry at the local laundromat, and walked to the local supermarket and the fish dock about 30 minutes away and came back with a pile of fresh shrimp. The second night we made a memorable shrimp supper on the boat and slept very soundly.

Incidentally, while we were at our errands, we had visitors on the boat. Everyone worries about this...the thing is locked and parked, but you are not there. When we got back, we found the decks were splashed wet all over, although the weather was bright, warm and sunny. We worried about jet skis, and speedboats buzzing us with a wake, thieves, murderers, nutters...but couldn't work out what it was...Eventually we went below decks to put away our laundry and groceries, then there was a bit splash...we rushed up to see a pelican flapping out of the water, clutching a fish in his beak as he flew away. So one or more of these birds had been sitting on the wire between out two masts, about 30 feet up, conning for fish...and then diving straight down splashing the entire boat. Pretty funny...and these are big - with a 5-foot wingspan and weighing about 20 pounds. 

I guess the fishy smelling bird crap all over the sail covers should have alerted us. We hadn't noticed that at first. Sigh.

Other things that have been happening: one of our boating friends, Judy, had to fly back to Winnipeg to see her dying mother. Judy had just started the final stage of sanding her boat's hull before painting and was working in one of the covered barns in the boatyard. The two weeks she was away were the two weeks that she should have been painting (weather was perfect) and when she got back, the barn was needed for winter storage in less than a week. So we spent the next four days painting her boat with her. Just as well, for her, actually. It was a very complicated paint "system" - and she is one of those people that, for some reason, don't read manufacturers instructions. I'm not saying this is bad, actually, but with some stuff that involve chemistry (paint and cake mixes, for example) it's probably advisable. I mean the company isn't trying to make you have a bad experience or a poor result, surely. So once we got involved, and she had already mixed up the first batch of paint, and we had spent 2 hard hours painting with very poor result (streaky, lots of ridges, poor coverage), we read the instructions. Oh...the next 3 days went a lot better, still hard work, but the result is well, stunning. A royal blue paint job that you can see your face in...pretty good. They always say with these special paints that you should either experiment on a small dinghy, or on someone else's boat. So we have done the latter and now I'm about to do the former. 

I bought a couple of single rowing sculls a couple of years ago. They are very nice and easy to row - and it is easy to train people in them. One of them had developed long cracks along each side of the hull, so I have repaired them with fibreglass and epoxy and I am ready to paint. Probably the next dry day I can sand the primer and get the first of two or three topcoats. (Didn't I say that every conversation eventually degenerates in to a discussion about paint? Crikey!)

The rowing club has had a successful season, now coming to a close. It isn't so interesting to go out when it is wet and cold. One or the other, isn't too bad so we're not totally finished for the hardier types. We have also been to three regattas in the last month. 

The first one was in Burnstown on the Madawaska river between Calabogie and Arnprior. Lovely place on a beautiful river. A very welcoming club of friendly people. Very easy, no real hazards on the course, just the occasional jerks who drive their boats badly :-) Last year, we were hit by a competing rowing boat passing us (driven by a cox who should have known better). This year when launching our coxed four from the beach, a powerboat driven by a race "official" drove by so closely at high speed that a wave of about 2 feet high lifted the boat then dropped it on the beach and our fin keel was broken off.  This made the boat unusable. We were lucky there were no injuries to the rowers who were sitting in the boat or the cox who was just getting in. I'm not that into confronting fools, but I did complain to the boat driver. Basically he lied, denied, and acted surprised. Dolt. In a boat, one is always responsible for the wake and there are easy ways to minimize it - don't run fast, close and parallel to the shore, especially at a beach. It's really dangerous. When a wave is about a foot out in deep water then comes in at speed and hits shallow water, the size of the wave increases tremendously just like a tsunami.  I complained to the host club. They generously lent us another rowing boat and apologized. Our crew had a great row in a fancy new boat, so we were happy after all.

The next regatta was Head of the Rideau hosted by the Ottawa Rowing Club at the Ottawa Canoe Club opposite Mooney's Bay. Well organized, quite a big event. Our men's crew rowed in the "recreational" race, which had two boats in it. They came first (haha, had to be first or last!) and got nice medals. 

Yesterday, we went up to Peterborough to the Head of the Trent regatta. It's become a kind of tradition with our club. The regatta is an enormous undertaking for the university with nearly 500 boats and perhaps 1500 rowers and about 100 people officiating. It coincides with the university homecoming, alumni schmooze/fundraising and boozefest. Amazingly well organized. We had two crews rowing and we rented boats because of the distance (it's a four hour trip from here). Our crews did well, better than in previous years. 

Perhaps next year we'll take our own boat to Peterborough - we are lucky enough that the club has been given a grant towards the purchase of a new coxed four. Very exciting as this is only our second boat that I would say is seriously competitive (the other is a two-person boat). We probably won't get or use the new boat before next year...the weather is worse and the water level has dropped dramatically. It becomes more hazardous for our rowers to go out without experts who know the waters properly (we do have about 4 of these in the club of 25). 

One of our old boats was rowed across an underwater rock wall a couple of weeks ago which cut a long split in the hull. Amazingly it didn't sink; there are flotation chambers in each end of the hull and at least one of them worked! When I met the crew at the dock (pure coincidence I wasn't rowing) they were very sad, I think they thought I'd be angry or something! But it was fibreglass which is easy to repair...the old wooden ones are a nightmare. Very fragile and made from specially steamed marine plywood that is paper thin for lightness. This is why we get "given" old wooden boats by other boat clubs who are tired of looking after them. After us, it's the scrap heap, I'm sorry to say. We have pushed two old eight man boats and one four-man boat into the bushes at the marina to rot away...even now I get the occasional plea to take an eight from a club "real cheap". These things are 60 feet they are a liability.

In other news, after a summer of neglecting the house and garden, now comes the reckoning. We have finally started the Augean task of cleaning house, after taking yet another cat to the vet to be euthanized. This last one was 20 years old, which is about 140 human years. It was time to do her in while she was still not suffering too badly - she was declining quite quickly. We are now down to one black cat, which is a great relief as her character and behaviour are easier to deal with. Next, the day-long task of cleaning the window screens and taking out the air conditioner. Then we have to clean the eaves troughs (another day) and then about 2-3 weeks digging up the south side of the house to repair the foundation. Then leaf raking etc. God knows how we ever found time to go to work...

Anyway, we'll call you soon to arrange a visit to your new place.

All the best,


Sue & Don

Friday, August 24, 2012

News from Loon County August 2012

Hi D, and all,

We finally got the boat in the water! Hoo-bloody-ray! Don and I are both exhausted, physically and we've been very quiet for the last couple of days. We'll be coming up to Ottawa for the first time in over a month in the next few days, so we'll come and see you tomorrow, Saturday, if that is OK.

In the event, everything went very well. We got most of the big things done and a lot of the little tasks can wait for a bit. Next big task is to put up the mast. This can only be done with the boat in the water. We will have to drive the boat next to the crane that is used to lift masts, and then it is carefully lowered through a hole in the deck to its footing on the bottom of the boat. We then attach the wire stays to the chainplates (were leaking previously, hope they are not still doing so!) and then we only have the 2-3 days work of putting all the sails on. Then it will be time to take the boat out of the water for winter...just kidding! (But not by much!)

The various paint jobs have come out looking really good. I am very pleased - some of it is half finished, but we had to stop at some point - the summer is nearly over and working in the boat shelter was really hard in the heat. So we will get out for a few weekend cruises in September and October, I think.

Meanwhile, the house and garden have reverted to a state of chaos...I was lucky that we had a drought - it reduced the amount of lawn mowing required to none. However, the house is now so filthy that I think it needs a demolition team to come in and blow it up...never mind. It's a long winter and we'll do it then.

