Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Olympic Torch Run Hits Simcoe

The Olympic Games in Vancouver are still a ways off, not starting until February 12th. However, the Olympic Torch has already been on the road for almost two months now, doing a cross country run, starting in Victoria, British Columbia and then heading east to Newfoundland. Now it is heading west again, and in the process hitting every nook and cranny of this country. Today was Simcoe’s turn. It was a perfect winter morning, about –10 C with just a skiff of snow on the ground (to be sure, 1 skiff equals 1 mm).

Dumb little old me thought that the torch was actually run on foot by different athletes all the way. Not quite. From town to town, it is being driven in a van, Actually it is surrounded by a whole raft of vehicles, sort of like the caravan in the Tour de France, advertising such vital items as soft drinks and banking services.

We strategically placed ourselves at a spot where a relay takes place. Well, actually, it was plain luck.


The Torch is heading south on Norfolk Street. Almost here!


The handover takes place.


The runner is on his way. Each runner covers 500 metres at the most.torch4  

You can actually follow the torch run live via webcam  (if it ain’t broke that is). Then again, it is quite a technological feat and it provides a neat glimpse of small town Ontario in a winter setting. Should be equally as interesting in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and lastly British Columbia.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dutch TV (…and Flemish too…)

My brother-in-law had made me aware along time ago that world wide reception of a Dutch TV channel was possible. I finally got around to seriously looking into this a few weeks ago.

Of course, anybody can go out and have a satellite installer come in and do it for you, but that is no fun. One of the parameters of any job should be cost and this one was no exception.

I had a surplus Bell satellite receiver taking up space in the basement, so I traded it with my son-in-law Greg for a satellite dish surplus to his needs. After I did some checking (well, actually a lot of checking) on the web, I found that the LNB (Low Noise Block, sometimes called the ‘eye’ on the dish) was not compatible with the satellite (AMC4) that I was trying to pick up. It had to be standard LNB, rather than circular LNB. Who knew?

Ebay to the rescue. For $8.00, the correct type of LNB arrived in my mailbox. Next trick is how to mount this. The focus point on the dish is crucial to the reception: out by just a little and obtaining a strong signal becomes next to impossible. So I decided to tear open the old LNB with the idea of perhaps mounting the new one in there. It turned out that, although significantly different in shape, with a lot of filing and cutting I was able to mount the new LNB in the old bracket. Three cable ties hold the hold thing together, and voila, Bob’s your uncle.

Next I mounted the dish onto the roof with a surplus tripod I happened to have kicking around. With the aid of a helper, aiming it was a fairly easy operation, once I discovered the true vertical alignment mark on the dish mounting bracket, which was hidden behind a mounting bolt. Duh!!!

The dish in the foreground is the “regular” Bell TV dish, pointing to Nimiq 2.

Although signal strength is not the greatest (82%), the picture displayed on the receiver is very good. The receiver, by the way, I had lying around after it become no longer useful, due to the fact that satellite pay TV encryption became (seemingly) unbeatable.

To display, since I am the only Dutch speaking person around here, I just use my notebook for viewing. A video capture device (from Belkin) leads from the S video port on the receiver to a USB port on the notebook. Install the right drivers, and all you need then is an application to display the video stream. To find that application actually took a long time. I finally settled on TV Viewer, a shareware program.


BVN is the organization that actually delivers the channel. It appears to be a joint venture between VRT (Vlaamse Radio en Televisie Omroep) and RNW (Radio Nederland Wereldomroep).

And best of all: no commercials, yeah!!!!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New Bridge

I finally got around to tearing out the old bridge across the little ditch behind the house. The bridge gives easy access to the woods, but had been in very bad state of repair ever since we bought the house and probably way before too.

This is the perfect time of year to work on a project like that: the ditch is dry, since the ground water level is way down. Also, there are no mosquitoes and the temperature is bearable, not too hot and not too cold.

Tearing out the old bridge was not much of a problem, didn’t take more than 10 minutes. At first, I thought of using the wood from the old deck in the wood stove, but on second thought I decided to take it to the dump as it was just too deteriorated to burn properly. They will actually recycle it into wood chips for ground cover.

First I dug four holes for the piers, placed them and attached cross members for strength. Then I backfilled around the posts with concrete.


Let sit for a day or two, then, after measuring carefully, I cut the pier tops to the proper height. Since sawing a 4”x4” piece of lumber horizontally is a bit tricky, I employed pieces of scrap lumber as guides, which worked perfectly.

I actually used a hand saw, something I hadn’t used in a long time. I had trouble finding it.

