Sunday, 29 December 2013

Why is flying on points so difficult?

Ads everywhere pitch the joys of spending money and building frequent flier or other loyalty reward points. What they neglect to mention is that actually using these points to fly anywhere is a study in unpleasantness.

As a result of travelling extensively while I was still working, I amassed a significant number of points in a number of different programs including (but not limited to) plans from Aeroplan, Delta, American, Continental, British Airways, LatinPass, Hilton HHonours, and American Express Membership Rewards. I currently have more than 750,000 points in some of these programs. Karen has been collecting AirMiles for about 15 years, since the late 1990's. So far, she has about 100,000.

Decades ago, I found it pretty simple to use points. I went to Chile in 1993 without a hitch. We paid $34 for 2 return Business Class tickets to Australia in 1996. 

But every time I have tried to use these programs in the last few years, it has resulted in an utter lack of success, or (in the best cases) utter abject frustration in the various processes. Some examples:

  • I have tried to go to Maui repeatedly on points. Despite knowing I go there every October, there are "no seats available" even with over 9 months notice -- unless I want to go through Chicago. Calgary - Chicago - Maui? Really?
  • I have tried to go to Montreal for the F1 Grand Prix. On 6 months notice, I can only get there by spending 150,000 points (plus taxes) and making multiple connections through cities with multiple hour layovers. Or I can buy a return ticket for $200.
  • I have tried to fly to Europe, and can readily do it -- as long as I want to take a red-eye flight to Toronto first, then have a 19 hr layover.
  • I have tried splurging huge numbers of points on Business Class flights, only to find that these seats are particularly unavailable.
Karen and I are currently trying to arrange a vacation to Southern Africa in May of 2014, a trip I have been collecting points for specifically for the last 15+ years. I won't fly all that way in the back of the bus, so have collected a whole lot of points -- and protected them from expiry -- just to fly Business Class.

But having spent about 40 hrs online in the few weeks trying to arrange just the flights for that trip, all I can say for sure is that it going to require a LOT of compromise to make happen.

On Aeroplan, I can't fly the whole way on Business. For the window I'm looking at going, I flatly can't get to any European gateway in Business. From there, I can fly Business to South Africa -- so long as I make 3 connections along the way (a stop in Addis Ababa anyone?).

On Delta, I can make the flight in Business the whole way, but it's a 1,100,000 point trip. Yes, 1.1 million points. Think about that when you're collecting a point for every dollar spent at Wal-Mart.

British Airways? Not even offering me options, even though they're a huge carrier in and to South Africa. No Business Class seats available anywhere, anytime.

This whole idea of "Star Alliance" or "oneworld" offering unlimited connections on all these airline partners? Kind of a joke. For instance, nothing in my searching has even suggested I could take KLM, an airline that actually flies to South Africa. They and their other merger partner, Air France, are Delta partners, but I have yet to have seen a KLM flight offered by SkyMiles. At least Aeroplan has offered me flights on Star Alliance partners EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways.

Delta pitched that you could mix classes and optimize prices. Maybe, but not online. You can say you want to fly Economy one way and Business on the way back. But you can't say you're willing to fly economy on the 2 hr Calgary - Salt Lake City and 3 hr Salt Lake City - Atlanta legs, but want Business on the 16 hr Atlanta - Johannesburg leg. At least not without talking to a SkyMiles Reservation Agent, for which they charge you $75 (and then they charge you for your bags because at least one of your legs is in Economy).

And Delta -- had I been in a position to spend 1,100,000 points -- would still charge me $305 in taxes and fees for the free flight. At least they're cheaper than Aeroplan, who want over $1,600 in taxes and fees. Free flights? False advertising.

And that is the crux of it. This is all about false (or at the least, misleading) advertising. Whether it be the airlines or the credit card companies, what they make sound easy, free and straightforward is a lot of things, but "easy, free and straightforward" isn't any of them.

