Friday, 30 September 2016

Road trip!

Ordinarily at this time of year, we would be heading to Maui. But a friend of ours is getting married there in April, and we didn't want to go twice in 6 months. So instead of Maui, we're headed... east, to the fall colours of Ontario.

Today we got to...
The prairie at sunset
...via Medicine Hat and the world's largest teepee.
Bigger than it looks
Along the way, the cottonwoods and poplars range from 50-90% turned.
In Medicine Hat 
While not everywhere we drove today was flat, it's certainly flatter than where I live.
Outside Medicine Hat
A bazillion migrating birds on Reed Lake, SK 
The Trans Canada, between Brooks and Medicine Hat
We saw lots of farmers harvesting fields today, and tomorrow, we hopefully will be able to get "up close and personal" with this. We're stopping in at Brandon to visit a friend, and she has some "plots to take off", which I suspect means harvesting some sections of field where different growing or weed control techniques have been tested. Stay tuned for exciting photos of combines... or something (I mean, it could be scissors. I know nothing about grain farming)

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Watch Geek 2: The Casio Years

When last we left, it was ~2008, the ring on the bezel of my Roots Steel had just fallen off, and I was in panic mode. I temporarily wore my Timex to get the rotating bezel, but had no stopwatch. Once again, I went searching for a watch that had:

  • a rotating bezel, preferably unidirectional for snorkelling;
  • 100 m waterproof for snorkelling;
  • a steel case, if possible;
  • a stopwatch function;
  • a dual display, analog and digital. Now, you can get multi-hand chronographs with stopwatches -- most are like that, actually -- but I've never been a fan. Stopwatches are best digital.
I was in Wal-Mart and saw my first of these:
The Casio AMW320D-9EV
It had everything I wanted for only $99. It came with a rubber strap, so I found a metal bracelet on line for it.

Aside: The bracelet came from a dealer in New York via eBay. I received it but couldn't for the life of me figure out how to attach it. I contacted the vendor, told him I couldn't make it fit, and he refunded my money. I offered to send it back, but he told me no. A friend looked at it and figured out the complicated attachment methodology in seconds. I re-contacted the vendor and told him to re-charge me, and he said no. So in the end, the vendor was awesome, and I got the $25 bracelet for free.

Casio #1 lasted 3 years, then lower left button, used to start/stop the stopwatch, started being difficult to use. Shades of my Timex. I went on line and bought a second, Casio #2, as a "better" back up.

I took Casio #2, 1 month old, to Maui. I went snorkelling -- something I had done 50 times with Casio #1 -- and it leaked the first day. I didn't want to take it in the water a second time, and had no other watch, so went to Wal-Mart and got an emergency replacement.
The $18 Special
And for $18, I got every feature except the steel case. The strap is miserable. The rotating bezel is very sticky. But I swam with it no problems.

I got home and sent Casio #2 in for warranty service. While it was gone, Casio #1's buttons officially gave up the ghost. So for a short while, I wore the $18 Special.

Rather than fix Casio #2, they sent me a new one, Casio #3. That's #3 pictured above.

The next year in Maui, I happened to be in Wal-Mart, and they still had the $18 Special. As a back up watch, it was pretty fine. So I bought a second, just in case.
I still use both of these. One is on Maui time, and I essentially only use it in Maui. The second is my "work watch" when I'm out doing trail work or other field activity where my watch could get damaged.

Casio #3 was my main watch for a while, and I bought a back-up new one on-line again (Karen's logic: if you like it and it fails, why not buy 2 and keep one as a back up?).
Casio #4 with it's factory rubber strap
Casio #4 became my main watch when it arrived, but as is often the case, the battery didn't last a long time. After 13 months (1 month past warranty expiry), I took Casio #4 in to get a new battery, as the watch was starting to lose time. The tech pulled the battery, put in a new one -- and the watch would not power up. Watch fully dead, repair cost >> the cost of the watch. Sigh.