My vegetables garden has been variable in result. The Chinese kale and bok choy seem to have served only as decoys for every pest that would otherwise eat brassicas - my broccoli are in excellent shape, but the others look very sad. Apparently bok choi is delicious! The broccoli should start yielding as the Fall progresses. We also grew potatoes, which have done very well. We just started digging out the early ones. Beans and peas have been good, but the tomatoes have suffered from the heat - I grew the tiny cherry variety and they are small with tough skins. There are some mutant plants of the pumpkin/zucchini family growing out of the compost bins. God knows what they are. There are some small gourds hanging down so perhaps we'll find out what they are.

I was in the garden picking beans the other day, I was talking to my neighbour over the back fence. He inherited the house from his father a couple of years ago. Hi father was very elderly when we knew him and a furious gardener, he had the whole backyard laid out with frames for climbing Chinese vegetables. His son has carried on the tradition and extended it by keeping chickens and guinea fowl, mostly for the eggs. It's rather nice to hear hens clucking away when we sit out on the deck. The son often tells me stories about how his father came from China, paid the head tax twice, in order to go back and forward to Hong Kong where his family was started. The whole family worships Lester Pearson  - apparently that government allowed the unification of such families, which is when the children came to Canada. They are all mostly in the big cities now, but when the father died, this son was living in Ottawa and decided to move here. He thinks his wife regrets it, but he is happy in his retirement with his garden and his chickens. He says that if he was in any big city he couldn't afford to have a hobby farm. He is probably right.

The marina has finally replaced the rotten old docks that were on the western side of the basin. They had been there for 25 years and were a real hazard, both to foot traffic and to navigation. Some spiffy new docks to match the main dock have been installed by a company from Lansdowne (in the 1000 Islands). These guys are pretty well the only company doing waterfront construction projects on this stretch of the river. They came down with a small tug and crane, cut up the old docks and towed them to the launch ramp where the marina crew dragged them out with their equipment. They then launched and assembled the new docks in about 3 days, which is blindingly fast in terms of the local guys. As expected, the old docks were left, on the common sense principle of "Let 'er lie where God flang 'er!" exactly as they had been dragged out. We have been launching our rowing docks past this crumbling pile of timber and steel, generously festooned with decaying mussels, for the past 3 week. Some nights, the boats at the dock 200 feet away were overwhelmed with the smell - people had to go home. Fortunately the mussels appear to have finally rotted away. The smell is more or less gone as long as you breathe through your mouth.

The problem is, of course, disposal. It is one thing to take a pile of wood and steel to the local dump where they'll burn the wood and recycle the resulting metal. However, since these docks consist of large baulks of timber surrounding huge blocks of expanded foam, they are not allowed to be burnt. It would be too much hard work to break down and separate the materials (for our work-shy crew, this represents garbage picking and is beneath them, minimum wage workers that they are). It will cost a couple of thousand to take them to the landfill, so the marina owner has plans to dump them in a piece of land behind the boat yard. They will add to the huge pile of shipping pallets that have been built up in another improbable wheeze to make money...some guy came to the marina owner with a plan to chip the pallets to make a fortune...however the chipping machine didn't like the fact that the pallets are full of bits of metal (duh) and there they have lain ever since. It makes a good source of firewood for the picnic shelter campfire though.

We have our boat tied up on the new docks, which are now filling up with boats, much to the delight and surprise of the marina owner. If you built it, they will come, apparently.

I finally went to my eye doctor as instructed, 6 months after the shingles attack. The vision in my right eye is now 2 diopters worse than it was, which was making my eyesight very unbalanced. In short, I needed new glasses. She gave me a new prescription and I decided to order glasses online. They came within 5 days and I am very pleased. They are about 20% of the cost of the last pair of glasses I had, and are identical (apart from prescription). The only problem now is that my vision is changed and my brain had got used to seeing fuzzy in the right I now have almost more visual information than I can process. I am gradually getting used to it, but my right eye gets tired and droops at the end of the day.

I hope that we can come and see you tomorrow, Saturday afternoon. I will call early in the afternoon to see if it is convenient.

All the best,

Sue & Don.

Friday, July 6, 2012

News from Loon County July 2012

Hi again D,

After Nicole's recent operation, it's starting to feel like we are all in an Anne Marie MacDonald novel. Crikey! Good news so far, though. Her operation seems to have had great results...thankfully.

More good news, although of less import. I am off the anti-depressants! The shingles pain has retreated to an itch on my eyebrow, forehead, and scalp that I forget about it most of the time. I am so relieved! I dropped the dose down a quarter of a pill at a time, each for 2 weeks and I stopped taking it completely 10 days ago. Good!

We have been doing boat work (forget about launching before July!) and are now putting together the main hatch. It looks lovely. I have painted one side of the boat in white with a green stripe (each colour takes 3-5 days to do, so this is why we are so slow). The weather has been freaking hot (as I expect you've noticed!) so we can only work before 11:30 am or after about 5-6pm when it starts to cool. Other than that, the boatyard is a hellish desert with a bright glare off the gravel. We have seen the inside of the boat shelter get up to 47 degrees Celcius when we open it up at about 1pm. Can't do anything but turn on the fans and wait for evening.

We had a fun Canada Day weekend. The marina held a party, as is traditional, on the Saturday. When we first attended this party about 10 years ago, the staff were frantically tidying up, cutting grass, repairing the picnic shelter etc., right up to 4pm. We ambled by, looking for signs of free food (another tradition, the marina buys the burgers, sausages, condiments and fixings; the dessert and salads are pot luck from the guests). The owner thrust $50 into our hands and told us to go buy fireworks at the local convenience store/bottle return. This we did. It was a fun show that evening, supervised by a drunk gentleman who had the distinction of being in the local volunteer fire service and operated by a marina worker who moonlights from the local beer store (and has the experience of having burned off his eyebrows when shrink-wrapping a boat with a propane torch). What could possibly go wrong? Actually nothing did...everyone had fun, drank too much and slept on their boats afterwards...

By this year, the fireworks have become so elaborate that local people drive to the other side of the small bay to get a good view. The marina owner no longer buys puny retail fireworks; he drives to Montreal to buy the good stuff. I have no idea how much he spent this year, but it was an impressive show.

We had a couple of house guests who came down for this party (and don't mind sleeping with cats) - Jennifer and Gratton have been at the marina as long as we have, and have now moved their boat to Great Exuma in the Bahamas. They spend a Feb-May on the boat, then come back to Ottawa. Until last year, they commuted in their RV, a very old C class (bed over the driving cab). Last Spring, they drove down to the boat, but only made it to upstate New York. The van caught fire, and the propane tanks exploded...they only got out with the what they were wearing. It seems that they had had a new catalytic converter put into the van by the RV mechanic in Carleton Place. They had noticed a strong smell of burning paint and had brought the van to the Canadian Tire store in Morrisburg for a check up...they were told nothing was wrong...three hours later...boom! (One moral, don't rely on Canadian Tire for advice, I guess).

They were stuck in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with no clothes, money, food or transportation (they had been towing their little car, the front of which was burnt). Fortunately, as often happens, the townsfolk rallied round, found them all that they needed. Actually I put it down to Gratton's character...he worked for the Youth Hostelling organization before he retired, and a more cheerful, simply delightful character can't be imagined. They rented a car after a few days (Gratton was wearing a money belt with his credit cards), continued on to Florida, and went sailing anyway!

It appears to us that this was a redemptive experience for our friends. Most other people would have returned home, after losing all their stuff ("Burrrnt to a crrrisp!" is Jennifer's  colourful phrase; she is a Scot). However, these two, including Jennifer, the most tight-fisted person I have ever met, have taken the hint from Providence that life is not about money or possessions. Unbelievably we even heard her say at one point, "It's only money!" when referring to losing the van. Admittedly, after 18 months they are still arguing with the insurance company, so they are not entirely giving up on that.