So next time you collect some AirMiles or Shoppers Optimum or Aeroplan or SkyMiles or American AAdvantage or British Airways Avios miles/points, realize the following:
  • The cost of the programs are embedded in what you are buying, so you're paying for them anyway;
  • Someone is getting seats, but it's not you -- so you're paying for something you won't get, because...
  • You won't get very much for these points, no matter how many you have, and no matter what they say.
Thank goodness Aeroplan will let me get a 12" non-stick frypan for 7,000 points. Who wants to go to Africa, anyway?

Monday, 18 November 2013

The trouble with books

Friends of mine (hi, Rob and Joanne) own a bookstore in Mexico, and spend the winter selling English language books to tourists escaping the winter cold. They tell me that, industry wide, physical book sales are slowing, driven in part by e-readers and in part by fewer people buying books.

I believe them; they're in the business. On Maui, there are no more bookstores at all (the best you can do is buy a trade paperback from a minuscule selection in a drugstore or grocery store). But what I find interesting is that people still want to read.

People on vacation in Maui seem to do one of two things: sit at the beach and read, or sit at the pool and read. I read 5 books while on Maui this year; Karen read 6. That's 4 more books than I've read this year, and probably matches what Karen has read. I have the time to read, but don't. I would like to read more, but don't.

To me the trouble with books is pretty simple: a bewilderingly, mind-boggling, brain-numbing plethora of books to pick from, and no way to find something I would like to read. I walk into a library and leave empty handed, because I don't know how to pick from the 54,000 books in our local library. So I take a book off my bookshelf and read it again (Karen does this all the time, and has books she reads every year). I have read nothing new in probably 2 years.

With movies -- and there's a lot of those, too -- I can pick a movie sight unseen based on the reviews of the critics whom I trust and agree with. Such a resource does not exist for books (that I am aware of). I am a loyal reader of Esquire magazine, and they publish on a regular basis short write-ups of books that men should be reading. I read every write-up, and not a single book in the 25 years of reading Esquire's lists and reviews has appealed to me. Esquire also publishes a summer fiction issue, featuring their version of the best short story authors writing the best short stories. I try to read them, and normally can't even finish them; they are uninteresting and unappealing to me, though I imagine others like them.

I have tried sticking with genres I like, based on authors I like. I own all the Frederick Forsyth books (I liked his earlier stuff more than his more recent stuff; he's 75 and who knows how much more he'll be writing). But reading recommendations of "authors like Forsyth" have resulted in me tossing more books after struggling to even finish the second chapter. I liked Tom Clancy's early work; his later stuff was formulaic, ultra boring, unoriginal and written to be a movie script (or worse, ghost written to be a movie script). He spawned a whole spate of techno-thriller copycats; I tried a lot of them, and virtually every one landed in the dumpster. I did like Dale Brown's FLIGHT OF THE OLD DOG, but every book of his after that was the same book as the first. I loved Larry Bond's VORTEX, but nothing he wrote after that was worth reading. I liked the HARRY POTTER series, but "authors like" J.K. Rowling got me nowhere.

I've had more success with non-fiction, but end up reading different authors writing about the exact same things (science, origins of the universe, physics, investing, Apple, space, heck, even card tricks) and they say the exact same things. 

Every week, Amazon sends me a recommended reading list. I've probably been on that mailing list for 5 years, and not one book has appealed to me. I have randomly bought books to take with me on vacation, and struggled with awful writing, stupid stories, asinine characters and unbelievable plots.

I am 100% certain that somewhere in that 54,000 titles in my local library, or the 1,500,000 titles carried by Amazon, are more than a few books I would love to read. I just don't know how to find them. And perhaps Rob and Joanne's problem, and the industry's problem, is that they have fallen into the trap of believing "more is better" -- when for me at least, more is not better. I've read that:

  • Google estimates 129,000,000 different book titles have been published in history;
  • Every year, 347,000 new titles are published in the US alone, and more are done in other English speaking countries;
  • There are 50,000 book publishers in the US alone who issue at least one title per year
Fifty thousand people giving me 347,000 more choices each year doesn't make it more likely that I will find books to read. I think it makes it less likely. But giving me a minuscule selection of trade paperbacks in a grocery store isn't the answer either.

And so I wait the get Chris Hadfield's book for Christmas, but doubt I will read any other new book any time soon.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Smart mice

Once you have mice, you kinda always get mice. We've had mice in the past, and tried to get rid of them.