I went back to Casio #3, until 6 months ago when it started acting up. The digital display and timer were fine, but the analog hands would "catch" and stop moving for minutes at a time. Suddenly I couldn't trust the analog hands at all. And it only happens when I'm wearing it; sitting in a drawer, the hands work fine. I thought it might be a low battery; I replaced it but it go no better. So Casio #3 effectively is dead.

Each of my Casios lasted 1-3 years before dying in some way. They still make it -- still for only $99 -- but I was reluctant to buy a 5th.

So suddenly, I was back to the $18 Special as my only functioning watch. Back to Wal-Mart as a stop gap, and I found this:
It really does have a digital display
Again, it ticks most boxes and was only $24 ($28 regular price, but on sale). It, however, has "issues".
  • The metal bracelet had no "fine adjustment; it was either too tight or too loose depending on how many links I took out.
  • The bracelet started off black anodized, but all the anodizing wore off (and probably gave me lead poisoning), turning my wrist green for 2 months. Ewwww.
  • In the photo, you can barely see the digital display, which is grey on black, so while it worked, it was a pain to use and I was constantly turning on the backlight.
It was only a stop gap, anyway. I considered getting a better band for my $18 Special, but the bands I found cost more than the watch. And neither was really what I was looking for.

Tons of searching led to my recent acquisition:
Invicta Intrinsic 12469
Hard to locate in Canada, I got it from a dealer in the US for $99 US plus shipping. When it arrived, the box had a sticker price of $1,250. Yeah, right. Invicta has a mixed reputation, making literally thousands of styles of watches. This one is from their Pro Diver series, and it has a Swiss movement from a company called Isaswiss.
  • It's waterproof to 200 m.
  • The rotating bezel is unidirectional;
  • You can turn off the digital display;
  • All three crowns are screw down, though I haven't figured out how to screw down the main crown yet. In fact, the watch didn't come with an owner's manual for it, but a generic manual for other Invicta watches; I had to go on-line to find it.
  • The other interesting feature is that the digital time display is set up only as a 2nd time zone display. Normally, I use the analog hands as the 2nd time zone and keep the digital on home time.
Since 1998, no watch I have owned (that cost more than $28) has lasted more than 3 years. So I bought a 5 year extended warranty for the Invicata. Lets see if it lasts.

The Invicta watch is controlled by the crown. Push it in past a detent and hold it, and the watch synchronizes the analog and digital displays to midnight. Let go, and they then return to their guess as to the time. Pull the crown out, and you can set the time.

About 20 days after I got the Invicta, on a road trip changing time zones I was trying to adjust the watch time, and the detent and spring system on the crown broke. Now, just tapping the crown put it into synchronize mode. It synchronized when I would bend my wrist up. Obviously time for warranty service. Except...

The phone numbers Invicta provides in the warranty book and on their website to contact them for service are both disconnected.  You can't properly register your warranty on-line if you don't live in the USA. The on-line warranty registration rquires a "warranty number" that isn't provided with the watch. The instructions for warranty service are to send the watch -- and a cheque or money order for $28 US -- to Florida, where they will assess it and contact you with a time estimate. The 'net is full of complaints from people who have been waiting 6 months or more for service, and when they have been able to phone in, being on hold for hours at a time.

I contacted the dealer I bought the watch from. He gave me a different number to call Invicta, but told me to wait until Wednesday of this week. Not sure why.

The extended warranty I bought only kicks in after the 1 yr warranty is over. Push comes to shove, I put my watch in a drawer and pull it out in a year.

Yeah. Right.

Because I was on a road trip, with no back up watch, I bought yet another watch from Wal-Mart: a $28 Casio.
At least it has a digital display
Just what I needed: another watch.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Watch Geek, The Early Years

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a geek. One of my geek-ish foibles is watches. I looked today and noted that I currently own 16 watches, though not all of them actually work.

I have a few "old watches". When I was in my teens and early 20's (30+ years ago) my parents would splurge once in a while and buy Seikos, and I still have two from that era, both of which would work if I put batteries in them.

