Thursday, August 27, 2015

I’ve been remiss ………

…………….. I haven’t posted anything for an undue length of time.  In my defence we’ve been pretty busy.

After we arrived in Dog River we had to dash home so I could keep an eye on the concrete crew.  They’re generally an OK bunch but I didn’t hire them because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted done.  The problem with concrete is that, once its poured, its all over.  There’s no going back unless you like leaning on a jackhammer.  As it was, despite my best efforts, they still hosed me a little bit.  I guess its not a big deal but it pissed me off nonetheless.

When I first hired Steve I told him what I wanted and made a particular point of telling him that I wanted hardener and sealer on everything.  The small town guys don’t generally get much of that specificity – concrete is concrete for most people.  If you’re dealing in larger centres then the contractors are used to outside authorities spec’ing the concrete but in small town SK what comes out of the truck is generally what you get and most people couldn’t tell you anything about their options.  Steve’s “finisher” had used hardener before but he clearly didn’t like using it and I’m willing to bet that, of all the jobs they will do this summer, my little project will be the only one involving hardener.  All of which doesn’t make any damn difference to me – I want what I want and I’m paying the bill.  Not that hardener adds any significant cost but I’M PAYING THE BILL and I want it how I want it.

All of which is merely preamble to the moment last Tuesday when, roughly halfway through the pour, I said to Steve “You’re putting hardener in this too, right?”  Which comment was prompted by the fact that I had seen no sign of any bags of hardener and it was getting past the time when they should have been adding it.  “Oh, you wanted it here too?” WTF? How much clearer should I have been?  By then of course it was too late because he didn’t have any hardener on hand and the nearest supply was 2 hours away.  So I’m a little pissed off.  It won’t likely matter in the long term but it will always piss me off.  He had some bullshit about how “they never use it outdoors” but the reality is that they never use it anywhere so the fact, if it really is true, that they don’t use it outdoors isn’t really noteworthy.

After we got through the apron pour, without hardener, we went back to Rouleau AKA Dog River and I visited a bunch more Assiniboia clients.  Then we moved from Rouleau to Kipling and I did some more 100 KPH crop inspections.  While we were in Kipling we reunited with a variety of my cousins that we don’t generally see except at funerals.  From Kipling we headed north and stopped briefly in Buchanan to raid Keith’s garden and do a bit of laundry.  Yesterday afternoon we moved to Humboldt which is where we are now.

Humboldt I’m limited in what I can post for pictures because I’m pissed off at Mozy.  Its a long story but the Coles Notes version is that, when I had to do a restore last January, I discovered some really stupid features of their system.  I was mad enough at the time that I considered changing to some other backup system but then time went by and I kind of forgot about it.  About 10 days ago now I got a “credit card failure” notice from Mozy.  The chip on my primary card died sometime – I can’t exactly remember when – but it must have been since the last time I renewed my Mozy subscription.  The tone of the email pissed me off all over again, not to mention the fact that they were charging the subscription a full 2 weeks before the package I had paid for expired.  That whole attitude of “you can’t use our system unless you prepay well in advance and we’ll go ahead and charge you for a renewal without notifying you” really bugs me.  So the credit card incident combined with my memory of my frustration this winter was enough to push me over the edge. 

As it turns out Dropbox offers a perfectly workable cloud backup system at a fraction of the price of Mozy.  And as it turns out, the Dropbox solution is much more flexible than the Mozy system which was precisely the cause of my frustration last winter.  Mozy is one of those technology companies that simply KNOWS that they are much smarter than all their customers and therefore forces their customers into a one size fits all mould. 

So what does all this have to do with uploading pictures you ask?  Having paid for a Dropbox upgrade I am now in the midst of an initial synch involving hundreds of Gigs of files.  My standard method of quickly moving images off my camera involves Dropbox.  I expect that method won’t work until the initial synch finishes and I’m not really interested in the frustration of setting up a cable connection.  So the only photo you get this time is the town of Humboldt’s entrance sign. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dog River, SK

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Gotta love those rates and, while they’re maybe a little on the low side, they’re not completely unusual for small town SK campgrounds.  Of course SK residents, and any fans of Corner Gas, will know that “Dog River” is a fictitious place.  The TV series briefly put Rouleau on the map and the town still capitalizes on Corner Gas tourism.  The gas station and The Ruby which formed the set for the show still stand on the SW corner of town.  When we drove in today there was a car parked there with a family taking selfies in front of the old set. 