First we tried trusty old basic mouse traps. The mice successfully stole the food without ever setting off the traps. No matter what we did, the food was always taken, the trap never sprung.

Then we tried new fangled plastic snap traps. Guaranteed to be sensitive, the mice got the bait time and time and time again without ever setting them off.

Then we switched to glue traps. We caught maybe one or two mice over the span of many, many months. The cat caught more mice than we did. I probably have a photo somewhere of Jello bringing us mice at 2 AM and playing with them in the bedroom.

So we finally switched to poison mouse bait. This seemed to work last year; we put it out, some got eaten, then they stopped eating it. When we pulled our walls apart to fix the flood damage this summer, we found dried up dead mice in the walls.

I don't know what started me putting the mouse bait back out this fall, but I did, and some of it started to get eaten. I figured the mice were moving back in with the onset of cold weather. The first bait I was putting out in September was like sesame seeds, but we ran out, so I bought more. This new stuff looked like little green rabbit pellet food. I put that out, and it disappeared. Fast. The more I put out, the more that disappeared. I thought this interesting, because it's suppose to kill in 24 hrs.

When we went to Maui, I asked our house sitters to monitor the bait stations. They did; and refilled them a LOT. Every few days they were adding bait. They put out almost half a kilo of bait in a month.

Today, I was prepping to ski tomorrow. Pulled my ski boots out of the basement -- and found them full of uneaten mouse bait.
That bagfull of bait came out of one boot
Not just the green stuff; no, there was tons of uneaten seed bait, too. There was almost 350 g of mouse bait in my one boot.

Then Karen mentioned that one of the cardboard boxes awaiting recycling in the basement had mouse bait in it.
How on earth do they get in and out?
I think its time to call a professional. Seems these mice are just too smart for me.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Can anyone help me solve this puzzle?

My old backup camera, an Olympus 560UZ, is suddenly acting up. There are two problems, and I can't understand or diagnose either. Neither is in every photo. I'm going to post some example sick photos that demonstrate the problems, plus other photos of what things should have looked like.

Problem 1: Red tones appearing where they shouldn't.

Example set 1:

Almost normal 
WAY more pink, especially the clouds
What it really looked like, taken by Karen's camera
Example set 2:
Pink spots in the clouds... 
...that are gone 90 seconds later
Example set 3:
Mt. Lassen in it's pink glory 
Taken seconds later. Not pink.
Problem #2: Smeared whites

Example 1:
Very tall police car fenders.
Then things get REALLY ugly when both problems happen at once.
That's the front ranges, that have grown REALLY tall and pink
More VERY tall pink mountains
Pink clouds, white smeared wings
I have tried fixing these problems by playing with white balance and ISO settings, to (mostly) no avail. Things look fine in my electronic viewfinder and rear LCD display -- until I press the shutter button. The captured picture is terrible.

This only started happening, and is an "occasional" thing (not every picture has the problem) -- though recently, it's happening with greater frequency.

So, smart people who are also photographers: what's the diagnosis? Sensor gone?

Friday, 1 November 2013

Accidents on the way home

It was an unexpected way to arrive home from Maui.

We were driving home along the TransCanada, passed over Jumpingpound River about 30 km west of Calgary, climbed up the "Green Drop" hill (a hill where the Green Drop lawn care company has mowed into the grass their logo -- bypassing the "No Billboards" law we have here), crested the hill to find... slamming on their brakes. Debris on the road. Smoke. A truck overturned laying across the road. Fire in the ditch. And only ~6 cars between us and the mess, meaning it JUST happened.

I called the RCMP -- and was the first to do so. A 4 minute call. Karen ran back to start waving down the oncoming traffic -- doing 120 km/hr coming up a blind hill to a catastrophe scene -- to try and stop secondary collisions. She sent someone forward with a fire extinguisher. The flames are put out while I am on the phone.

The first RCMP arrived just as I finished the call. I grabbed my first aid kit, cursing myself that my big emergency kit (with flares and reflectors and vests and stuff) was at home, removed to make space for luggage to go to Maui. I ran to see what I could do.