Also at this Canada Day party was our friend Chris and with his wife Lesley. He keeps his home-built trimaran at the dock now. As I mentioned previously, he was a squadron leader in the British RAF and he brought with him two visitors from England: Andy and his wife, Judy, who is blind, both in their late 50's. Eventually, we worked out that Andy had trained with Chris in the RAF in the '70's and had ended up as an Air Vice-Marshal - 2nd in command of the RAF, basically in charge of 20,000 service personnel. Very smart and modest man, has just taken early retirement to look after his wife, also a very smart person. She went blind at the age of 25 or so, from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition. Quite a relationship, he walks with her on his arm, talking her through the shape of the ground and any obstacles, while describing what he sees around him. They went to Niagara Falls and the Botanical Gardens in Montreal amongst other things.

This couple had just been sailing with Chris and Lesley, and this had been (as one can imagine) a less-than-optimal experience for a blind person. There was a strong wind and a trimaran steers like a cow at the best of times. When they were blown off the dock straight onto the shoal opposite, Chris had, inconsiderately, lost his temper. Still, everything ended well, no-one drowned and no boats were damaged (as I say to myself every time I return from rowing) - until they got to the dock, that is. As the blind lady got off the boat, no one was watching her and she very nearly walked off the other side. She went home early to have a rest, understandably. 

As it got dark, I got out some coin-cell type 3V batteries and a set of LEDs that I had brought to the marina. I had used LEDs for a project with my friend Bronwyn, but after that they were surplus. You can make a really neat little wearable light by taping an LED to the coin cell with a bit of electrical tape (long leg of the LED to the positive terminal). I first made them for the people at our picnic table, but then the four or five kids at the party all wanted them. And then they wanted to change the colours. Or have their colour match that of their new friend. Or have a different colour from their brother. Kids have waaay too many choices :-) These devices were thought up by a fellow in New York who calls them 'throwables' and goes around sticking them inside helium balloons at night or taping a magnet on and sticking them to bridges.

One of the mothers got quite inspired when I told her about the fashion and technology maven Limor (LadyAda) Fried. She is a New York engineer who has started a company to evangelize wearable technology (amongst other things). The website is where I have been buying some of my electronic kits, one of them I used to make a Tron-ified jean jacket for Bronwyn to wear on Canada Day. I may have mentioned Bronwyn before, she is the daughter of a neighbour, lovely child, who had brain surgery for a benign tumour when she was 6. Now 11, she still has frequent headaches and often misses school. I bought a jean jacket and jeans from the local charity shop for $4, stitched some electroluminescent wire to the seams of the jean jacket (bright greenish blue lines) and sewed LED light strips to the outside seams of the jeans (one red, one white, it was Canada Day after all). 

Bronwyn lives right opposite the waterfront park where Morrisburg has its Canada Day celebrations. There was a craft market, petting zoo (there has to be employment for llamas, doesn't there?) and midway rides with swinging chairs, inflatable slides and "bouncy castles". As the dark fell, Bronwyn went with her brother to the swing chairs ride and was quite the sensation. The LED strips on the pants are really bright. Each strip has 60 sets of LEDs per metre (I used about 2/3 of a metre on each leg). Each LED set has 3 LEDs. One strip was 3 whites in each set, the other was an RGB strip. I just lit the red ones. Normally these things are powered by 12V batteries, like the jerks who drive around with the woofers turned way up and bright blue lights on the running boards, but I figured it would lower her pleasure to drag a car battery I used a 9V smoke detector battery in each hip pocket to power them and only lit one LED per set to keep power consumption down. Still, they are amazingly bright!

Rowing season is in full swing. I think the club's getting a critical mass of people now if we can get 8-12 people out on a week-night in July. A couple of years ago it was just me and another childless middle-aged lady; most people have lives and families and things to do in July...if you can imagine! We only installed the rowing club sign by the road last year, and it has brought us more public awareness than any other thing. Obvious, really. Because I am at the marina a lot, I get called by the receptionist to talk to curious passers-by. I show them around, and, if I have time, I try to give the person a quick lesson. My executive committee, all university trained rowers, with no time on their hands, tried to discourage me from signing up these people, without them having completed our official Learn-to-Row program. However, for a strong, healthy person comfortable on the water there is not much hazard and it is the way I learned.

Thursday night, we had a new guy show up. He's been nagging me to come to learn for a week or so, and I finally brought him down on a club rowing night. Nice man, he is about 6'7" tall, built like a rower, former military, about 27 years old. He casually mentioned that he had done the Cambrian Patrol twice! (I am impressed. This is a British army-hosted competitive event over 2 days in the horrible hills of Wales where teams of military compete over a 60 mile course with 60lb packs on their backs. It's basically two days of rain and watery hell, with guns, but commando-types love it. Our fellow was probably in Afghanistan doing manly things until recently.) Anyway, he took to rowing like the proverbial duck to water. I threw him into our unsinkable training single and got my single out to follow him and give some instruction. He didn't need much, and he had the habit that military people have of listening closely and doing what he was told. It was as much as I could do to keep up with him, even though his boat was shorter with more drag...he'll make a good rower. Apparently he's applied to be a fire-fighter in Ottawa. Rowing is a common choice for fire-fighters to keep up their fitness requirements. He'd be a good choice for Ottawa, I'd say.

One plan for club development this year is to try to get enough male rowers to row together as a crew. For one thing, it will stop them from annoying the middle-aged female crews, who like to chat, rest a bit and row more casually (although we do greater distances). And it would be good to get a male crew to one of the Fall regattas. We'll see. A couple of men in the club are there as husbands of rowers (Don is firmly against team sports, as I used to be, and does not row), and they often have other things to do.

I was very interested in the VR rehab stuff that Shelagh posted on Facebook. Amazing. It looks like a lot of fun, actually. How does it feel? Are you going to do it again?

I am just baking you a shepherd's pie. We made it with ground veal, not so strong a flavour as lamb (plus we couldn't find lamb in the local supermarket). It has onions, garlic, shredded carrots, and minced mushrooms, topped with mashed potatoes and grated parmesan. We will freeze it in 2-meal portions and bring when I come next. Obviously Shelagh or anyone are welcome to share it or eat it if you don't like it. I'll also bring some of the tart version of the lemon curd. I think you may like that. I seem to think the last one I brought was the milder one. And some Seville orange marmalade. Hope to see you sometime in the next few days.

All the best to all,

Sue & Don.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Star-Spangled Discount Store

Forgive me, I cannot resist a silly song:

Oh, say can you see by the Walmart's bright lights
Where so proudly we buy, with the freezers full gleaming?
In whose broad aisles we fight the perilous fight,
Oh the pig parts we snatch, they're so gallantly steaming?
And the spandex red glare, patrons bursting in there,
Give proof through our lives that our dollar's still here.
Oh, say is that star-spangled discount store still open,
In the land of the fee and the home of the slave?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Doing my bit for the U.S. economy

As I wander down the aisle of the Ogdensburg Walmart, on this, the hottest day of the year so far, I espy my heart's desire: a bottle of Coppertone® WaterBABIES® sunscreen - nothing is too good for your baby, right?

To my surprise, the product is no longer adorned with the adorable blond kiddie in pigtails, clad only in a pair of knickers, at which a cheerful brown dog* is tugging, exposing her buttock cleavage! Gadzooks! The little lady is now wearing a wee blue dress and the dog is exposing nothing but a playful nature.

My childhood memories (Sigatoka Beach, 1963) are gone forever! Pity. 

I return to Canada bearing my purchase.

I look at my old Canadian-bought bottle. The little girl is exposed once more! Not quite as cute as the original image, but nice anyway. This is what I remember, along with politically- and dermatologically-incorrect slogan.