The first was actually given to me when I turned 21.
Scratched and beat up
I wore that watch until I was almost 30. It probably had 5 bands in it's 10 years, starting with leather and migrating to metal. It's pretty chunky as watches go.

It has a nearly matching partner.
Nearly identical, but...
This one was my dad's. He got it about the same time, and converted his to a metal strap because he liked mine. Equally as chunky. Dad only wore this for about 5 years, because, speaking of my dad, I have this one, too.
A cherished possession
This was my dad's last watch, bought for him by my mom from Birks when he retired, and he was wearing it when he passed away. It ran fine for a long time, but died about 8 years ago. I took it back to Birks for repair, but they told me it could not be fixed. I told them its sentimental value, and they suggested putting a new movement in it. They offered to replace the band for free, but I said no. The band is leather and crusty and well used and was the original band that came with the watch, so it's my dad's crustiness on it. I like that. Unlike the above two watches, it's thin and elegant and I wear this on special occasions. Now that I've retired, that's a lot less often than I used to. But I still have it, and with it's new movement it works fine.

When I moved to Houston in 1994, I took up flying ultralights, since the nearest gliding club was so far away. No ultralight I flew had any instruments, so I bought this watch on a lark: a Avocet Vertech Alpin, about $250 US when I bought it. It has an aircraft grade altimeter in it, and I flew with it for a year.
Very beat up because...
It turns out this watch was designed for skiing and hiking, not flying. And it turns out I'm a skier and hiker. The watch records elevation, elevation gained, ski runs, and a bunch of other stuff. I have used it faithfully since I bought it 22 years ago. It's on it's second case and it's 4th set of straps (there's a strap for for winter and one for summer). Every 2 years I have to splurge ~$75 Canadian to send it to California for service and to put a new battery in it (it's gone for 4-6 weeks at a time when I do that). So since 1994, I've probably spent $800 keeping this watch running. Vertech sort of does but sort of doesn't make these anymore, so it's kind of irreplaceable. And besides, no other ski or hiking watch does what this one does.

In mid-1999, I was getting frustrated by whatever watch I was wearing at the time because it was awful for cooking. I was looking for ways to better time my dinners without needing to use horrible stove timers or other things. I was using my Vertech because it has 2 built in stopwatches, but I'm more an analog guy for some things (say, timing 10 min worth of pasta boil), and a digital guy for others (say, 2 min 30 seconds to BBQ a perfect steak). I was poking in The Bay and saw this:
Its a Timex
It had a rotating bezel for diving (which I didn't really do) that were be perfect for timing stuff like corn and pasta. It had a digital display that had a stopwatch function for precise timing of things like steaks on the BBQ. It was a dive watch, so waterproof enough for me to go snorkelling. And it was like $75. I fell in love. And a few months later, in the September 1999 edition of Esquire...
The cover of the copy I still have
...on page 175, was... my watch. There. On a page with a $4,000 IWC, a $3,300 Rolex, a $180 Seiko and $1,400 Movado. Right there. At the top right.
The upper right! It's my watch!
The article tag line says:
The sharpest new chronos have black faces and steely bands and have the ability to make any man look dangerously sharp.

I wore my Timex for ~4 years. The band failed and I got a new one, then, sadly, finally, the buttons that controlled the functions stopped working and couldn't be fixed. And Timex, in their infinite wisdom, had stopped making the watch by then. The analog still works, but the digital display is permanently stuck on the date. Sigh. What to do, what to do.

I did some searching, and found a nearly identical watch from Roots in what was then their Steel line.
Missing something now
Again, I wore it for ~4 years until... the inset on the rotating bezel fell off one day. Hence no numbers, making it useless (though the watch itself and all the functions still work).

Karen bought me this one from the CFCN "changing our logo to CTV" days.
Very thin, very black, very simulated alligator leather-like product strap. I still wear it to CTV functions, but it's almost impossible to see in the dark.

I won this watch for answering on line surveys.
A Bulova
This is your truly generic men's dress watch. Thin and forgettable.