One victim. A truck driver, prone on the pavement. Diesel fuel and debris everywhere. Two people helping the man, both trained in first aid. I announced I had first air training and asked if help was needed. Shoulder injury, hip injury, numerous facial lacerations, spinal involvement, lucid but quiet. He had no idea how he got out of the truck. The two Good Samaritans were supporting the victim's head and arms. He complained of being cold in the 50 km/hr, 7° wind. I wrapped his legs in my down jacket. An Irish lady, trained paramedic, arrived. Pulse check. Strong but slow.

More RCMP and Sheriffs arrived. Some took photos. We stayed helping the victim. They brought disposable emergency blankets. We placed supports under his feet.

Then the fire department arrived. One firefighter took over from one of the first volunteer responders. Standard questions asked to assess head trauma. Radio calls.

Then EMS arrived, and it was their turn. A re-check of vitals, standard trauma checks and more questions. More radio calls. EMS started to cut the victims clothes off. Abdominal bruising. A second ambulance arrives. The victim is rolled onto a backboard, and clearly this wasn't fun for him. A neck brace is installed. We volunteers back away as we are no longer needed.
iPhone capture of the scene at that time
And we wait. The victim is taken into an ambulance and out of the wind and cold.

Then STARS arrives.
Crappy picture, but you get the idea.
I think about this. STARS takes off 2 minutes after getting a call. Flight time to this spot is 7-10 min in that helicopter. So STARS was called 9-12 minutes earlier -- about 90 seconds after EMS arrived.
One firetruck has moved. STARS waits.
STARS departs within 5 minutes of landing.
Horrible grainy iPhone 4 max-zoom of a real life mess
The RCMP and Sheriffs clear a way past the mess, and we are released to drive home. We were not witnesses, and have nothing to add to the investigation that has already started.

What the heck did happen? Who knows. But it was blowing 50-70 km/hr winds, and that gravel truck with its pup trailer were empty. Did a bad gust of wind cause the trailer to swing out of control? You can see it upside down in the ditch, and the guardrail's a mess. The truck obviously rolled, but landed upright.
100 yds of decimated guardrail
But the truck has stopped way too close to the start of the guardrail damage, and was most clearly doing over 100 km/hr. So did he get into trouble earlier? Will the victim live?

We won't ever know. Maybe the RCMP will. The highway was closed for at least 3 hours after we got let through.

And it made the news. Areal pictures from Global. Stories on the CBC and CTV -- and yes, that's my photo on the CTV page.

Not the best way to arrive home, but at least we were able to help.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Watching Real Experiments in Alternative Energy

I spent 32 years as an engineer in the oil and gas industry, but have always had a belief that renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, have a definite place in the energy mix -- though perhaps not as big a place as some would hope. I'm sitting on Maui. It's windy, it's sunny, there are waves and perhaps even the opportunity for geothermal power. You'd think this would be a great place to see a live experiment of the technology in action on a large scale, and it is. Maui Electric Company has provided some excellent information on their website that should serve as education for all alternative energy fans (and folks who don't like oil and gas). Click the links as we go along here to see the experiment's result in action.

My personal reluctance to fully embrace alternative energy, by the way, comes not from a love of oil or gas, but an understanding from an engineering perspective of the limitations of every source of energy we use, and you can see those limitations live on Maui. Take wind power, for instance.

It seems pretty benign, having big windmills up in the sky over land or sea. But windmills do a major serious number on birds -- especially raptors -- and bats. Maui's 51 MW Kaheawa Wind wind farm's environmental impact assessment makes it clear that the wind farm will kill endangered nene (goose), bats and other birds. They are permitted to kill only specific numbers of birds a year or risk being shut down. Wind farms have a track record of killing off or creating "no-fly" zoned for raptors that control rodent populations, with corresponding adverse consequences on agricultural yields. 

Windmills have downstream effects on weather patterns. Large wind farms in California have resulted in decreased rainfall in the lee of the farms.

Not everyone loves wind farms. Take these guys, for instance, trying to block a wind farm near Ottawa. I remember reading complaints about the Kaheawa project in the Maui News before the project was built.