On the Coppertone website, yet another you see it, now you don' butt crack here and the kid has no tan.

To what do we owe this censorship?

Is the maker being helpful? (An arrest at the border for kiddie porn is so embarrassing.)

Or is this a well-meaning attempt to encourage U.S. parents to protects their kids from the Sun?

Standards are changing, folks. You see it over the course of 50 years. Personally I remain pale and interesting...but do not object to a little crack.

a spaniel, I think.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

News from Loon County early June 2012

Hi D and acolytes,

Once more, happy integer rotations around the Sun since your birth! I am not going to say anything anodyne, but what I always say is: "All I want for my birthday is another birthday."

Not much except routine stuff happening in the village . No dramatic reappearance of the Russian Princess. She flies in tonight, I understand. All parties are on emergency alert. RP's husband, visited our lawyer to be told that, no he didn't have to and shouldn't leave the house, and that if she called the Children's Aid Society about him, he was to file a complaint about her neglect of the children...stay tuned for more drama.

In other news, we have been going to the boatyard every day for 4 hours or so. It's coming along very nicely, we have (I think) solved a couple of problems with the original construction - both annoying and both involving water. It might be obvious that, with a boat, most of the problems are of the water-related kind. However, it may not be obvious that the type of water that is the trouble is not the stuff that the boat floats in. It's the stuff that falls from the sky, even on the finest night. Rain, fog, dew...our problems are two. The first is a day one problem with the boat, the other was a day one problem compounded by our earnest attempts to "improve" things.

I am not sure are you familiar with the ancient engineering wisdom, called the Problem Solving Flowchart? This was one of the first attempts at an ascii drawing that I remember seeing, working as a young new grad in an engineering office in the '80's. Engineers thought it was hilarious in those happy, simpler times; but then, and still, engineers tended to have a less-then-refined sense of humour and think that jokes about body functions are wonderful. I actually survived with minimal brain damage and was only hit on by two marketing men (engineers in the natural state are far too shy to actually talk to women, hence the fart jokes...) 

I am not sure if Geoff or Shelagh can read the chart out to you, but basically it says that if you fuck around with something that's a problem, now you are responsible for the problem. So the problems that we had on the boat were (as I said) two: number one; there was a puddle that used to collect on the step just outside of the main hatch, because it was angled towards the hatch and not away, towards the drain holes. Should not be a problem, you perhaps say. What's a few ounces of water on a step? However the times that I, or Don, early on a fine sunny morning, drew aside the hatch, lifted out the boards to get out and appreciate the lovely day, took a deep breath of clean, cool air, and stepped, usually in stockinged feet, into that puddle, is too large to number. Often, both of us would do this, twice in the same day (the dew drops down just as the lovely stars come out...)

You might not think that this is source of exasperation. However if you are travelling in a boat, the number of dry socks that one can pack is limited, and the opportunities for drying them are also limited. Truth be told, one only gets a single sock wet at a time, and we always buy a pile of the same socks each, so it's not like we are walking round with mismatched socks. But it is demoralizing when the expedition is taking place with a large number of socks festooned around the cabin in the rather pathetic hope that they will dry in a constantly moist atmosphere. It's like a Youth Hostel in a particularly damp climate, (Snowdonia in Wales, springs to mind. A whole room, optimistically labelled The Drying Room, filled with the gently mouldering reek of scores of unwashed warmish, wet woolen socks and assorted other garments. Shudder.) Anyway, the step had to be modified to slope slightly outward. Don has filled it with a plywood wedge embedded in epoxy, and has spread a thick layer of epoxy on top. My job is to sand it smooth, fill in the bumps, then paint it with a non-skid paint. 

Incidentally, we have found a fantastic, waterproof, non-skid paint! (I warned you, previously, that boaters, are monomaniacs on the subject of paint, did I not?) This product is called KiwiGrip (made in New Zealand) and is a kind of latex paint the consistency of soft butter. You trowel it on, use a textured roller to get a pattern of random small peaks and let it dry. Really good on a sloping surface even when covered with water (...I warned you I could bore the legs off any quadruped on the subject of paint.) Only downside is the price (eek!) which is considerable. The man at the Chandlery smiles his approval when you heave a gallon of this stuff onto the counter before him. Nothing's too good for your cherished boat is it?

The second problem is the one we fucked with. All the authorities on restoring a boat, publications with titles like This Old Boat (or "Don Casey" as in "Don Casey says that you should...", The Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual (referred to as "Nigel" or "St. Nigel says...") and From a Bare Hull (which, although it has a vaguely erotic ring to it, isn't; except if you're one of us paint and caulk-stained wretches, dressed in rags, buying paint at $200 per gallon); all of these worthy publications refer, repeatedly, to "pulling the chain plates" as the absolutely most important part of a serious refit of an old, tired boat. (It is sometimes called a "thirty-year refit" for obvious reasons, I suppose, but, like a house, you don't want to do more than one of these in a lifetime. This is our second. Happy sigh.) 

The chain plates are pieces of stainless steel bar that are attached to the ends of the rigging wires. Basically they keep the mast from falling down. They attach to (we hope) a strong point on the boat, usually the sides of the hull interior. To get to there from the outside, they have to pass through the deck, at three points on each side of the boat, and at the very end of the bow and stern. So we have a basic mechanical system. A strong stainless wire, under considerable tension, is attached to the mast top at one end, and to a stainless bar at the other end, which goes through the fibreglass deck (about 2 cm thick) and is then bolted with four large bolts to a bulkhead built out from the inside of the boat. All fine. So we are back to the water problem. When we bought the boat, two of the six side-deck chain plates leaked rain water into the lockers, both on one side of the boat. 

Oh, I forgot to say that the reason that you have to "pull the chainplates" is that, unlike popular belief, stainless steel does rust. Not easily, and hardly ever when exposed to air. However, if air is excluded, say by a glob of caulk to try to make the chainplate hole in the deck waterproof, it can rust. If the corrosion gets bad enough, the chainplate can break and the mast will fall down. The kind of life-threatening excitement that we boaters try to minimize, I'd say...

So we pulled the chainplates (obviously when the mast was down), there was some pitting, which is common, but no cracks or crevices (we used a kit of oil-based dye and a sticky white powder to check for this; more money to the nice men in the marine supplies business). We polished them up and reinstalled them. This involves caulking them where they pass through the deck. All looked lovely.

We then have the mast put up again, reattached and re-tensioned the rigging.  The first rainstorm exposes the same inevitable pools of water in the lockers. But this time it's on the other side of the boat as well! Another thing sailors are known for is colourful language...

I forgot to mention that two of the chainplates protrude below decks in quite inconvenient places. One is in the head (toilet) compartment where we have to remove the toilet, dismantle the sink, bathroom closet and such to get at the bolts; the other is inside a hanging locker. A locker that you can hang about six jackets in and which is so narrow that you have to twist your hips to sit down in it. Then the bolts are conveniently so high that you need to stretch up slightly beyond reach with a ratcheting socket, feeling around and with a flashlight balanced on your nose to undo the bolts. They say the CIA tortures people with "stress positions" for hours at a time. Even doing this for 10 minutes means we come out feeling pretty "uncomfortable" as the medical profession would have it.

In short, we were not best pleased. However, we put up with the leaks last year by putting things inside plastic boxes. The extra moisture didn't improve the wet sock situation at all. When the boat was hauled last year we said we would try to fix the problem. It seems that we had had no leaks before we put up the mast, but we did when we tensioned the rigging. Probably the pressure caused the thin layer of caulk to separate from the deck allowing water in. We think we have a solution to the problem, but the fun thing about this kind of repair is that you get to try it only once a year - it costs $300 to the very nice man who owns the marina, to take down the mast and then another $300 to put up the mast again. I swear that there are very few Pirates of the Caribbean these days; they are running boating repair shops, marinas, and, of course, waterside drinking establishments where boat owners go to drown their sorrows and argue about paint.