Next came attaching the bridge girders. They are seated on the each ‘shore’ in a bed of crushed gravel, unattached, in case they need to be raised on lowered in the future.

Then came installation of the deck. I precut the deck members back by the house, as running power tools on a 200 ft (65 m) extension cord is never the best of things to do. However, I did use one of my power drills to drive the screws through the members into the girders. It got mighty hot.

Backfilling the approaches to meet the deck was the last step involved. All done. Now I can drive my lawn tractor across and drag firewood logs back to the house for cut up.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


We spent a few days in Toronto this past week, staying at the house of friends of ours who themselves are on a month long European Holiday.

If nothing else, it is certainly a very cosmopolitan city, with residents who stem from every corner of the world. From black to white and every imaginable colour in between, all living in (seemingly) relative harmony.

Architecture wise, there isn’t much in Toronto. The nice stuff built in the late 19th century has mostly been torn down. The newer stuff, built since about 1950 only manages to impress at times because of its sheer size. However, if it ain’t big it will almost certainly be ugly. I surmise that this is caused by the fact that builders are only in it for the money: slap something together quickly, so you can have tenants in it quicker. Governments, forever looking to expand their tax base, aren’t too eager to press too hard either in case the developer looks elsewhere to build, so the end result is mediocrity at best.

This is ugliest ‘strip mall’ I know of in the Greater Toronto Area: Yonge Street, just south of Finch. However, many competitors are striving to take its crown with even uglier sites all over town.


Hydro wires are still exposed everywhere in the older portions of town, the ones left unscathed by the wrecker’s hammer. Who needs trees, when these contraptions can provide shade too?


Once in a while a bit of green provides a glimmer of hope in the desolation formed by broken concrete, rutted asphalt and mud filled potholes.


The Blue Sea Restaurant, I presume, has been at its present location for quite a while now, by the looks of things. Literally steps from the downtown core, you wonder how it can survive.


What’s this? A public phone? How do you work one of these? Looks like it’s been a while since the phone company gave it a good cleaning.


At the edge of the ever expanding ring of condominiums, this building is slated for demolition, to be replaced by a ten story-or-so apartment building. Should one by happy or sad?


We had lunch on the patio at Jack Astor’s high above Dundas Square. The CN Tower weaved in and out of the low hanging cloud.


As downtown as downtown gets in Toronto, this is the intersection of Dundas and Yonge. Here, the city is experimenting with Pedestrian Priority Phase, which simply means all traffic lights turn red and for the next 30 seconds or so you can cross the intersection in whatever direction you want.


Right next to the intersection is Dundas Square, a newly formed  public space. Definitely an improvement over what was there before. This is a panorama of the area, probably close to 160 degrees. On the right, Dundas Street runs west, into the distance. In the middle is the Eaton Centre (shopping yes!), with the skyscrapers of the financial district in the background. In the foreground Dundas Square. Photoshop stitched this together on its own, out of 4 photographs.


Inside the Eaton Centre, shop till you drop is the self-respecting consumer’s main mantra. Even we couldn’t escape the urge to slap down plastic.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Install Telescoping Flagpole

In order to attract more attention for “her” Green Party, Anne decided to purchase a flagpole. Surely, all passersby would notice this new feature on our front lawn.

As is customary, purchasing the item is the easy part of the work involved (although payment in my view is an extraordinarily painful process). Be that as it may, the request was passed on to me to install this “thing”.

This is not just any flagpole either, it telescopes, making raising and lowering of the flag quite a bit easier. Also, the pole actually sits in a sleeve in the ground, on a bolts which passes through the center of the nylon sleeve, so it doesn’t really touch bottom. This allows for removal of the entire flag pole if you intend to go on vacation, or if you are a local yahoo reading this blog and you want to steal my flag pole.

Anyway, the first order of the day was to dig a hole 30” (about 1 m) deep. The diameter was suggested at 12” (about 300 mm), but since our soil tends to be rather soft, I made it 18”, about 450mm. Then, as specied, put in about 6” (150 mm) of crushed stone, and force the sleeve into it for about 2” (50 mm).

Next, get some bags of concrete mix (in my case four) and mix till the cows come home. I tried to be a real pro here, by using as little water as possible, which will increase the strength of the concrete tremendously. Most people are totally ignorant of the fact that more water means a less strong concrete product. In order to keep the pole plumb, I inserted it into the sleeve while pouring concrete and then used the level to plumb it.

Here’s the hole filled with concrete and ready for backfilling with topsoil.