After Marilyn’s reunion wrapped up in Cypress Hills we moved to Ponteix and set up there for the week so that I could visit Assiniboia clients in SW Sask.  I’ve done this project for several summers now and its a great opportunity both to reunite with long term clients and to visit small towns across this vast province. 

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There’s maybe 20 sites in this little campground but tonight we’re the only tenants.  Its not fancy but its got water, 30 amp electric, a sewer dump and southern exposure for the satellite dish.  What’s not to like about that?

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Each town has its own personality and there’s some real heritage buildings in some locations – big old cathedrals, civic buildings, provincial courthouses.  The town waterworks with a 1913 build date is across the street from the campground entrance.

I’ve been wandering around visiting farmer clients who are largely occupied with harvest right now.  Its a great time to visit because most days I can hop in the combine cab with at least one client and have a visit while he keeps on keeping on.  The photos below were taken near Scotsgard where a large tenant was getting multiple new Case IH machines rolling early one morning.  This one had the doors up and the operator was buried in the guts of the machine.  I learned later that it had blown a chopper belt but that doesn’t really matter.  I couldn’t resist texting the image to Michael who has seriously drank the red Koolaid.  I asked him what could be happening with those open doors.  His response “Looks like speed brakes to slow her down, little bit like a plane.” 

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

The silly season

For a pair of political junkies such as ourselves this is a great time to be travelling with a satellite dish.  It hasn’t been without challenges but we finally have a system that works to allow us to take our TV with us on the road.  And we’re solidly on the road for roughly the next month.

This spring I bought us a Winegard carryout dish.

winegardcarryout It doesn’t look like much but – in  theory at least – it is a vast improvement over what we used to do.  What we used to do was carry a Shaw Direct elliptical dish and a tripod.  Whenever we got to somewhere I had to set up and level the tripod.  Then I had to mount the dish which was moderately big and clumsy and then we had to aim it.  Anyone who has ever aimed one of those dishes knows that it can be a snap or it can be a major pain.  Most of the time it went well but on those occasions when it didn’t it was enough to make us wish TV had never been invented.

Inside that white plastic dome is a miniature Shaw dish with a couple of motors to control elevation and compass orientation.  In theory you set it down on a reasonably level surface, hook it to the receiver, give it 12 volt power and it goes to work finding the satellite.  When it actually works it takes less than a minute from the time you plug in the 12V to the time you can start watching CTV or Fox.  Out of the box however, it wasn’t quite that simple.  We travelled in mid July and tried it out then, unsuccessfully.  At the time I blamed it on trees blocking our southern view and that may have been true but it turned out we had bigger problems.

Last week we moved to Cypress Hills Provincial park so that Marilyn could attend a Bergren family reunion.  They gave us a great site with an absolutely unobstructed southern view so we knew that – if the dish didn’t work – at least it had nothing to do with trees.  And sure enough, the dish continued to not work.  That left phoning Winegard as my next option and I dread phoning any technical “customer service”.  As it turned out the Winegard call was relatively painless.  The nice lady that phoned me back after an interminable length of time on hold initially tried to tell me that I needed to screw around with our skew setting.  “Skew” is the angle that the LNB (the receiver head on the dish) is oriented relative to the axis of the dish.  It is necessary to skew a Shaw dish because they use a single dish to receive signals from two different satellites.  I was about 110% certain that skew wasn’t going to solve our problem so I kept pushing for additional ideas and that lead to checking the signal quality or “Map Status”.  The number for that indicated to the nice lady that we were receiving a high definition signal.  Since the Winegard dish can only read a low def signal that clearly wasn’t going to work and it also explained some weird signal strength behaviour that I had already observed. 