So that is the long, boring tale of life on the ocean waves. As if. We hope to launch before July.

Other than that, and two dramatic deaths in the Township, not much else to report. Usual rowing, cat wrangling, and hilling up the potatoes.

Neither of the deaths has been classified as suspicious, much to the chagrin of the local OPP members, who have to hearken back to a shocking, still unsolved shooting of a police officer in the village during the '60's to really feel like they are detectives. However, it's always refreshing at my age to talk about someone else dying. And it seems to get more interesting the older one gets - we are still in the race to nowhere and someone else dropped out, I suppose.

About 10 days ago, a couple of divers found a body, off the village beach. This is exactly the kind of excitement that the diving geek loves. The deceased turns out to be a man from Lanark County, who had wandered away from home, hitchhiked to the St. Lawrence and ended up drowned. He was reportedly a sufferer from a mental illness, poor man, so the death is presumed suicide, "while the balance of his mind was disturbed" as British Coroners used to say to grieving relatives, so that Church authorities would bury their loved one on consecrated ground. There is now a driftwood cross at the beach where he was pulled from the water. Very sad.

On Friday last, a body was found on a track behind the marina. Another sad case. As related by a marina worker, with more than a little relish - gossip is great currency in these parts. We got the full story. The deceased was an older man, who hasn't been the same since his wife died 25 years ago. His habit was to cycle daily to the cemetery by the Seaway Lock to visit his wife, then cycle home via the LCBO to pick up his comfort. Presumably he lost his license to drive years ago. This is the main reason the local people here use bicycles. Other than children and yuppies, that is. He would bike through the rough track alongside the marina (which was a railway before the Seaway was constructed). It is mosquito-infested and overgrown but basically passable. When he didn't get home on Friday, his son drove to the cemetery at 1am, expecting to find his father passed out. No sign of him. The next day, Saturday, the son set out by foot and found his father dead on the track next to his bicycle. Poor man. He called the police, lots of commotion, yellow tape etc. and then they waited 5 hours for the paramedics to arrive. I would suppose they consider removal of a dead person to be lower than an emergency. Needless to say, our informant was much exercised by the authorities' "not even covering him up in all this heat and flies and everything" - with some justification I think. Then a boater's wife came into the marina office where people were talking quietly to the man's son, and made a crass remark that anyone would think there was a dead body out there, there's so many police cars about... to their credit, they said, "Yes, it's the father of this man here." Swift retreat of loud-mouthed lady...

Anyway, that's quite enough gossip and dramatic paint-drying stories for one letter...

See you guys soon, we hope,


Sue & Don.

News from Loon County late May 2012

It's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegon...well actually it hasn't. We've had the major freak out and bust-up of the Russian Princess with serious collateral damage etc. As an old friend used to say, now I know why tigers eat their own young...sigh!

We have been plodding on with our boat restoration for some weeks, getting along OK, bit-by-bit, and thinking that the weather wasn't that great for boating yet anyway...I have been rowing my brains out three times a week, and helping with the Learn-to-Row sessions which finish this coming week. So I don't have a lot of spare time...what there is I use in gardening, making wine, laundry etc.

Anyway, I got a call from the RP last Tuesday. Left an incoherent and rambling message. Could she ask me a big favour? (uh, oh) Would I be home on Thursday at 10 am? Would I be able to go with her to witness her signing a document? Phone tag and finally she called back and I said, yes, sure. OK, see you Thursday. KThxBye...That was it.

I didn't much worry about what was going on. This is the kind of thing that she's done before. It is all about her, always. She arrived on Thursday morning looking quite strained. She started to tell me that she and her husband, Job (not his real name), were separating. (About time.) And that she was going to meet him at his parents house to sign an agreement about financial support etc. that was the document I was to witness, crikey, thanks for the notice! She then started frantically scribbling down figures and dates, adding things up using a calculator. It then transpired that this was a list of Job's income for the 10 years of their marriage, together with the amounts of money provided by her mother from time-to-time and from the sale of various properties that the RP and her mother had in the U.S. and Russia/Crimea. I must say it seemed a bit odd that she was just working all this out about 5 minutes before meeting with her husband (and presumably his family). There was a lot more scribbling and muttering. Eventually she produced a tape recorder and started testing it to pick up her voice in normal conversation. She said she was going to record the encounter. She wouldn't discuss anything that she was going to do. All she would say is, don't ask questions, don't speak when we go to the family's house. She said that in the forthcoming conversation she would be the only one to speak - I pointed out that the generally accepted meaning of conversation was a dialogue. She said it was to be a monologue, only she would be allowed to speak.

We walked around to Job's parents' house, a very modest bungalow just around the corner. This couple are in their late 60's, they are very nice, we know them slightly from various local excitements, such as the neighbourhood campaign to prevent Jimmy Smith from opening a car repair shop in his yard across the street from them...but I digress...Job came to the door asked if the RP was alright and we went into their tiny kitchen. The RP has previously said to me about five times that she didn't want to face her mother-in-law and she didn't want to sit next to her (most emphatically the last). So there was a bit of chair moving and shuffling while the correct Feng Shui was obtained for madame.

First item on the agenda was the separation agreement. One page, two or three typewritten lines. They were separating and would do what was best for the kids. Sign here, sign here, witnessed by me. OK so far. Then the RP launched into her monologue (after turning on the tape recorder and warning several times that a Children's Aid Society person was expecting to get the tape today). It went on for 30 mins and then she had to turn the tape over. No-one else was allowed to speak, no-one could lean forward (too threatening). She produced Job's tax returns and read out the totals of his income for the last 10 years. In the last 4 years his income had dropped from $25K to an average of around $6-10K. He has probably only worked 4-6 months of every year in that time. (Mostly because he had to give up working to look after the kids while the RP went on one of many trips to Russia or the US to see her guru.) She said that she and her mother had supported her husband during that time and therefore she wanted to have their house in Westboro entirely for herself.  Job was OK with that. No-one else said anything at all. I stared at my hands and tried to think of how I could be having a good time sanding teak right now. Then there was a long diatribe about how wonderful Canada was in providing a system for abused women to be safe and financially secure. How she had talked to a lawyer from the Women's Shelter and that because Job's parents had cosigned her immigration sponsorship 10 years ago, they were jointly responsible for her support until December. Dire warnings about what would happen if anyone didn't obey her. Threats of what lawyers would do. Nasty.

Then the actual demands were produced. She had 3 copies of a typewritten sheet with lots of last minute additions in pen. She started to read this out, when I pointed out that to be fair she should pass the copies around otherwise it wouldn't be understood.

  • Job to pay $2000 per month to the RP (modest enough to live in Westboro, but basically all he could earn on near minimum wage, leaving nothing for him.)
  • Job to pay her $600 to get a new computer because he had broken hers. He's caught a virus or something and screwed it up.
  • Job to pay to repair the dent in her new car that he made 3 years ago. Picky.
  • Job to be available to look after the children at weekends, some week nights, and any time the RP wanted to go on a trip. (Meaning he couldn't actually get a job).
  • Job to make sure that when the children were taken to his family get-togethers that they were treated the same as the other grandchildren. God knows...
  • Her children only to eat healthy snacks when they visit the grandparents because they have inherited obesity from both sides of the is true that the 11-year old is fat. Hypocritical. The RP is herself, fat. Her use of juice in a soother for her infant daughter meant that the child's baby teeth all rotted and had to be removed.
  • Children to go to the Ukraine with the RP for 2 months in the summer. Hmm.
  • Job to pay to renovate the bathroom in (now) the RP's house. (This will take at least $5K since it is an original 50's fully tiled bathroom).
  • Job to pay off the $50K mortgage that they still have on her house. Yeah, right...
At the end of this mixture of the serious and the stupid, she made more threats of lawyerin', turned off the tape player, packed up her paperwork and walked out. I stopped long enough to give a hug to Job and his parents and followed her out. Told Job to call or come and see me anytime if he needed to talk.