But the biggest issues from an engineering perspective is that windmills only work when the wind blows, and far more importantly, change their power output with every minor change in wind speed or direction. See just how variable it can be here, or just look at the picture below (take a careful look at the X-axis scale).
It dropped from 22 MW to 0 MW in 20 minutes
Understand that electricity demand on a large scale (like the entire island of Maui, or the State of Hawai'i) is pretty constant. On Maui, it's almost dead flat from 9 AM to 7 PM, then it spikes a bit before falling off. You can see the demand curve here. Every slight variance in wind speed results in a fluctuating input to a system with a steady draw. Something has to "fill that gap" (on Maui, it's oil, because you can store it, and turn the burners up and down quickly). Maui's wind farm provided 13% of the total system electrical supply in 2012; that number will be higher in 2013 because of the Kaheawa Wind Farm's expansion.

Solar (referred to on Maui as "PV, or photovoltaic) is even worse from a variability perspective. Solar only provides power on a curve that starts at sunrise, peaks in the middle of the day, and falls off to sunset, changing whenever a cloud comes by. That demand link I gave above or you can see here shows the solar insolation profile. Again, there's big differences between the potential PV supply and the demand curve.

Still, tax incentives have encouraged people to put PV panels on their roofs -- Hawai'i is a national leader in solar power -- and Maui is full of PVs. There is 4,300 MW of installed PV capacity on Maui. See how fast PV has grown here. But how full is the system? Again, Maui Electric shows you. See here for access to full sized pictures for the whole state; a small version of the two critical maps for Maui are below.

Map 1: Installed PV as a percentage of minimum daily electrical load:

The darker the blue, the more PV there is. Note that there are places -- lots of places -- where PV generation capacity is in excess of minimum electrical use. These neighbourhoods are net "exporters" of electricity to other neighbourhoods (when the sun is shining). That is to say, on a daily average basis, they generate more electricity than they consume  -- but of course, at night, they are importers of electricity fueled by something other than solar (in Maui's case, wind, if it's blowing, or diesel).

Map 2: Installed PV as a percentage of total circuit load:

The darker the orange, the more PV exists as a percentage of the total capacity of the wires to take that generated electricity to somewhere else. Note that there are two places where there is so much PV energy generation capacity that the grid can't take it away.

Maui has said that if the PV represents less than 15% of the total circuit's carrying capacity, you can freely put a PV system on your roof and make all the energy you want. Not much of the island is left that can do that (primarily Wailea, Makena & Kapalua). Any more than 15% and you have to go through a process for approval. Why? Because the high variability PV makes for incredibly difficult electricity balancing. Electrical customers don't want brownouts whenever it's cloudy or the wind slows down.

So Maui's learning: if you don't have much wind or solar power as a percentage of electrical demand, adding it is easy and makes sense. But over 15% and there are problems. See how bad it's getting on Oahu here. Don't believe all this? Have a read of this Scientific American article on the topic.

We like to think electricity is easy and clean and nice. But there are LOTS of engineering problems with electricity (line losses, inefficient conversion from potential to kinetic energy, etc), but the biggest is you can't store it. Push an electron into a wire and an electron has to come out somewhere. Battery technology gets better all the time, but big deal, it's WAY too expensive and results in massive energy loss through heat. In 2012, we visited the Taum Sauk pumped storage reservoir, where excess electricity generated is used to pump water up to the top of a mountain, to be let out during peak demand. In an engineering sense, extremely inefficient and massively wasteful of energy, but you could do it here (so long as someone will let you build a lake on the top of a mountain). Maui Electric looks into pumped storage and other energy storage options here and here. Oil's easy to store. It comes stored.

(Aside: As an engineer, I think they should consider using excess electrical energy to electrolyse seawater, split it into oxygen & hydrogen, recover the hydrogen, then store that and burn it instead of oil. Electrolysis takes a LOT of energy, a by-product is bad chlorine gas, hydrogen is too volatile a fuel to use in anything other than an industrial application, and when you burn it all you make is water on an island that needs water. Perfect where you have a lot of seawater, a lot of wind power, a need to purify drinking water, and the only generating station sits on the shoreline -- but that's just me).