The problem with the Winegard lady’s solution was that she couldn’t do anything about it which meant we had to make a second call to Shaw to get them to set the receiver back to low def, in effect a service downgrade.  Marilyn made that call and its a good thing she did because she is a lot more patient than I am.  She had to persist to get the service droid to actually do what Winegard had told us to do.  He kept insisting that it wouldn’t make any difference and telling us to go back to Winegard.  Since we couldn’t very well call them back and ask, in effect, “We didn’t bother trying your last solution but got any more ideas?” Marilyn persisted and he finally, reluctantly, agreed to do what Winegard had requested.  Sure enough immediately when he did that the on-screen status changed and we were able to start receiving a signal.  Actually I think what happened is that our receiver started decoding the signal that it was receiving all along but the effect was that we started reading the signal. 

Of course all of this happened about 14 hours after the US and Canadian debates so we missed seeing the drama live.  We have however been able to watch the aftermath and endless dissections of the two debates.  North of the border my assessment is that Harper didn’t lose the debate which is absolutely the best he could have hoped for.  That combined with the long lead time to the election made the Canadian debate pretty well irrelevant.  On the US side it appears we are seeing the long anticipated (and inevitable) Trump implosion.  What I’d like to see now is some intelligent assessment of who the Trump support actually is.  Are they disaffected Republican voters or just disaffected potential voters?  It makes a huge difference because – when The Donald eventually runs as an independent – on the the one hand it will be an erosion of votes that would otherwise go to the Republican nominee while on the other hand it will be a meaningless movement of votes that wouldn’t have showed up at the polls anyway.   I’ve been very impressed with the interviews that Carly Fiorina has done.  If, as it appears, the prime prerequisite for the 2016 presidential candidate is ovaries then she seems much more qualified than Billary Shrillary and that contest would be one well worth watching.

Meanwhile back at Chitek lake my two little boys are celebrating 25 years on this orbiting rock.

Malibu at Chitek

It feels so good to see the Malibu getting used again but I’m more than a little jealous that we aren’t there to use it too.

Monday, August 3, 2015

I promise to write about something else next week …….

……. but this week the garage is still my highest priority.

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I’ve reached so many milestones I don’t know where to begin.  The most satisfying one was definitely the bloody door.  If there were 97 possible wrong ways to install it then I did all 97.  Once I finally ran out of possible wrong things I could do all I had left was the right method and, not surprisingly, the door worked just fine at that point.  Up until then – not so much.  It was incredibly frustrating – the directions were less than clear, in fact they were ambiguous at best and downright confusing in some respects – it took way too long and kept me up at night but it was all the more rewarding when it finally came together.  Right now it works as well or better than any overhead door I have ever seen, let alone owned.  It literally is weightless for its full travel, up or down. 

With the door out of the way the next priority was a general yard cleanup.  Once that was done I could backfill the north and west sides of the building.  The east side is still waiting for Steve-the-concrete-guy to come back and pour me an apron.  I managed not to disturb the south side at all so it didn’t require any cleanup. 

Once the east and north sides were levelled I could use the Genie lift to attack the eaves.  Its incredibly sensitive to being level.  The day I brought it home I thought I was broken because it would go up a little bit, then start squealing loudly and refuse to go any further.  I thought it was “level enough” where it was sitting – we park the truck and trailer there all the time – but once I got the machine inside and got to know it better I learned that it has an extremely low tolerance for side to side out of level conditions.  I guess that makes sense from a safety standpoint – when it extends to its full 26 feet elevation even a very little bit out of level could be  a huge problem.  Its more tolerant of fore/aft out of level conditions but that too makes sense because it is considerably longer than it is wide.  The fact it is so sensitive to level meant that I needed to get the sides of the building cleaned up before I could even think about using it to finish the eaves.

Concurrent with getting the sides of the building levelled up I discovered a feature of the Genie lift that I was previously unaware of.  I was aware that the front end of the platform was supposed to extend but I was also under the impression, mistaken impression as it turned out, that the extension was somehow power driven.  Since I couldn’t make any of the control buttons cause the platform to extend I had concluded that this feature was “broken”.  The lift was incredibly useful even without that extension feature so I didn’t give it too much thought.  There came a time though during the door installation where I was going to have to use a ladder to install the last track hanger.  I had another round of trying to extend the platform and accidentally discovered that extending the platform is as simple as lifting the lock lever and pushing.  It just rolls out as easy as you can imagine and when its fully extended I have a rolling scaffold over 12 feet long.  Its a unbelievably wonderful machine.  It was indispensible to me during the renovation even though I thought the platform extension was unusable.  Being able to extend the platform increases its utility 100%.  Or more. 

