Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pileated Woodpecker

The other day Norma called me from the kitchen, "Come and see the woodpecker!" I did not move all that quickly, thinking it was one of the Northern Flicker Woodpeckers that frequent our feeding stations. Nice, but not "run and see" nice. "Hurry, you're going to miss it". I came out to see this beautiful Pileated Woodpecker eyeballing our suet feeder. We don't see these big guys very often.

We had company on Norma's actual birthday on Sunday so we never had a chance to do anything special. Last night I managed to drag her away from her garden long enough to go down to the docks and Dick's Fish & Chips. I like Dick, he and I were called for jury duty (and rejected, they evidently did not want old, gray haired guys) at the same time a few years ago. We sat at the tables on the dock and enjoyed his great fish & chips before heading home for some key lime pie "ke lam pa" with whipped cream. Memories of Florida.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Patio Party 2014

Here are a few candid shots from Saturday's Patio Party. It was a beautiful, warm afternoon and evening and many of our friends turned out. Conversation was great and the food was plentiful. What is not to like?

Karen, Val and Norma (the Birthday Girl)

Wes (my old boss from the 60's), Brian and Brooks

Colin, Nancy and Annake

Sierrah, LindaLee and Kathryn (in charge of the tequila tasting table)

Pensive Sierrah

Croft entertaining the ladies

Sierrah and Jayde dancing in front of the mirror.

And a final, stolen from LindaLee's Facebook Page (Jayde, Kathryn and LindaLee)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What Is A Cantilever?

"What is a cantilever? How can it open and close without wheels?" Were Norma's first questions.

We are having our annual patio party on Saturday so Brooks and the granddaughters came up a day early to install our cantilevered, rolling gate across the the driveway. Our yard is completely fenced but the twenty foot wide driveway was left without a permanent gate solution while everyone decided on the best way to do it. Brooks had this idea in mind right from the start and he finally won out. He was right all along.

He spent a full day welding the 46" high, thirty foot long steel, sliding gate together back in his workshop at home before loading it on his truck and bringing it up. In the meantime I ordered the four rollers from a fencing supply company in Ohio where they sold them for a fraction of their cost in Canada. Here, they are $200 each X 4 or $800 for the set. At Discount Fence Supply in Ohio they cost me $285 for all four, shipping included! This only works when you have two or three weeks lead time.

It took Brooks and I three hours to install the gate, including the wasted time for me to drive downtown to exchange the too short 6" carriage bolts for the required 7" version. The gate rolls back and forth on rollers behind the fence on top of the 7' high retaining wall, so it was not the most convenient or safest place to work but the job was completed with only one small cut on Brooks' hand.

The total cost for Phase I was about $700 for parts ($0 for labour). Phase II will be to add a chain drive to open and close the gate. Each car will have a remote control and there will also be a push button on the fence post. This might be done later this year but more likely next summer.

"Balance, drill, tighten bolts, repeat..."

 Norma, "Brooks, are you sure it is perfectly level? Don't forget to finish painting it". Brooks, "Yes mom".

The finished product! There are rows of fine stainless steel wire stretched horizontally to keep the deer from sneaking through the gaps.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

RV Ice Making

One of the problems we have when RVing in hot weather is getting ice for a refreshing drink in the evening. The freezer section of our RV fridge is normally loaded to overflowing with frozen food so there is no room for bulky ice trays. Our solution has been to buy a bag of ice when we need it. These bags contain way more ice than we need so after we fill a couple of sandwich size bags and cram them into the freezer, the rest of the bag is either given away or goes to waste. These bags average three dollars each so after adding the price of gas needed to go and get them, it becomes an inconvenient, expensive affair.

Recently London Drugs had an Igloo brand portable ice maker on sale for $99 (reg $149) so we bought one. Yesterday we unpacked it and tried it out. It will be a great addition to the RV! It turned out the first batch of nine ice cubes in about twelve minutes and then nine more every seven or eight minutes after that until the internal bin was full. We dumped those into a Ziploc bag, refilled the machine with water and away it went again. After repeating this for eight hours we had several bags of ice in the house freezer, ready for our weekend party.

We now have one of the new electric "smart meters" so I went online and checked our power consumption for the hours the machine was on, comparing it to those same hours on a normal day. It looks like it costs about five cents per hour to make ice. Forty cents to make ice that would probably cost $6 plus gas to go out and buy. Not bad. Life is good with a cold drink in hand and the tinkling sound of even more ice being made!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Using Gmail?

I have been using Gmail for about ten years now, starting from back when you needed an "invitation" to get started. I really like it for two reasons. 1) it stores my mail on their server so I can get at old messages from any computer, not just the one I downloaded it onto and, 2) it has a great spam filter that keeps out 99.9% of the enlarging your penis ads and other garbage. It is easy to sort and store mail away in folders and they offer a huge individual storage area for free (15 GB right now).