How do you feel when you have been present at a serious attempt to extort money from a couple of elderly people? This is what was going on. There is no way Job could come up with the kind of money that she was asking for. I was very upset for the rest of the day. Didn't get any sanding done!

Job's grandmother lived until she was 90 or so and had inherited just about all the money from her and her late husband's families. Last of a generation. She lived in a ramshackle 1890's house that had long been in danger of falling down. When she finally died, she left about $2 million in property and investments to Job's father and his two sisters. All the property has since been sold. One sister is schizophrenic and lives in a small house nearby - she used to live with her mother; Job's father takes care of her and keeps her on her meds, stops her making huge donations to the Oblate Fathers etc. So this is not a huge estate. Don and I estimate that the best income that Job's father could get on his part of the loot would be about $30-$50K per year. Enough to make it easier to live on his retirement pension, but not enough to go to Vegas very often...the RP clearly doesn't understand the difference between income and capital...
The trouble is that she is actually bat-shit crazy (Don's term). She keeps muttering to herself, excuses about why she has to do what she is doing. It's almost a conversation with a stern parent. Or more probably, god. The chatter never seems to cease. And as she and I were walking away, she then told me that she was going to fly to Los Angeles for 10 days "on a trip that has been planned, all booked and paid for". Oh, and when was this? Tomorrow morning at 5am...

So this character, having attempted at least blackmail on her in-laws, humiliating her husband in front of me and his parents, proposed to leave her children with her "dangerous" husband for nearly the next 2 weeks! I have since spoken to Job and he is dumbfounded. I told him to go to my lawyer in Morrisburg (who is young and reasonably on the ball) and see what he recommends. I think she's insane and should be under treatment. Most of the stories about lawyers are lies. Job found the tape recording, no CAS person was waiting for it. She has made some contacts with the authorities about abuse, but she hasn't done anything final because a) she thinks she can handle Job and that he will fold, and b) because the authorities will take the kids into care pretty quickly until everything is sorted out. She can't bear to think of this.

The nasty thing is, this has (of course) repercussions on their children. The girl is fat and unhappy about it, a beginner at bulimia according to another friend's daughter. 11 years old. Under supervision by Children's Aid, designated "at risk". The 9 -year old boy is emotionally distant, some sort of ADHD/autism spectrum disorder and educationally about 2-3 years behind his age. Smart, obsessed by Lego and pirates, but he refused to speak until he was about 5.

Fwiw, I think the RP is schizophrenic with some psychopathic traits. Not sure if this is complicated by her over-active thyroid (still untreated). Certainly she lacks empathy. When I told her I was unable to look after her kids because I couldn't drive due to my medications, her main concern was whether she could catch shingles from me. Not that this bothers me. What bothers me is that when or if her husband arranges to have the kids taken away from her (she is a terrible housekeeper and getting worse) that she is going to be suicidal...I worked on a suicide hotline years ago in the UK, and this is a classic scenario.

What was I saying about Anne-Marie Macdonald stories? I wish I could unsubscribe to this soap opera, I really do.

The rest of our lives are basically simple...I have made a batch of apricot jam (I'll bring you a jar). I am making a Tron costume for the daughter of a friend to wear to the Canada Day fireworks display. We have planted potatoes and other veg and it's rained ever since. (The potatoes seem to like it, they are up about 6 inches above the ground). I am seriously behind on the weeding...the house & garden is a shambles...too much rain to mow the grass, thank goodness!

My shingles is much better. I have started tapering off the anti-depressant. I'm taking it slowly, 2 weeks on each of three successive lower doses. So far so good, a little itch, nothing significant...I am so glad.

Don sends his best wishes.


News from Loon County May 2012

Hi D,

We are presently working in the boatyard full-time. That means we are actually there for about 3-4 hours a day. The rest of the time is occupied with fetching and carrying stuff, buying stuff, sorting out stuff from basement and garage, essential cat grooming etc. Housework and work in the garden has been neglected (my heart bleeds, you can be sure!) and meals are basically make-a-whack-of-something at the start of a week and keep heating it up every day until it is unrecognisable! "Hmm, I think it was kedgeree..." 

We are making good progress with the boat. The Don has lots of holes cut in the deck, over-drilled (larger holes than needed) then filled with epoxy, then drilled to the right size. The reason for this is that the decks of boats of this type are stiffened with a sandwich of end-grain balsa wood between two layers of glass-reinforced plastic (fibreglass). The balsa wood is very light but susceptible to rot if it gets wet so epoxy is used to seal it. He also removed a couple of apparently decorative wood plates to find each covered (inexpertly) five (5!) holes in the deck on each side. More drilling, filling, drilling etc!.Meanwhile I have been refinishing the teak trim and it's starting to look quite good. Of course, it now makes the white part of the boat look shabby, so I think we will have to paint that as well...the jobs grow in scope, as usual.

Our current conversations with other boaters in the yard tend to be very tedious and technical about paint "systems" (what goes on where and how often) and which brands of masking tape, sandpaper, varnish, are the best etc. We are all monomaniacs on the subject of boats , all doing these jobs at about the same time. Normally we are the only people left, everyone else launches early and heads up to the Thousand Islands or Lake Ontario. Because of the wet and cold weather everyone is delayed by about 3 weeks. Fortunately we are in the tent, so we are not hampered much by wet weather.

We have taken apart the steering wheel to replace some crumbling plastic parts. One of my next jobs is to strip the whole steering system down, paint the bits that show then put it back together again. It is a simple cable and pulley system attached to the rudder head and with a length of bicycle chain over a sprocket directly attached to the wheel. It looks simple enough. What can possibly go wrong? 

What can possibly go wrong? There was a survey on an electronics hobby blog that I read, the subject was, "What was the first thing ever you took apart? Were you able to reassemble it?" 

There were lots of answers such as:
"At age 6/7/11, I took apart the family toaster/alarm clock/VCR/lawnmower. I tried to put it back together but I had some pieces left over and it didn't work. I never told anyone. My parents went right out and bought a new one."

There were a few replies intended to be amusing: "My little brother. No." for example.

My own first take-apart project was a golf ball. Someone had said that they had a lot of rubber inside. Well they were right. After working for about an hour with my mother's bread-knife, I got the hard case off and there was the amazing infinitely long piece of rubber all wound around and around. After about half an hour of unwinding, I found a small sac of some kind of thick latex solution. I never did get it back together again.

Then there was the alarm clock, then the wind-up gramophone (no, I am not that old! it was a broken, obsolete one.) I did sort of get the alarm clock together again and it sort of worked, but the wind-up gramophone nearly killed me. The mechanism, as it turns out, is an infinitely long spring about a half inch wide. It was wound up. When I opened the case (they didn't put health warnings on plastic bags back then either) the thing came alive and sproinged all around my bedroom, taking a large chunk of plaster off the wall. What an idiot! I did learn about potential energy though. Heh I know about taking stuff apart. Needless to say the gramophone was wrecked.

Our friend Chris came back from his visit to family in the UK. His wife is there for a couple more weeks, so we invited him for supper last night. Interesting man. He is a mechanical engineer, was a wing-commander in the RAF, retired at about 50 to sail with his wife from Britain to the Med and across to the Caribbean and then to Canada. He talks like Biggles, it's all, "What ho, chaps!" and referring to his good lady (in her presence) as "Spawn of the Devil" - clearly some kind of private joke. He is accident prone (as are most interesting people) and very much likes singing, has joined the local choral society. We went to a Burns Night supper at his house and had a great time singing all sorts of stuff. He is also a ham - he did a brilliant rendition of Burns' Ode to the Haggis (traditional at these events). He put on a credible dialect and Scottish accent.

