Thursday, 26 April 2012

Back from Ski Land

This winter, I have done most of my posting over at my other blog on Now that my ski season is over, the travel and reno adventures will begin here anew.

In three days, we are off on a ROAD TRIP. Our route will take us past Devil's Tower, Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Kansas City (for BBQ), the Ozark mountains, Memphis (for BBQ), Atlanta to visit a friend, Charleston, Cape Hattaras, Kitty Hawk, Williamsburg, Washington DC, Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway (for BBQ), the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and then home by early June. I will spend enough time in hotels to post photos and stories of the road as we go.

As soon as I get back, it's off to Montreal for the Formula 1 Grand Prix again. Then we have a short "month off" before visitors arrive during the Calgary Stampede in mid July. The moment they leave, my kitchen and back yard renovation starts. It should be finished in late September. When it's done, we'll head back to Maui, then home to start the next ski season.

Stay tuned for a rockin' summer.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Coldplay in Concert

It's not that far for us to go to Calgary for a concert, and Coldplay makes the trip worthwhile. We saw them on their last tour in 2009 (though I can't prove it), and it was one of the best concerts I have ever been to, both musically and as a show. This year's did not disappoint, either.

When you arrived they gave you a wristband. KC and I ended up with 3 of them. Turns out they are part of the show, from a company in the UK. The show started, and the bands lit up in various shades of blue, red, green, white, and yellow depending on your wristband. Or at least most of them did; only one of our three worked.
All the little lights in the audience are the wristbands
A very cool effect, because the light/sound guy could turn them on and off at will on you. Only downside of these single-use thingies was I took one apart at home: 3 lithium watch batteries inside.

At the last concert, they showered the place in clouds of paper butterflies. This time, it was different shapes, but the confetti cannons were out in full force.
Confetti, anyone?
Yet through it all, they played.
Johnny and Chris
...and sang.
Chris offering the mike
Then came the big bouncy balls. It started off benignly enough, with just the band...
Johnny, Will and Chris
...then huge beach balls were introduced from the far end of the arena.
The balls make it to the stage
And they played through balls dropping on them.
Johnny's got balls
They did the same thing last time with the song "Yellow" using giant yellow balls. Last time, though, the balls flew through the audience the whole evening. This time, the balls mostly disappeared by the end of the next song. No one wanted to play, I guess..

Just like last time, they came out in the middle and did semi-acoustic sets on a centre stage riser in the middle of the place. Nice for the fans farther back, I think.
Three of the four
Chris on piano
The whole band (Guy is always in the background)
They had things that inflated pop up in the audience.
Not sure what this is supposed to be. There was a butterfly, and a beer can, too.
One of my favourite Coldplay tunes is Viva La Vida, which as a live track, is wicked, with drummer Will Champion whacking on a tympani (how often do you see that in a rock concert?) and a huge bell.
Will, kettle, tympani & bell...
...and Chris
The visuals were great. There was a fluorescent backdrop that glowed, and huge discs hanging in the air with images of stuff superimposed with band members...
Johnny, I think
...there were times when the stage was red...
...there was a well aimed laser show.
Not in anyone's eyes
Last concert, they suddenly popped up in the back of the arena. This time, they did the same thing, playing an acoustic number from a back balcony as part of the encore.
Changed, and not yet sweaty
And then came the rest of the encore.
Johnny on the big screen 
Chris on the big screen 
The Band
The concert was opened by The Pierces, a sister act that will one day play a B Stage at the Calgary Folk Fest...
A Pierce. Almost worth the price of admission.
...and a Devo-wanna be band called Metronomy, who's two main claims to fame were (a) really cool lights on their chests that flashed just like the wristbands would (only for a lot less money), and (b) a killer drummer.
Note the lights on their chests
If Coldplay comes to your town, get your butt in gear and go. Killer show. Killer tunes. Worth every cent.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Piping in the new

Plumber dude arrived today and within 2 hours had replaced all of my clogged pipes that I wrote about here. And boy, were they clogged.
Removed pipes in various stages of gummed-uppedness
He ran in about 40' of new pipes, starting at the drop just past the sink...
The first 6'
...around the corner...
The next 12'
...down the first part of the hall...
6' more
...and along the crawl space to the connection to the main sewer line.
The last 10'
No more clogs. Yee ha.

Clogged arteries

Last week, out of the middle of nowhere, our kitchen sink stopped draining. Two sinkfulls of rather unpleasant water backflowed from the dishwasher into the sink and sat there for quite a while. And of course, these things happen at 10:00 at night, leaving few options regarding what to do about it.

By the morning, the water had drained. We ran some tests, pouring boiling water into the pipes and feeling them. The water wasn't going very far at all. So we poured something like 3.5 l of drain cleaner into the pipes and let them sit. No improvement, and in fact, it's possible that it made it worse. Now we had 2 sinkfulls of water (relatively clean this time) and they weren't draining at all. So at 5:30 PM we called a plumber to come augur the drain. Being after hours, he didn't want to come out, but we insisted (and agreed to pay a 50% premium for his time).