Wait a day, then hook the flag to the top and bottom hooks and extend the post all the way up (20’ or close to 7 m)

Another happy customer…


Of course, if the Dutch National Team were to ever win the World Cup, the tricolor might have to replace the Maple Leaf for a day or two…   

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mazda Rear Bumper Cover Replace

And so it came to be that our Mazda was driven home into the garage thusly:

Two bolts on the right hand side refusing to let go, otherwise it would have been lost on the road.

Anyway, with all bolt holes and brackets broken off and a previous dent not helping any, it needed another bumper. My first thought was to take it to an auto body repair place. But then I started to think (a process which does not come naturally to me) and slowly but surely I figured out how this bumper was actually attached to the car. Previously, I had never shown any interest in bumpers (why should I?), so to my amazement I discovered that this part is not actually called a bumper, but a bumper cover!

Armed with some technical advice from son-in-law Greg, I decided to tackle the job myself. First task was to find a matching cover at an auto recycler (politically incorrect term is junkyard). I got lucky there: Woodstock Auto Recycling had a ‘97 (ours is a ‘98) in the right colour. So I drove up there (30 minutes) along with some of my tools. The cover was already off the car in the parts area, but I needed some other smaller parts, so they told me where the car was. Lo and behold, all the parts were still in one piece on the old car and were fairly easy to take off.

Next task, remove tail lights and inner lining of trunk so you can get at the bolts that hold the ‘real’ bumper to the car.

Then, remove the bumper, which is basically a aluminum beam, very light weight.

Now fit the bumper into the bumper cover and attach with clips. Notice how the aluminum bumper rests within a bed of styrofoam.

Next, lift the bumper up into its final resting place and have an assistant hold it in place while you check for fit (or go for coffee).

All done. Time elapsed: about 3 hours. A pro could probably do it in less than an hour. Total cost $113, plus gas back and forth to Woodstock. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Waterford Car Show

Last weekend was Pumpkinfest in Waterford. Ghouls and goblins galore. In addition to the antique car show of course! It was the biggest show in Waterford ever and covered the entire football field, parking and adjacent area with overflow going onto the baseball diamond. There must have been close to a thousand cars present. That show the enormous interest in this hobby. From a cursory inspection of the entrance tickets posted in the windshield of most cars, it appeared that most participants lived in a 50 km radius of Waterford, i.e. Simcoe, Brantford, Tillsonburg, Woodstock etc. All these cars hidden in garages somewhere. Ginormous. Picture below shows only about a quarter of the participants.


This is a 1981 gull winged  Delorean. The neat thing about it is that it’s stainless steel. It may appear to be gray paint, but you are looking at bare metal here. The underbody is fibreglass. About 9,500 of these cars were made over two years (1981-1982) before the company went bankrupt.


There was also a complete ‘funny car’ team present. The owner of the car, a 40 year employee of General Motors, now retired, races this car on the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) circuit. The car he drives (and maintains, aided by his sons) is a funny car (engine up front) as opposed to a dragster (engine on the back), fuelled by alcohol, attaining top speeds over a quarter mile of 250 miles per hour, something like 385 km/h. The car drives with a fibreglass or carbon shell, so that it looks somewhat like a real car. The term ‘funny car’ apparently originated in the mid sixties when the rear wheels on an ordinary looking car were moved forward to improve traction. So, when you looked at the car form the side, it looked ‘funny’. Next race for this team: Gainesville, Florida, sometime in February.


Notice the red fire extinguishers up front. The car also packs two parachutes, which are released at the end of its run. Fuel consumption: something like 80 litres per run. Fuel tank up front, immediately behind it the oil tank.


And now for something totally different: as a teenager, Anne was a car hop at A&W. A&W was one of the very first fast food restaurants, even preceding McDonald’s. The way you got served there was, you parked you car in the lot, the server would come up to the car, take your order and come back with your order on a tray that got suspended from the window. As the server, she was accountable for the mugs that the root beer was served in. If some diner absconded with one of these, it would come off her pay. So this brought back memories for her, some good, some not so good.waterfordcarshow3

Inevitably at these shows (that is, if you are old enough), you start looking for your first car. I didn’t quite find it, but got fairly close: a 1967 Dodge Monaco convertible, whereas mine was a 1968 Dodge Monaco hard top, with a 383 cubic inch engine, that’s about 5800 cc. Heavy and simple. No pollution control equipment, not even a PCV valve. So big, you needed to pack a lunch in order to walk around it once.


And here is the latest in today’s humongous, ginormous trucks: a Doge Ram, with the little boy to give it some perspective.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shell Camino & Bounty Hunter

We paid a visit to the Simcoe Fair last week. Officially, this is known as the Norfolk County Fair and Horse Show, but since that is too long to type, I’ll just call it the Simcoe Fair if you don’t mind.