However, if you have friends who like to send you photos, videos and other huge files, this storage can and does fill up. If you are like me and do not delete these emails as soon as you read them they stay on the server forever using up valuable space. It has always been difficult to sort Gmail files by size until now.

To find these large files simply type "size:5m" (without the quotation marks) in the search box at the top of the Gmail page. This will display all your files that are over 5 MB each in size. You can substitute other numbers to find smaller files. You can then examine each one and decide if you want to keep it or not. I just did this and was able to delete about fifty storage hogs that I had no further use for and reduced my storage use from 20% down to 9%. Only 50 emails were using up over half of my storage space!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Equipment Failure

We are having our annual patio get together with friends next weekend so yesterday it fell to me to pressure wash the patios, steps and walkways. I fired up my two year old (but used only two or three times) electric pressure washer. I just got started and "SNAP", something broke and water started pouring out of the unit. I took the covers off, thinking it might just be a hose failure or something simple but I found a pot metal piece broken.

I took it down to Home Depot where I bought it to see if they would so anything for me. Yes I know, two years old, but if you do not ask you will never get anything. They said no so I looked over their supply and finding nothing that jumped out at me, I went shopping around town. I eventually found a 2000 PSI unit on sale for $99 and bought it. It is about 25% more powerful than the old unit and required no assembly at all. I connected the hose and wand and away I went.

I put in about three hours and got the rear walkway and retaining wall done as well as the main patio and front concrete steps. There is still another three or four hours left on the front walk and driveway but that was enough for one day.

The weather was not great today so I took the day off. I love retirement! Tomorrow is another day.

I think the old machine is repairable so I will put it at the end of the driveway with a "FREE - REPAIRABLE" sign on it and see how long it takes it to disappear. Some enterprising DIYer might be able to fix it. I considered trying some Liquid Steel or two part epoxy on it myself but was too lazy and I would have had to go to the store for that anyway.

Monday, July 14, 2014


We had a clear night for the "Supermoon" display. Otherwise known as the perigee moon, it is when the moons' eliptical orbit brings it closest to earth.

I took some shots with my Nikon DSLR and 400mm lens as well as with my new Panasonic ZS40. I placed the Nikon on my tripod and used the ZS40 on my mono-pod to keep it steady. The zoom on the ZS40 gives me the equivalent (in 35mm terms) of a 1125mm lens. The ZS40 took the best photos with the results being sharper than the Nikon that night. Anyway, enough of the technology. Here is the best photo of about 50 I took at various settings. This one was ASA 640, 1/500th at f 6.4, tweaked a tiny bit with Picasa which I find myself using much more than either PhotoShop or Lightroom.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Calgary Stampede

Death In The Afternoon

I was raised in Edmonton, Alberta and every year or two my dad would take the family to Calgary for the Stampede. I remember it as being hot, dusty and loud and I don't think it has changed much in that regard. Where it has changed is in the treatment of animals. Never a year goes by without at least one animal being killed and many more tortured.

The body count at the Stampede so far this year is one steer fatally injured in the steer wrestling competition. It lay dying on the arena floor while people ran with tarps to surround it so the sensitive, paying public and their children did not have to see what was being done with their admission money. It is better not to have these things rubbed in the customers face.

I had the opportunity to go to a bullfight in Mexico a couple of years ago but turned it down. I do not consider it "entertaining" to see an animal killed in front of me. A friend of ours did go and he came back quite shaken, saying it had been a mistake to go.

Can you see much difference here? Can the crowd? They are cheering in both cases. Is this "sport"? It certainly is not for me and I will not watch it. Bullfighting or "Cowboying".

Saturday, July 12, 2014

This Can't End Well

My workshop is about 150 feet from the ocean and is a natural refuge for the Norway Rats who frequent the rocks on the beach. They come up periodically looking for an easy handout like our stash of bird seed and/or to poop all over the floor. I employ some countermeasures to this rodent invasion, one of which is a couple of huge peanut butter baited rat traps. These are huge traps, the kind that could easily break a finger if a person were careless when setting it.