The final milestone this week was getting the electrical hooked up.  That happened today.  I trenched the cable in last week and I wasn’t really intending to do anything more until this fall but I had some time on my hands last night which I used to get started on the hookup and I finished it this afternoon.  I’m by no means done with the electrical – in fact I haven’t much more than started but I’ve got a light in my mezzanine parts area and a couple of duplex outlets in the main building.  I’ve also still got the original line powering some outlets so I’m pretty well set up even if I don’t do anything else until winter.  All in all a very productive week.

In fact it was such a productive week that I even took a few minutes to hang parts on the Frankentraktor.  It has been hors de combat since late spring.  I had ordered a coil, points, condenser and voltage regulator from various US suppliers and they finally all arrived a couple of weeks ago but I didn’t feel like I had any time to waste on what is really just a toy.  When things were going so well late last week I took an evening to install all the parts and it has been running like a champ since.  Last night I even took SWMBO on a romantic evening drive around town.

Friday, July 31, 2015

More garage

We’ve been back home for a few days & I’ve been busy closing up the garage so we can go away again.  We got home late Sunday night and Monday saw me back on the road to Saskatoon to pick up the big door.  That went in Tuesday and Wednesday.  Yesterday was window day.

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Wednesday was also trenching day but the official photographer had the day off & I didn’t take the time to document the mess I made.  You can see the leftover mess in the 3rd photo above.  I’ve been waiting to trench in the power until I tracked down the supplies to trench in a gas line at the same time.  That turned out to be problematic because it appears that the local plumbers have so much business that they don’t need to return phone calls …. ever.  I can’t even remember how many different plumbers I phoned and either spoke to their cast iron secretary or, on rare occasions, a real live secretary and never got a return phone call.  Of course when that happens a week or 10 days usually goes by before you even realize that the asshole hasn’t phoned back.  I have a hard and fast rule that I NEVER beg anyone to take my money so I flat out refuse to make a second phone call to the same asshole.  That meant that my circle of contacted plumbers needed to gradually expand. 

Last Monday I was halfway to Saskatoon when I realized yet again that the last asshole hadn’t bothered to call back.  So I Googled plumbers in Wadena (the radius was up to 100 km at this point) and phoned Water World.  Some dear old soul answered the phone and told me that Ashley would have to answer my questions but then proceeded to ask all the right questions about what I was doing.  I think she was actually Ashley’s mother.  When she finished she said Ashley would call me back if he had any more questions and I thought “Yeah right – I won’t hold my breath” but within an hour there was Ashley calling back and before I knew what was happening I had another stop to make in Saskatoon to pick up the necessary parts. 

I know nothing about gas fitting but Google is your friend and I had learned that some installations use plastic pipe.  There was 100 feet of copper line on Kijiji that I briefly considered buying but fortunately I didn’t because I’m sure if I had done that then when it came time to hook it up whatever plumber I finally found would have asked “WTF is that and WTF did you use it?”  It turned out that gas fitting is just like plumbing with PEX now.  I ended up with 50 feet of 1” plastic pipe and a couple of steel risers with what looks like oversized Sharkbite fittings.  Cut the hose off with a knife, clean up the end, jam it into the Sharkbite and bury the pipe – QED as father used to say.  I don’t know when I’ll get around to hooking up heat in the garage but it seemed stupid to bury the electrical and not put the gasline in at the same time. 

Ashley told me that the gas and the power could go in the same trench as long as they were separated by one foot so I dug a 3 foot plus trench, put the power in the bottom and the gas at roughly 2 feet below the surface.  They had to go in that order because otherwise I would have had to do some additional marking to indicate that the gas was beneath the power.  I’ve got the old power panel that we replaced in the house last summer.  It wasn’t big enough for the house but its way more than adequate for the garage.