An article in today's Maui News announced that Hawai'i Electric just received a million dollar grant to study ways to improve forecasting associated with PV unpredictability (I'd link it, but the Maui News is no longer free on line). The issue of electrical grid balancing with PV or wind is so significant here that Maui Electric and partners are running some experiments. They've teamed with a Japanese company in my neighbourhood to sign up houses with PV system, and 200 Nissan LEAF electric car owners, to try to put in some high tech stuff to balance out the grid. It's gonna cost millions just for one little neighbourhood.

It's a wonderful feeling to tell people that you're "net negative" in terms of electricity -- that you make more than you use -- but it's misleading to suggest that means you've weaned yourself off oil and gas. Until viable storage systems exist, at anything other than full direct sun, or when the winds aren't blowing steadily, you're still reliant on the oil and gas you claim you can do without. Someone I know just posted this:
If you do not like pipe lines and the dirty tar sands mess, I am thinking that there is a great lesson to be learned from the T'Sou-ke First Nation on the south tip of Vancouver Island. The 40 home Reserve is now energy independent by making use of solar panel arrays. Chief Gordon Plances and the entire Souk community should be commended. They are not only energy indepependent but are also producing the hot water needed for residents. The 75 kilowats produced on the Reserve are sufficient to export electricity to the British Columbia power grid.
Nonsense. That 40 home reserve is not "energy independent". Between 7 PM and 6 AM, and any time it's cloudy or calm, they are wholly dependant on hydro power (you know, that stuff that makes dams and floods valleys that people fight against) and oil and gas. And they will be basically for a long time to come. The "great lesson to be learned" is that oil and gas won't go away any time soon. Commended? Sure; every little bit is going to help in the issue of the long term supply of viable energy. But they shouldn't be carried off on anyone's shoulders for being able to rip up pipelines and stop oil and gas production. Far from it.

Wind and solar are cool technologies, but the reality is, they will never fully replace oil and gas without massive step changes in energy storage technology -- and Hawaii and Maui might not even get to their 2030 target of 30% on average. I say that not as an oil and gas weenie but as an engineer who understands the limitations of the technologies. Anyone who doesn't believe me simply needs to look at the live, real-time, large scale (not 40 home) experiment going on in Maui or Hawai'i -- a place where the wind blows, the sun shines, the ground is hot, the waves move -- and oil and gas will make up the lion's share of the energy supply for a long time to come.

October 2015 Update: Hawai'i as a state just broke the 15% penetration and changed the rules. In order to manage rooftop PV, you now have to provide battery storage, or you can't feed the power back to the grid. Remember, it's PV feeding into the grid that screws it up. See the news info here. They call it "the death of solar". Oahu hit the cap first, but Maui's close.

February 2017 Update: Maui County's plan to go to 100% renewable will cost $10 Billion.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Hanging around upcountry

You can't spend every day on Maui on the beach. Well, you could, but you would get sunstroke and sunburn pretty quickly if you're a "white guy" from a less sunnier clime like me. 

At least at the beginning of our time here, every few days we take a break from the beach and head upcountry, to at least the 1,000 - 2,000 m altitude mark. A lot of folks live at the low end of that, there's are some nice parks, and pretty views beneath the omnipresent clouds.

On the Sunday of the Columbus Day weekend, there were also lots of locals out having fun. One park we like to picnic at was packed with folks tobogganing. Yes, I said riding toboggans. Or in their case, sheets of cardboard.
Some up, some down 
Face first 
The line up at the top of the hill 
Three at once
Which begs the question: do Albertans toboggan on grass hills in the summer? Or do they strictly reserve tobogganing for winter?

There were even kids riding skateboards on the grass hills.
One standing, two sitting
There were a LOT of people near Rice Park. Across the road, the Kula Country Market had a corn maze and pumpkin party going on.
Pumpkin picking 
The main reason for us to go upcountry is to go find native birds in what's left of the native forests, and for that it was a jackpot day. We must have seen over 20 'Apapane in the blooming ohi'a trees. The trees were great, the birds having a riot in the blooms.
Close up of the blossoms
The upcountry forest was it usual misty weird self.
The clouds swirl
Clouds arriving
Normally, we walk the whole Waiakoa Loop trail, but today, we just did a 5.5 km out and return to see the birds. I don't think I've ever seen so many ohi'a trees with so many blooms, and lots of baby ohi'as are starting to grow in the pine forest.