When I was running around the world with Crestar in the late 1990's, I picked up this from an Air Canada in-flight boutique.
A Kenneth Cole
On board, it was only $75. Really nice in steel and black and I still wear it for dress occasions when my dad's watch isn't the right colour (the Kenneth Cole goes great with a tux).

So that brings me to about 2008 with no practical watch doing what I need, and a few nice watches for dress occasions.

Next post: 4 Casios and a lot of WalMart shopping...

Friday, 16 September 2016

Birdwood Beauty

I was up to Birdwood Lakes with Monty last year, but Karen was sick and couldn't go. Almost a year to the day, I dragged Karen up this challenging route. It starts with a 2.6 km bike ride, then a 6 km one way hike that has almost all of its 600 m gain in the last 2 km -- on a trail that is usually less a trail and more "guided bush bashing".

But boy, it it spectacular.

It starts by passing Commonwealth Falls.
Lush green 
A beautiful falls
After scrabbling up beside the falls, the trail continues next to the creek for a bit before breaking out into a 3 km long meadow with spectacular views of Commonwealth Peak, Mt. Smuts, Pig's Back, The Fist and Mt. Birdwood.
The destination is through the gap in the middle, left of Mt. Smuts
The meadow is beautiful...
Looking back
...and higher up offers views back to Rummel Pass between The Tower and the Mt. Galatea.
About 2 km of the valley
At the head of the valley, the grunt begins. Straight up through a larch forest that is about 50% turned, with some gold trees, some green trees, and some in between.
Forests changing colour 
Green & gold 
Looking back from almost treeline 
The road ahead 
It's longer than it seems, but not that steep
At last, we hit the top-ish. It's a bit of a false summit at this point; there's still almost 100 m of climbing left to get to the first of the lakes and this view:
The lower lake; "Smutwood Ridge" in the background
Conventional wisdom here says descend to the lake, then re-climb the first ridge behind it. Meh. We followed the trail ahead in the scree, keeping a high line...
Looking down on Lake 1
...and Lake 2 pops into view.
The high alpine
We left the car at 10, and it was now 1:15 pm, so we sat for lunch over the 2nd lake, with this view.
Full screen, this is awesome
Karen thought this was the "end". Hah. We walked uphill another 20 m to the Continental Divide, and this view of Snow Mountain and Mt. Sir Donald:
Donald left, Snow right 
Karen with the glaciers on Donald in the background 
Heck of a view
Even looking due west into the mountains of the south part of Banff Park is pretty decent.
A sea of peaks
We turned here, though you can go farther (to the col below Snow Mountain, or up Smutwood Ridge). We dropped down to the upper lake...
Mt. Smuts
...then climbed the ridge between the lakes to a small tarn hidden from view but offering what I think are among the most beautiful views in all of Kananaskis (so you get lots of pictures of them).
Birdwood and Snow 
Getting repetitive already 
Well, that's stunning 
Two lakes, two mountains 
The lake's surreal colours 
Sir Donald and Snow 
That's the gap through which we came 
Snow Mountain 
Golden larches against Smutwood Ridge 
Looking back
We dropped back to the upper lake, and the surreal colours of the stream flowing out of it...
The moss is excellent
..then dropped to the lower lake, and tracks of a baby bear.
Where there's kids, mom is not far behind
Alas, it was time to actually descend.
Looking into the valley 
Across to Rummel
Part the way down, we saw more recent bear evidence; digs and scat.
Looks like they're eating roots... 
...that they're digging up
To the meadow, and back along to the waterfall, with cool views of backlit larches on Pig's Back along the way.
Golden rims 
Babbling brooks 
Flowing water
It was a non-wildlife day. We saw a chipmunk, a falcon and a hawk, and that was it. We were hoping for later afternoon moose in the Engadine Meadows, as apparently were at least 5 photographers.
Patiently waiting

Still, if you gotta wait, this is a good place to do it:
Nice view, huh?