After almost 2 hours of auguring, he had isolated the plug to a spot deep in the bowels of the basement. It was a spot where the previous owner had left a sag in the pipe by not supporting it properly. I had strapped it up so the pipe was level. He couldn't get the auger through the former sag.

Left with no other choice, we cut the pipe, and this was what we found:
In close up:
After auguring
Note, that pipe is actually upside down. He was able to drill a hole through the gunk eventually, but the hole was only as big as my finger. The hope was that we could make do until the reno we are planning, because all of that clogged piping will be replaced and a new pipe run will be put in.

Well, the temporary fix didn't even last a week. Sunday night the dishwasher filled the sink again, and last night, the process repeated (it's possible it did it Monday and Tuesday, too, but we weren't watching). Took 30 minutes to drain the sink last night.

Ah, well. The plumber is on his way back to replace the pipe run today. 

The 12 Gifts of Christmas

When I was a kid, one of my favourite performers was Allan Sherman, who did comic parodies of songs and the occasional original classic, like "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah", for which he was most famous. One of my faves of his was his parody of the 12 Days of Christmas, called "The 12 Gifts of Christmas", where he sang about getting strange and useless Christmas presents. Some included:

  • A statue of a lady with a clock where her stomach ought to be
  • A simulated alligator wallet
  • A calendar book with the name of my insurance man on it
  • A pink satin pillow that says San Diego with fringe all around it.
But the best gift of all was a Japanese transistor radio (and I had one of these when I was a kid). Through the song, he described the radios features:
  • It's a Nakashuma
  • It's the Mark IV model.  That's the one that's discontinued.
  • And it comes in a leatherette case with holes in it, so you can listen right through the case.
It had one other feature which I will describe in a moment.

In prep for our South East US trip, we discovered we had an electronics problem: 2 things that needed to plug into the car's power port, but only one power port. One of the two things was our iPod's FM transmitter. Having made treks across vast expanse of the US before, I consider this essential, as there's loads of places where radio reception is poor. The other is the GPS, kinda handy when you're in the middle of nowhere.

Because of the location of the power port, we couldn't put in a power port splitter. Too big. So we started looking for USB powered solutions. We got a USB cable that would power the GPS. We got a 2 outlet USB port that would plug into the car. Now I thought it would be a simple matter to find a USB powered FM transmitter for an iPod (all the car systems use bulky car plugs). This was much harder than I thought, but after a LOT of searching and visiting various stores, I was able to find a unit on Amazon, and as a bonus, it was only $15.
The device
The FM transmitter attaches to the iPod. The power comes from a USB cord, plugged into the car plug. Magic.

So I ordered one. But it ships from Hong Kong, so took 3 weeks to arrive. It finally got here yesterday. The FM transmitter worked OK (a little weak, and not great sound quality, but it'll do). But...

The power plug would not plug into the transmitter. The plug's male end is bigger than the FM transmitter's female receptacle.
A close up
Looks like it might, but it won't
So back to Allan Sherman. One other feature of the Japanese transistor radio?

And it has a wire with a thing on one end that you can stick in your ear
and a thing on the other end that you can't stick anywhere because it's bent.

Ah, the memories of my childhood.
A postscript:

I posted a review on Amazon Marketplace that the product wouldn't work. After several back and forth e-mails, they agreed they sent the wrong USB power cable, and are sending me a whole new one.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Watching politicians remains my life

Back in 2007, I wrote this post about the Calgary civic election. We are now in the throes of a provincial election campaign. Many things from my 2007 post still ring true, so I decided to revisit it and update it. Some of this is repetitive, for which I make no apology, as little has changed in politics where I live in the last 5 years.


Politics. Politicians. Why do both these words make me want to wash my mouth out with soap?

The governing Alberta Conservative party, who have been in charge for just over 40 years, called a provincial election about 2 weeks ago. I’m willing to bet that by now:
1) You've endured 6 month or more of folks running to be new candidates for an election no one had called but everyone knew was coming;

2) You’ve had 32 chances to meet a sitting politician you haven’t met since the last time they ran for election, and they are all telling you what a fantastic job they have done for you;

3) You’ve learned that people you have never heard of are running for some of the positions; all are willing to tell you they are the right person for the job because they led a scout group or brush their teeth twice a day;

4) Some politician or political wanna-be has promised you that the community’s and/or city’s problems would all be solved by simply electing them. This includes crime, homelessness, graffiti, air quality, the environment, global warming, and the fact that pantyhose run the minute you put them on.