It was 91° F when we left Kihei, but only 63° F on the trail, where we peaked out at 1,950 m altitude -- kind of the same altitude I hike to in my neighbourhood at home. It did not feel cold at all, and surprisingly, there was no snow...

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The finished fence

Because I took you through the first 4 days of the project, I figured it only fitting that we finish it together.

When last we left, all that was left to do was the gates. Gate 1 had been framed on Day 4, but not hung or had boards attached.

We used those gate kits you can buy that claim to not allow the gates to sag. This is the second time I've used them; this kit was easier to put in but doesn't seem nearly as sturdy. While they seem to work fine, they're not that simple to put together when you're working on a 69" wide gate. Final assembly required me rolling around on the ground for a while, screwing in big, heavy, hard to drive screws at awkward angles.
Trying to line up the parts.
With two frames made...
Tiny L brackets in the corners with this kit
...the next goal was to hang the first exactly level...
Looking good 
Darn near perfect
...then hang the second gate so that it meets cleanly and is also level.
Slightly off, but good enough for me
In truth, the levelness of the gates is a strictly driven by how perfectly vertical the posts are.

Once the two frames were up, then the boards got hung...
Nearly done
All up
...and the various hardware gets installed to keep it closed.
A cane bolt driven into my cement-like ground
And thus, the project is finished.
The view from the alley 
The view from the house
I offer thanks to Laurie Chase, Conservation Officer Arien Spiteri, plus Bernard and the rest of the Bow Valley Stewards, who taught me everything there is to know about planting fenceposts. I really should post that story sometime.

Monday, 23 September 2013


It seems like forever ago that we de-fenced the back yard to enable the equipment to come in and put on our addition.

Last week, we started the process of putting it back up. Step 1 was the usual "Canmore time" wait of a week to get the lumber brought in from somewhere, probably Antarctica based on how long it took.
One whole lotta boards. It's a 24' section of fence
We opted to build it out of pressure treated wood, instead of rot resistant cedar, or spruce that is cheap but that we would have to paint.

Next step was to dig the hole for the first fence post. My soil is glacial till. Mostly rock. With some clay thrown in for good measure. Digging the first fence 36" deep post hole took almost 3 hrs. The first foot took a half an hour, but then you could do that with a shovel. The next foot was harder, with more rock. We pulled out one the size of a football. The last foot was so deep it had to be entirely done by hand while lying on the ground and reaching in as far as you could.
Uncomfortable. Slow work, too
That's all we could get done with the limited time we had the first day.

On Day 2, we got the post up in the correct spot, made it perfectly vertical (thus not matching a single other fence post on our property), then connected it to an existing post with rails.
Screwing in the rail supports
We then started the digging of the 2nd post hole.
More ground hugging love
Unfortunately, we ran out of time to finish the hole that day.

Day 3 saw us finish hole #2, put the post up, connect it with rails...
Screwing up the rail hangers 
Both rails up
...and start the process of hanging fence boards.
The start 
Peeking through 
Finished. This part, anyway
And again, we ran out of time. Day 4 was then spent finishing the boards on the other section...
Nailing them up 
Looking straight
...and building the frame of one of the two gates.
An L
And that's all we could get done on Day 4.

It amazes me that it can take 5 days to build 24' of fence. But it's more like 5 half-days, as we've been so busy we haven't been able to put in more than 4 hours work on it on any given day.

For instance, Day 3 was Saturday. There was a free Spirit of the West outdoor concert down in Kananaskis Village as part of their fall festival that we had to go to.
John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly
No one in the dance space... yet
It was a great concert -- despite the fact that 10 minutes in, it started raining, and it was POURING and howling wind for about a half an hour solid before it lightened up a little. They made them cut the concert short as puddles were forming on the cable connections. We were wearing raincoats and cuddled under a tarp and still got soaked.

But we had a blast.