Friday, July 24, 2015

On the road again

We’re back on the road – we’ve been away from Buchanan for just over a week now.  We started off with my Class of ‘79 reunion weekend in Saskatoon.  There’s a small group of us who have been getting together the weekend of the 3rd Saturday in July for a very long time now.  It was a smallish group this year but we had just as good a time as we always do.

We stuck around in Saskatoon until Wednesday morning so that I could attend the 1st ever Ag in Motion outdoor farm show.  I’m glad I went but I don’t know that I’d bother going again unless it gets a lot better.  I was surprised by the number of seed companies there that I had never heard of.  They had put a lot of work into their booths with most of them having seeded extensive plots of new varieties and – apparently – hauled water to them to keep them going through this summer’s drought.

The big disappointment to me at Ag in Motion was a combination of who WASN’T there as well as who WAS there.  Who WASN’T there was the bulk of the prairie equipment manufacturers including such notables as Bourgault, Morris and Seed Hawk.  Who WAS there was a plethora of tillage companies.  Tillage manufacturers ferchrisakes!! In a year where we flat out wouldn’t have a bloody crop if it wasn’t for the fact that we have largely given up on tillage for the past 10 years, the big new equipment event at the first ever outdoor show is effing bloody tandem disks.  I couldn’t believe it.  There I was waiting to see the latest seeding technology in action and instead what I got was a great bloody lineup of big 4WD tractors hooked to shiny new tandem disks.  WTF??  Mind you, the politically correct term now appears to be “vertical tillage”.  “Tandem disk and harrowing the crap out of land until its black and ready to blow away” sounds so yesterday after all.  If we have as little rain in the next 12 months as we have had in the last 12 I predict that none of those high tillage machines will be back for a third year, assuming the show itself survives that long.

From Saskatoon we moved down to Lucky Lake where they have a delightful little campground tucked in on the north side of town.  We’ve had the place completely to ourselves until tonight when a few other trailers have started to show up for a big wedding this weekend.  I bundled up the cutoffs from the garage project and brought them along so that SWMBO could have a bonfire and so far she’s had one each night we’ve been here.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Of cats and trees and garages

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That’s “Tweak” the cat who has been on our news ad nauseum today.  You know its a slow news day when a cat in a tree leads the news all day.  Tweak’s big accomplishment was spending 4 days in a tree.  I have some experience with cats in trees so pay attention to what I am about to say.  Cats dying of starvation from spending time in trees is not a huge issue in North America.  I’m not qualified to speak of other parts of the world but I suspect the principle may apply.  I point to the marked lack of cat skeletons in trees as evidence of the truth of my statement. 

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That’s the only picture I was able to locate on short notice of George I.  Its not immediately obvious that there is a cat in that photo but look closely – he’s definitely there.  Its also appropriate that I should include a picture of my first garage build.  It was a pretty significant structure as well and it is still standing.  You may also note my previous use of raised chord trusses although at the time I didn’t know what they were called – they were just what I ended up building.  But I digress – today’s subject is cats in trees.

George I spent most of his life freely roaming outdoors including the time we lived in Saskatoon.  Nobody thought anything of it at the time – that’s just what cats did.  When we moved to Nipawin he discovered tall trees – jack pines to be precise.  If you know jack pines you’ll know that they typically don’t have many branches for the first 30 or 40 feet.  Occasionally we would notice that we hadn’t seen George for a few days.  Unfailingly this would happen after an extremely windy period.  For some reason when it was windy he would go up a tree and then forget how to get back down.  I’d go out in the forest in the evening when it was quiet and call him – he’d answer with his plaintive “I’m up a tree” yowl.

Unlike Tweak in the hyperlinked story above, I didn’t call the fire department or any professional tree climbers.  And I didn’t stuff him into any bag to get him out of the tree although I would pay good money to watch anyone stuff any cat into a bag high up in a tree. 

If I could find a long enough stick (think dead tree) I’d use that to poke George from the ground but usually I had to drag a ladder out to the bush and climb closer to him before starting to poke him.  He didn’t like being poked – surprise, surprise – but eventually he would lose his balance, fall a few feet and then remember how to climb down.  Usually he’d kind of fall and recover a few times until he got close enough to fall on my shoulders and then he’d ride down with me.  A fire hose would probably have worked better than a poking stick but I didn’t have one of them available.