This is not a blog. So sue me!

Crikey, things are looking up!

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. 


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