Yesterday I was checking the trap line and discovered some rat poop on the workshop floor. This warranted a  closer inspection which showed the trap near the bird seed bucket to be missing altogether. I guess a rat sprung the trap but it did not hit anything vital (like it's neck) but may have caught his tail or maybe a leg. Oh boy! Where is it? Where did it drag the trap off to? I checked under my power saws, work bench and in the wood pile but no luck. I guess it is possible I left the door open for a while and the rat entered, got trapped and left through the door. I prefer this scenario to the one where he is still somewhere in the shop, dead or dying and getting ready to stink and attract flies. Norma wants me to check around the yard but really, I do not want to find it. I set a new trap and this time screwed it to the floor. Maybe the same rat will drag the old trap back and get caught again in the new one. I have lots of peanut butter.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Eagle Watch

I finally found what is drawing the eagles to the beach in front of the house. There was a lot of activity again today so I walked down to the beach once more. As I got close to the road that separates us from the beach I could see where the eagles and a couple of vultures were feeding. I crossed the road and got as close as I thought they would tolerate without becoming nervous and found a log to sit on and watch. They were busy feeding and therefore more tolerant of company than normal.

There were some bloody ribs sticking up from the rocks and then I saw a hoof. A deer! That was the daily special! It was a small deer, maybe one of the babies that has been around and it may have been hit by a car and catapulted onto the beach or perhaps was injured and made its own way to the beach before succumbing to its injuries. In any case its' unfortunate death supplied food for the avian predators and the cycle of life continues.

I was zoomed in on the vultures feeding when suddenly this big guy landed. I managed to get him just as he touched down. I would liked to have had the time to zoom out just a little but I am happy with this shot. I think it just might get framed and will hang on my study wall.

Here comes his/her mate in for a share. The blood on his/her beak gives away the fact that he/she has been here before and is back for seconds.

These birds are larger than they look. An adult can easily have a wingspan of seven feet and they live for 25 to 40 years. They normally mate for life unless one of the pair dies, in which case the survivor will seek out a new mate. The head feathers do not turn white until their fourth year. They are very impressive birds.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Morning In The Garden

I woke up early and could not get back to sleep so I poured a coffee and went for a walk on the property. The eagles are busy on the beach again this morning. I walked down yesterday but could not see that caught their interest and of course there were no eagles there at the time. As I was watching this morning an adult circled the house and landed in the big tree behind the house. The light was good so I grabbed my new camera and got off a few shots. This was taken at 30X zoom and cropped just a little.

I talked to him for a while. Well, I talked and he listened. I thanked him for the feather he or one of his friends left us last year and told him he was welcome to nest on our property. He finally decided to fly off and join his friends on the beach. At least they could understand what he was saying.

Norma then called me over to see one of her Lilies that had just bloomed. Again, the light was good and Picasa allowed me to darken the background shadows without loosing the highlights on the flower. I really like this camera and should try it out with my tripod.

Now I have to tackle a more mundane task. The furnace filters need replacing but to do this I have to remove the two sliding doors in front of the furnace. These doors consist of two 3'X7' sheets of 1/4 inch plywood set in tracks at the top and bottom. When I built the system, the doors lifted up and popped out with little effort but over time something has changed shape and they have since become very difficult to get in and out. Not an east job but it is about four months overdue.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


The technician was walking through the waiting room at the hospital calling for her next victim patient. I was waiting to be called for my full heart imaging but did not understand the accent of the technician so I did not react, it did not sound like my name. On her third pass I asked, "Croft Randle"? "Yes", she said as if that was the name she had been calling all along.

She took me into a dark lab, had me take off my shirt and lay on the table. She asked a bunch of questions to make sure I was me and then wired me up with electrodes and spread some cold liquid on her imaging probe. "Lay on your side and breathe normally". She proceeded to move the probe around, look at her two screens, operate her mouse and punch her keyboard. "Are you sick?". "No". "Are you short of breath?".. Wow! Not until you asked! Does your screen say I am?, I thought. What I actually said was, "No, I feel fine"... I knew I was not dead as I could hear my heart valve operating through the speaker. I could see her screen out of the corner of my eye and man, the inside of my heart is a pretty scary place! Flashing red as the blood is compressed and blue as it is let out with the huge valve flapping back and forth as it pumped. How can that valve last for this many years?

She continued for another good twenty minutes giving many instructions, some of which I had to ask her to repeat. "Deep breath, hold your breath, why did your doctor order this?" Finally she said, "OK. You can go".

For my American friends, the total cost for this half hour procedure? Zero! Nada! Nothing. Now I wait for my doctor to call which he probably will not as the heart specialist told me before he ordered this test, "I already know what the results will be. Don't worry, your heart is fine, this is just precautionary".

It was nice to get out of there! On the way home I stopped by the chain saw wood carving area that was still set up from Canada Day to have a look. Most of the carvings are still there so I snapped a few photos with my new camera.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Wow Factor

I was playing with my new Panasonic ZS40 yesterday as we walked down to the seawall walkway at the end of our driveway to try out the zoom. The weather was a little hazy and overcast so this is not the best the camera can do but it is still pretty impressive!