There are some things I admire about politicians. Virtually all are fighting to do something they think deep down in their core is important and right; they actually are trying to change the world. They’re consciously taking on a job that is normally thankless and where the single most important key to success is the ability to actually listen to their constituents. The latter also means they must recognize that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so they are accepting a job where about half of the people will be unhappy at what they are doing at any given moment in time. By listening, their job is to listen to everyone equally; a tough thing to do when there exist lobbyists whose sole job it is to get heard more than you or me.

Sadly, there are a lot more things I don’t like about politicians. I don’t like the way they adopt motherhood statements and soundbites to talk of actual problems we could do something about. Motherhood is “better health care, better government, a better future.” Better government? They've only been in charge for 40 years. Are they telling me the last 39 were just practice, and only NOW they can get it right? Why couldn't they do it "better" before?

I really don’t like it when politicians tell me they’re doing something for my good, and then actually do it for someone else’s good. It was “for my good” that the last bunch of bozos upped the royalties in the Province and turned us from a good place to invest to somewhere on a par with a third world country. I worked third world countries. I listened to my company owners make investment decisions. I can't disagree with the pull out of capital. It decimated my industry. It wasn't for my good, it was for the good of Government greed.

And indeed I have lost all my faith in the current group of politicians as guardians of the province’s development. Their greed and frankly stupid decisions wrecked my industry, and now they're the ones who say they can support it best. They figured out how to take the richest province in Canada, the only one that was debt free and running regular surpluses, and overspend their way to massive deficits, but yet have basically nothing to show for it. Our infrastructure is not better. Our education system is not better. Our parks system is not better.  Our agricultural community is not better. Nothing is better than it was 10 years ago, and much is worse.

I don’t like politicians, who are elected and then disappear, only to show up 4 years later when they want their jobs back. I miss my former MP Jim Prentice, whom I heard from from time to time and saw him engaged a lot. I don't even know who my last MLA was in our new home riding, and including our condo, we have been a part of this riding for 4 years.

What I do know about them is that he/she was a member of the Conservative party, and that they quit.

Running in their place? The Mayor of Canmore. Notice I did not say "former Mayor of Canmore". No, the Mayor took a "leave of absence" to run. If he loses, he's still Mayor. That's just greedy. He should have had to resign as Mayor to run. That puts skin in the game, and tells me he's committed. As it is, he has one foot in the Mayor's office, and one in the Provincial party. Because politicians sit on fences a lot, and I don't like that.

I don't like politicians because they all, irrespective of party, feel a sense of entitlement. The Conservatives believe a 40 year track record entitles them to govern again. The Provincial Legislative Assembly -- all the parties, not just the ruling one -- vote themselves pay increases others don't get because they feel entitled to it. They felt they were entitled to a fantastic pension system, so they voted in one that means they get a full pension -- starting the moment they stop serving -- if they serve only one term (serve 4 years in a company and you'll have earned practically no pension). There was a recent story about a ~30 member, all party government committee that hasn't met in 3 years (the meeting 3 years ago was 15 minutes long), but have been getting paid $1,000/month for being on the committee. Not one of the ~30 ever stood up and said "What?" It took a watchdog agency to bring it up, then all the committee members, from all the parties, said they'd give the money back -- all except the Conservative members. The interviews I saw with them were an embarassing testament to entitlement ("Well, I don't get paid to sit on other committees"). Finally (after more than 2 months) they were goaded into it by bad press and falling polls.

I have generally supported the Conservatives, but in the last 10 years, there’s very little that former Premier Ed Stelmach said or did that I agreed with, and if there was, I can’t remember what it was. Thankfully, he stepped down (and took that pension). His replacement, however, was his Justice Minister. Mr. Ed's predecessor, Premier Klein, actually ran the province pretty well, and pulled us out of the fiscal mess he inherited from his predecessor, Premier Getty (who screwed up the great work of his predecessor, Premier Lougheed). The 40 year dynasty started with Mr. Lougheed.

But I think most of all I don’t like politicians who claim to represent me, but in fact carry a completely different viewpoint, so let's look back at the recent past. Over the last 10 years, I have disagreed with the Mr. Ed's stance on royalties, on electricity deregulation, on transportation planning, on education funding, on the management of health care delivery, on parks funding… well the list goes on. The new leader, Premier Redford, does not in my opinion, recognize the failures of the past, nor how to fix what her party (and she, as part of the Cabinet) wrecked. This ought to tell you how I will not vote in the upcoming election. And I will vote.

But in the end, what matters is that everyone who reads this (and is eligible) actually does vote, because elections matter. They impact your life. They affect your pocketbook. This one's not about nebulous problems like Afghanistan, Chinese human rights violations or Arctic Sovereignty, it's about whether you can find a campsite or how long it will take you to get an MRI when you torque your knee.

And if you don’t vote, you don’t earn the right to diss politicians for at least 4 more years. Or, at least, not provincial ones.