For his latest project he has built a sailing boat, a trimaran, which he is going to keep at the marina where we keep ours. So we'll be seeing more of him. He did drop the 50-foot mast in the water on first launching it last year, but he missed my head by at least a couple of metres and he was suitably apologetic :-). Some of his other friends were giggling about this. It had happened to him before on his previous boat, except he had actually dropped a (much lighter) mast on someone's head...!

No word from the mad Russian, or her husband. Clearly that means she doesn't need me for anything just now! Good thing too.

I am getting a bit tired of the anti-depressants. The shingles pain has gone except for an occasional slight itch and sensation a bit like a mild sunburn. However the other side effects are getting more peculiar. I am very, very cheerful, but sometimes babbling words that I can't organize properly. It's like I can remember how to think and do things, but as the memory fades I get more clumsy and stupider. I am basically making lists and reading them repeatedly to try to get things done. On second thoughts, perhaps taking apart the boat steering system is a bit ambitious in my present state of mind! Only 5-1/2 weeks until I can start dropping the dose...

The rowing club starts in earnest in a couple of weeks. I helped launch the rowing dock last weekend. It's made of floating plastic cubes and is pretty substantial. The ramp down to it needed some gravel so I have been hauling bucket-loads from another part of the marina.It all done now. All the club members come out next weekend (May 5/6) to reassemble the rowing boats and do the dozens of other tasks that are needed. Things like spray-painting the channel markers buoys and launching the coach boat etc. So we will not be able to come to see you this weekend. 

We will try to come the weekend of May 12 and perhaps we can go to a movie? 

I hope you are doing well. Talk to you soon.

Sue and Don.

And now...Stupidest Spam of the Intertubularities Award for June 2012

Of late I've been able to ignore most of the spam that my email accounts receive because of pretty good spam filters. So I haven't been getting annoyed enough to go off the deep end about it.

However of the spam that does make it through, there are two kinds that make me sad:

1. Accidental spam. Someone somewhere has an email account that has the same address as mine, if you ignore the punctuation character. firstname.lastname is thus equivalent to firstnamelastname. The Lady Sue, for she is indubitably one, is very much into lady-like pursuits; quilting, knitting, pressing flowers and cooking...(Everyone who knows me, is now chortling, knowing I am not the delicate lady at question)...Lady Sue has subscribed to many of these sweet girlie-interest email lists and websites, bless her.  And yes, the dolts who provided some of these organizations with their registration web pages (or possibly the dolts who program the database backend) has somehow got the algorithm wrong. first.last became firstlast, and I get these lovely offers to quilt my cat or weave my woof etc.

No problem, you say. Just click on unsubscribe. Ah, but there is the difficulty, dear reader. The unsubcribe button asks for my email address, and whether I enter first.last or lastfirst I get an error message saying that this address is not subscribed. Now I might be an old developer put out to pasture in her declining years™ but I can tell that there are actually two problems here - two or more application pieces that both probably call up the same or similar database code, and I bet that there's a regular expression at the root of the problem.

The old adage in CompSci circles was 'Some people, when confronted with a problem, think "I know, I'll use regular expressions." Now they have two problems.' It is not my point to explain why these have been such a thorn in the side of the body of software development, suffice to say that they are a geekish delight and a trap for both the godly and the ungodly. Worse in person-millenia-wasted than the 'Array Index from Zero' problem, and 'A Character String is Just an Array of Characters' problem.

It is not unmanageable, or particularly vexing, just very sad. These mistakes and the lack of adequate testing have made two persons unhappy. The lovely fragrant Lady Sue (your customer!*), who is not getting her email newletters on hot topics in the World o' Quilting, and me.

The interesting thing is that this has been going on for years, and there's no way of stopping it from my end short of creating an email filter on the word 'quilting' or somesuch and ignoring it. This only works because I am not a lady who uses quilting-type words much. The sources of the emails vary widely, as email lists and website frameworks are shared, dipped in batter, deep-fried, wrapped in newspaper** and sold to anyone who wants one.

Intractable problems of this type, while not terribly serious in the example above, were normally ascribed to sclerotic bureaucracies in the horrid old days before the internet was a gleam in the eyes of the sainted Al Gore. Clearly, we now live in an age where you cannot even find a person to complain to and there is no mechanism to fix it. An example of the free market working its special magic.

2. Spam from Social Networks. Now this is real spam. Not malware-type installing nasty poo on your computer spam. Irritating, but not malicious. I believe that there will come a time when we will all regret the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Orkut, and other forums that we are subscribed to using a prime email address as a key data item. I predict that, as the hunt for non-existent revenue from these sites gets every more urgent, these things will get nastier and stupider.

I have a confession. I got onto Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wikipedia etc. just to be the first on my block to play with these. I am such a show-off. And to get the username SueW or SuW. I was interested in the technical side (yeah right). And I crafted a lovely wiki Simple English article about...never mind. 

I do not use these sites as tools in my daily life, so I have set them to email me every time someone sends me a direct message. Same with comments on this non-blog, or replies to comments I make to other people's blogs. 

So I got 15 messages in one day when everyone said Happy Birthday to a friend on a FB group. Fine they're important. I got over 100 spread over four days when another person (who has hundreds of 'friends', is not a noob and should know better) asked all her FB friends to 'Like' something so she would win a contest. Ow. OK. Delete all like this.

Now it gets stupid to the point of nasty. A while ago there was a story about LinkedIn having 'lost' about 6 million passwords. (The fact that they were storing passwords that could be unencrypted easily is bad enough, to actually lose them looks like carelessness***.)

Yesterday I got am email from LinkedIn, who have recently taken to spamming with an eager weekly email entitled LinkedIn Toady :-) or (Things You Stupid B-School Turkeys Need to Know to Advance your Careers) or somesuch. Yesterday the email was entitled: How to Check if Your LinkedIn Password was Stolen...

I mean WTF! If you bxggers have lost my identifying information and password, I`d like a personally addressed, grovelling apology! 

So, LinkedIn, you are the lucky recipient of the first Stupidest Spam of the Intertubularities Award. Just drop dead, guys! I mean that most sincerely.

Regrets, I a have a few, and most of them are Social Media...****

* or, at least, your customers' customer. 
** This is a joke, who the heck has any scrap newspaper around the house these days? My lovely and talented life companion uses a 1996 copy of the Globe and Mail Business section to catch bits when he trims his beard, but otherwise the only newspaper in my house is stuffed inside the walls.
***Stolen joke alert. O. Wilde prop. 
****Fair dinkum use, Paul Anka. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spam; the sorrow and the pity!

Dicks are decimated! (OK, OK, reduced by two thirds, which is actually worse than decimation.)
I was wrong...Crikey! This is what I get for taking my eye off the er..balls...(it's been a year since my last spam survey) and the number of come-ons associated with erectile dysfunction is sadly drooping. Indeed it no longer form the largest category in my spam filter! For shame! Come on dicks!

Anyway, I was right in the obvious prediction that the coming - now continuing - hard times would produce exciting new categories of spam especially those associated with financial difficulties. Indeed, the winner this year (taking over from Viagra previously at 11%) is the new category of cheap, easy loans, also at 11%. As if the public hadn't already gorged itself on too much credit. A sad note is that many of these 'loans' are aimed at veterans who are apparently perceived to be the new stupid or desperate poor.

Associated is another category of credit and bankruptcy fixing at 4% this year, a little down from last year's 5%. This includes a ingenious twist: proposing to tell us who is doing background/credit checks on us.