Wide angle looking at Quadra Island. See the lighthouse in the middle of the photo? You probably can't, it is just a dot. Try clicking on the photo to enlarge it.

Here it is at the maximum optical zoom of 30X. Hand held, no tripod or cropping!

And at less than the maximum software zoom. I am not sure of the magnification number, probably around 40X. Again hand held, no cropping.

Here is an example of the macro setting. This is my dad's Omega watch that I inherited.

And a close crop of the above photo just to show the detail captured.

Here is just a quick shot of a Northern Flicker Woodpecker at one of our feeding stations. It is taken hand held at just under 30X zoom.

Needless to say, I am impressed with this little camera! I have to re-iterate that I took the telephoto shots without a tripod or any support other than the fact that I was sitting on a park bench. All photos except the macro received minimal adjustment in Picasa to diminish the haze in the air. The macro was fine as is.

Friday, July 4, 2014

New Camera

I have been getting tired of lugging my Nikon D-200 DSLR around with me and as a consequence, I have been leaving it at home or in the RV and missing many photo opportunities in our travels. I have been watching for a higher quality "Point & Shoot" type camera for a while now. My Blogger friend Contessa recently purchased a new Canon that she was happy with. I researched it extensively and read all the reviews on it.

The reviews were good but pointed out the camera lacked one thing I wanted and that was a High Dynamic Range setting that helps when there are competing tonal ares in a photo, such as shade and sunlit areas. The HDR takes three photos at different settings and combines the results to make one photo with more acceptable highlights and shadows. It sounds complicated and it is but when all you have to do is push a button, it is easy. The Lumix also has an EVF or Electronic Viewfinder so you do not hsave to rely on the LCD screen to shoot, something I find very unnatural.

The other complaints were poor battery life and a WIFI system that did not actually do very much. The Canon was $379 locally. One of the reviews said it was a great camera but if you were really looking for something a little better to try the Panasonic Lumix ZS40. I switched my studying to this camera and discovered it was made by Panasonic but under license from Leica, the famous German camera company. The lenses were designed by and manufactured under the supervision of Leica and that pretty much sold me. I have had "Leica Envy" ever since I first got interested in serious photography in grade 9.

London Drugs here in Campbell River had the camera but at $478, the full suggested retail price. London Drugs has a price matching policy so I found the camera on sale for $449 at Kerrisdale Cameras in Vancouver, printed the page and took it down to London Drugs. They sold it to me at the lower price. Of course I had to buy a memory card for it. I also ordered a spare battery and a small belt loop case from eBay. I am set to go.

I have been busy reading the instructions and experimenting with it for the last two days. It takes great photos and has a very nice macro setting. The flash is tiny and thankfully, is not a pop-up and can be turned completely off in software. The flash has a range of six meters. On the other hand, the camera has a 30X optical zoom lens but even with the Leica based optical stabilization will require a tripod at the extreme end!

It has one feature I will use. It links directly with my Android Tablet and allows me to use the tablet as a remote control. On the tablet I can see what the camera sees, make many adjustments to the camera, operate the zoom and trip the shutter. This will be great to use beside the bird feeder!

Here is a demo of the remote shutter. I set the camera on the stair railing and used the tablet to take the photo. I did not use High Dynamic Range or it would have balanced the shadows in the room with the outside sunshine.

I have to learn to navigate the complicated menu. Right now, by the time I set up for the shot I want, the sun will be down.

Yard Guest

Yes, I am hanging out at the birdhouse. Got a problem with that? Photo by Juan.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Guys With Guns

A little help please. Can some enlightened person out there tell me if these are "Good Guys With Guns", "Bad Guys With Guns", "Sane Guys With Guns" or "Crazy Guys With Guns"? 

If I see these idiots in a store where I am shopping I am going to assume they are "Crazy, Bad Guys With Guns" and I am dropping my cart in the isle, leaving the store immediately and calling 911 from the parking lot. Someone else can put my groceries back on the shelves as I will be in another, safer store.

Target Stores, where these photos were taken, has just reacted today after an intense campaign by telling customers to keep their guns out of their stores. They join a growing list of family friendly companies including Starbucks, Chili's, Sonic, Wendy's, Applebees and Jack In The Box in making an effort to keep Americans and their visitors safe..

A gun in a pharmacy? Really? I wonder if the pharmacist is armed?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Another World Cup Day

I am working on getting over my disappointment over Mexico's loss to the Nederlands with what I and many others consider to have been a questionable penalty in the last few minutes and have decided to watch the USA vs Belgium game today. I am cheering for our good neighbors who are said to be over-matched by the powerhouse Belgian team but have kept the game 0-0 into the half time.