Not really being all that interested in monster trucks, we found out that that very night they would be performing in front of the grandstand. So we casually decided to pay a visit.

Would you believe the entire grandstand is just jammed with people? Not a seat to be had. I guess I just live in a different world. From parents with very young children to senior citizens, they were all there.

Anyway, it wasn’t very long before the monsters started to truck. I tried some shots, but it was just too dark. The best I could get was this:


The body is a 1972 Chrevolet El Camino. The vehicle is driven by a woman from Plymouth, Michigan, Shelley Lujack. Unfortunately, she lost in car crushing finals from a dude by the name of Jimmy Creten driving the “Bounty Hunter”:


He came all the way from Kansas City, Kansas. Probably making the rounds on all the fairs in the area.

Reportedly, horse powers are in the range of 1600 to 2000. Jimmy’s truck supposedly has a 555 cubic inch displacement, that’s about 8 litres. Another subculture I know nothing about.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cruise on a Great Lakes freighter Episode 5

The ship, loaded with 15,000 tonnes of stone destined for the drywall plant in Caledonia, Ontario, arrived in Hamilton at around 7:00 am on Monday morning. Literally within minutes, the self unloading boom was moved into out over top the designated spot on the dock and unloading began.

This was the scene at around 8:00 am


And 2 hours and 5,000 tonnes later


All the while, the crew is inspecting bearings to ensure none of them overheat and seize up.



The ladder control for broke, so John and Carlos managed to find a previously used one in the parts bin and were busy making the appropriate solder connections.

johnandcarlosfixingladdercontrol2 johnandcarlosfixingladdercontrol

The base of the self unloading boom with the newly formed pile in the distance.


Within 5 hours, the ship had unloaded itself. While being unloaded, the holds were being spray cleaned with water to make them ready for the next load (grain), which was to be taken to Toledo, Ohio.

Here’s the company’s motto: “Don’t give up the ship.”


At this point, we unloaded as well. All in all, it was a most enjoyable trip. We came away very much impressed by the amount of hard work being done by the ship’s crew under sometimes very difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, the crew seems a very homogeneous unit, collaborating with one another very effectively.

Our thanks to Lower Lakes Towing and to all involved for allowing us to witness and experience firsthand this unique corner of the shipping world.

More pictures can be seen here:

Hamilton to Cardinal

Cayuhoga unloading in Hamilton

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cruise on a Great Lakes freighter Episode 4

This post could be subtitled “Visit to Engine Room”. Deep down in the cavernous aft section sits a hungry monster that growls and snarls 24 hours a day. It’s called an engine. A diesel engine. A Caterpillar 3608 4-stroke cycle in-line 8 cylinder 3,084 b.h.p. diesel engine to be even more precise.

When visiting the engine room, you are immediately overwhelmed by 3 environmental issues: heat, noise and cleanliness. Hearing protection is mandatory. If you want to strip to fight the heat, that’s fine, you can do so, but it is not required. And it’s clean. Spic and span everywhere. Kind of like the interior of my car (not!). After entering, you must first stop by the engineer’s station, which sits in the corner of the engine room. Here, several computer monitors show various control parameters.

The one on the left in this picture shows the state of ballast tanks. These tanks, depending of the load of the ship, either contain water or are empty. During loading, water is pumped out of the various tanks. If we are loading the front, then the front ballast tanks are first emptied. If we are loading the back then those tanks are emptied. Ditto for the middle section. Not doing this in the proper sequence could put undue stresses on the hull of the ship, possible leading to cracks. In this case, Travis was monitoring the unloading of the tanks.


This is Travis fine tuning the engine.


Another shot of Travis performing his magic.


Originally, the ship had a steam engine. This was replaced in the early part of this century with a diesel engine, which is a lot, lot smaller (but more powerful) than the original steam engine.


Engine from up top. Note the exhaust pipe.


Exhaust pipe. I wonder if this same pipe would fit a green 1995 Ford Aspire (with rear spoiler)?


From up top. You can clearly see the size of the engine room.


Drive shaft. Approximate diameter 16”. That’s 400 mm in the real world. It is hollow though, to allow for control systems to pass through to the screw to change their pitch.


Of course a well stocked work room is required as sometimes, as unbelievable as this may sound, things break.


In addition to the engine room, there is a boiler room, its sole purpose being the generate heat for the ship and its systems.


Then there is the generator room, which is even warmer and noisier than the engine room.        generatorroom

All in all, you cannot leave the engine room without being thoroughly impressed by the sheer power and finesse of all this equipment. Raw power converted to useful energy by skilled hands. If that’s not art, then I guess I am missing something.

To be continued… (1 more time)