Another shocker - posh watches are at the low, low level of 1% of spam down from 6% last year! Their place as desirable consumer commodities has apparently been taken by cut-price iPads, MacBooks, Dysons and Kindles (5%). Yes I know, the Dyson is a vacuum cleaner, but it is as excessively overpriced as the others and hence appears desirable. I do know people who collect fancy watches. It's like stamp collecting. You kind of keep buying them and then you sort of...just, have them, right?* Whereas iPads, Kindles and Dysons have more practical uses of viewing your pr0n collection or vacuuming up the cat hair covering your carpets.

The biggest single subjects of spam over the last ten years, ED and fancy timepieces, are just fading away. In all the number of categories is up 6% to 53 from 50 last year. More fragmentation. Considering that email as an application has been practically killed by spam (although mobile apps are the biggest nail in the coffin), I hope the senders are choking on piles of fake Cartiers. As if.

Now all this could be relative to the recipient. I have told Facebook that I am 92-year old female and I now get 'old lady'-related spam. They've given up pushing the incontinence products, thank goodness, but the seniors homes, home care, seniors' dating sites and electric scooters are all on offer, amounting to 6% of total. Thanks fb.

A new category, purports to be from lawyers who are trawling for business in class actions against drug companies, including the Nuvaring which is a contraceptive I didn't know before. (It's an education doing this job). This amount to 4% of my spam - implying the senders think there are many people who would be prepared to lie to a jury. Why not? People are clearly happy to help cheaters cheat, and think they will not be cheated themselves.

As an illustration, one of the old favorites, the venerable advance fee (Nigeria 419) scam has emerged from the mists of time with a spam email, purporting to be from a Capt. Anita George US Army. This poor woman was forced to bury just truckloads of American cash in Iraq in her hurry to leave. Now, finding herself a bit short of ready money she is appealing to you (You!) to help her repatriate the poor mistreated MIA currency with the promise of an ill-gotten share for you as well...She is somewhat more fluent than the proverbial African princes of old, though.

The categories related to financial distress (FD) amount to 61%. I would claim that most get-rich-and/or-educated-quick schemes and crazy discounts fall in this area.

Anyway, with no further ado, here is the full list:

11% Cheap/payday/military loans - one promising offering: "Quick relief from financial aches and pains". FD.

7% Famous (often misspelled) U.S. store brands at cut prices. Would like to claim this for FD, the usual urge for thrift while still owning enviable stuff.

6% Dating for seniors, facebook users and one, poetically titled, 'Love can be yours'

5% Cheap iPads, MacBooks, Dysons, Kindles. This has gotta be FD.
5% Senior Care. Get granny out of the house!

4% categories:
  • Cheap car insurance. FD.
  • Nuvaring/heart surgery drug/other drug injury attorney. FD.
  • Erectile dysfunction. Sad days indeed when men cannot be relied upon to worry about their lacklustre willies!
  • Universities of Nowhere offering useful sounding courses, including special "GI benefits". FD.
  • Credit rating/background check. FD.
  • Craft supplies - omg, will it never stop? The goddamned quilting, knitting, crocheting, crafty spam. Spawn of Satan! Not FD, unless you think knitting your own socks is a Sign of the Greater Depression forthcoming.

3% categories:
  • AARP membership. Might be legit in light of my admitted age on fb. However, I am not American. Yankee go home.
  • Did you know your home is at risk? I assume they mean of foreclosure not lightning, UFOs or meteorites. FD.
  • Take survey for money. They don't pay more than about $2 an hour (and they don't often pay up) so I assume this is FD.

2% categories:
  • Men's Big & Tall Apparel. Nothing to see here. I'm not a man and I'm not big and tall. Well I may be big.
  • Lint lizard clean your vents - the day I get a reptile in my dryer vent is the day I live a long way south of the snowline. Nice idea though.
  • Car warranty - as I previously remarked, the car is man's best friend, and you want to ensure the health of your best friend don't you?
  • Credit cards - OK this is FD. Anyone who hasn't got enough credit cards is probably already bankrupt.
  • YouCalendar 2 please click not Spam. Hmm? No. Get lost.
  • Cheap life insurance - curious category. Probably from the WNPU Insurance Company Inc.** FD.
  • 1 step acne treatment - probably aimed at teenagers. Very little spam is, because teens these days have better things to do that use email.
  • Low cost health insurance "Amazing coverage starting at $99/mth." $1200 per year is not "low cost". Seems this is for 'mericans. Get lost you sick bastards! Everyone in Ontario pays $750 per year for full coverage. You in the U.S are being gouged. FD
  • Train to be a massage therapist/xray tech. FD. Similar to University of Nowhere.

1% categories:
  • Posh watches - the mighty are fallen.
  • Airline tickets - right...give me something for nothing...again.
  • A hapless friend has her email list stolen and I get spam. You know who you are.
  • Norton Anti-Virus - are these guys still in business? Crikey. Perhaps my friend above should use one.
  • 'Sneaky' Golf trick to add 30+ yards. At first I thought this was an innuendo-laden ED missive. Shame on me. I am a sick bastard.
  • Grocery coupons. Target: poor buggers on food stamps, imo. FD.
  • from FBI - Important message (from Crikey! They're telling me about spam!
  • The Economist $1 an issue - Oh right...
  • Cheap Canadian pharmaceuticals. Look, I live in Canada. I get my pharmaceuticals at prices way cheaper than yours. Call your Congressperson. FD.
  • Casino gambling - if you're too lazy to get off the couch and go to the casino, you're going to lose all your money, for certain.
  • Blast your belly fat - nah, sounds too painful. I'd rather caress it lovingly until it flees in horror.
  • Fresh home mag - lame. I don't buy "reno and lifestyle" mags, unlike pretty well every other woman I know. I can't abide looking at pictures of rich people's homes which are universally free of scum, cat excrescences, pet and human hair and general untidiness.
  • Learn a foreign language in 10 days...and I have a waterfront lot in Florida to show you.
  • Grants to help you pay for college...Free money! We're giving it away because we're crazy! I shouldn't be so scathing. The desire to be educated is confused with the desire to be rich (i.e. employed) and the difficulty that many have in getting a good education is shameful. Didn't you realize that compulsory education was the main publicly-funded social program that allows upwards social mobility? And you still screwed around in high school! So did I. FD.
  • Travel clothing. Not sure why anyone would think I'd be compelled to buy overpriced polyester garments that make one stand out as a wealthy foreigner, only lacking a pith helmet to look like a total fool. I just stuff in jeans and tee-shirts like everyone else.
  • Penny auction site. Selling other people's distressed property. FD.
  • Foreclosures. Selling other people's distressed property. FD.
  • Elder products scooter. Now this I think is a fine idea.
  • Congressman Tom Rooney State of the Union - what do you think? Yankee go home. Please do not bomb my country. You mad bastards.
  • Cheap used cars. FD.
  • Michael Feilds Gift Shop. (sic) I guess the poor person that typed this email thought they were home free when the had overcome the atypical spelling of 'Michael' and just plain forgot the "i before e" rule.
  • The Genie Bra. I dream of Genie. Oh just stop it.
  • Academic Association. Unique invite with badly formatted letter saying you're a god to some unspecified academic world as recognized by peers. You're not.
  • Webby Awards - possible false positive.
  • Replacement pieces - what is this?
  • Need roof replaced? Not at present dear, but call me in 10 years.
  • Job offer - Yes, you're going to give a couch potato a job for just clicking on a spam email link. Good. FD.
  • Capt, Anita George Iraq Money - Crikey! Just like old times. FD.

* Stolen Joke Alert! Dave Barry, prop.
**The We Never Pay Up Insurance Company Inc. Represented by the law firm of Sue, Grabbit and Runne (Stolen Joke Alert!)


St Lawrence Rowing

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