“Does anyone plan to stare at their phones some place exciting this weekend?”

This comment which I read on an online comic strip this morning could only have been written in our current era. The telephone has morphed into a device which has immobilized much of our brains and corrupted our language. In particular it has savaged the rules of English grammar, invalidating the specific references created by proper use of pronouns. But if one can broadcast every narcissistic impulse to the entire cyber-universe as soon as it occurs, why bother to distinguish between the one and the many, between her and their?

I blame the daycare generation for the increasing reliance upon “their” as a grammatical crutch. In a universe of interchangeable people, why value one particular friend beyond the convenience of shared toys? Why bother to keep track of who is who when “they” is easier?

Conversations with graduate students over the last few years have increasingly become punctuated by Google quotes. In fact it wasn’t at all uncommon for the four or five people in the room to have MacBooks, iPhones or Galaxy’s open while they chatted. Mind you the conversations delved far more deeply into topics than they used to, and this alpha male’s recourse to B.S. when the facts ran out has been dramatically reduced by fact-checking family members. But a good memory for details seems no longer to be required. If I can’t remember an actor’s name, for example, all I need do is look up the cast list from a remembered movie or T.V. series to get the information.

Perhaps the ultimate manifestations of the dominance of the smart phone came during a visit to our son in Vancouver this spring. He had located an Italian restaurant online and led Bet and me off, Pied-Piper-style, while he brandished his Galaxy in front of him. We walked for a long time, but each complaint received an “Only a couple of blocks more!” response until eventually we arrived.

As we sat down Charlie blasted off a quick text message. An answering beep informed us that Roz had left work and was already on a city bus, converging upon our new location. She skilfully planned a route through the maze of Vancouver streets on her phone, and twenty minutes later she casually strolled up to our patio table, Galaxy still in hand.

A day layer when we hiked up the side of a mountain and I ran out of wind halfway up, Roz whipped out her phone, called up a picture of the summit, and playfully suggested I photograph it to prove to Bet and Charlie that we had made it to the top. So it’s little wonder Parks Canada has introduced Internet service on their properties. Today’s citizens see no reason to cut themselves off from the Internet while they enjoy their lives.

While today’s denizens of the western world may appear to stare blankly at phones and laptops for long periods of time, they don’t get lost much, have continual access to good information, and enjoy live videos of grandkids. What’s more, I have installed two sets of stairs in friends’ homes this summer and they both fitted perfectly, thanks to a $13.00 spreadsheet I downloaded to my MacBook Air.

One of my favourite screen-starers, Dr. Martin Mallet, did this interview recently:


Update, 27 July, 2014

Today’s Doonesbury strip dealt with this precise topic:


Rant mode ON

At 8:30 on a Wednesday morning in late July I have just run through a series of five phone calls without a human response. I’m looking for 100 bd feet of oak to redo the deck of my equipment trailer. George, my usual supplier, seems to have taken off on another holiday with his wife. Harvey, a new potential supplier in Sydenham, didn’t pick up. Two others where I’m a regular customer also didn’t answer.

My wife suggested that everybody’s out, at work. I find this a bit hard to believe that that many kitchens would be vacant at 8:30 a.m.

I don’t think this is a problem of call display, as I believe I’m on good terms with all of these local mill owners. Even my pal Les didn’t answer my call-back after an urgent email request for some wood.

I guess the days of the tyranny of the ringing phone have gone.

Rant mode OFF

The irony of it is that Harvey (see above) sent me an exasperated email claiming that he had tried to call me at 3:00 today but I didn’t pick up. At least I sent him an apology: I couldn’t hear my cell over the tractor’s engine.

If there is one job I would not want, it’s that of food taster to defrocked Canadian Senator Mike Duffy. This week Duffy has faced 31 criminal charges relating to bribery, breach of trust, and fraud, most stemming from his creative use of senate expense accounts and office expenditures.

The most notable issue has to do with a $91,000 cheque from PMO chief Nigel Wright to Duffy to enable him to pay back housing expenses declared invalid by the auditors. RCMP investigators have paradoxically deemed that awarding the $91,000 to Duffy was not a bribe, but Duffy’s receiving the payment was, they allege, bribery.

Canadian journalists and even Conservative MP’s are still slack-jawed about this one. But through-the-looking-glass logic also turns up in Bill C-36, the new prostitution legislation to replace the old laws struck down by the Supreme Court. In C-36 it is not a crime for a prostitute to receive payment for sexual services, but it’s a crime to make the payment. I think it makes more sense if you read the bill in a mirror.

Ottawa prostitutes mentioned to media Thursday that they find this one pretty hilarious, as a lot of MP’s are regular customers. They’re talking about making John lists public as a way to block the bill, but the consensus is that they are too principled to do such a thing.

The Duffy cheque and the bizarre legal position Bill C-36 creates illustrate how confused the Harper Government has become in its old age. It can’t seem to keep its ducks in a row.

The Duffy trial is almost certain to overshadow the run-up to the fall 2015 federal election, Duffy has hinted that he is out for revenge, and Canadian media are preparing for a feeding frenzy as PMO officials and even the PM himself are called to testify.

The only clear road to another term for Stephen Harper involves a period of hazardous employment for Mr. Duffy’s food taster.

Dr. Simon Anholt suggests in his TED talk that a major problem with globalization is that the globe is populated by countries looking inward.

He has devised the Good Country Index which measures how well a country looks out for the rest of the world. Canada doesn’t fare very well, despite rating #2 in climate.


Ah, Peter MacKay

June 19, 2014

Now the CBC is after Minister of Justice Peter MacKay for his comments about why so few women become federal court judges. He suggested that women don’t want to be separated from their young children.

Someone no doubt googled Chauvinistic comments by Peter MacKay and came up with a follow-up story based on an old comment to NDP leader Alexa McDonough during an election battle: “I think you better stick to your knitting and win your own riding.”

MacKay seemed taken aback by criticism of this particular bon mot, and I can agree that he probably had no sexist intent in the jibe. “Stick to the knitting” is one of the key slogans for organizational success in Peters and Waterman’s In Search of Excellence, a 1980’s book on organizational structures.

Perhaps more appropriate reading for Mr. MacKay would be The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter, in which he suggests that a characteristic of organizations is that the ambitious and capable individual is gradually promoted to his own personal level of incompetence.

Nonetheless, I have become rather fond of Mr. MacKay of late. His good-hearted bloopers lighten my day. (Update: July 3, 2014) Imagine another minister who would handle a question in the manner he did the latest F35 single-engine fighter jet concern.
Asked what will happen if the engine fails, Peter MacKay replied, “It won’t.” Of course an F35 engine blew during takeoff in Florida a week later, grounding the fleet, but you’ve gotta love MacKay’s spunk.

Imagine the fun in 2015 if by some miracle Peter MacKay faced Justin Trudeau in a general election. Journalists would pay attention again. Photographers would have a ball at photo ops where exceptionally attractive couples and their toddlers competed to be Canada’s royal family.

Both of these guys are just loopy enough to get everyone’s attention and involvement. Neither likes a script. What if a national dialogue broke out?

Normally I keep the black walnut fields carefully trimmed, but this year I have a lot of younger seedlings and so I decided to let the two four-acre fields fend for themselves. Some are now bearing, so they’re hardly tender shoots any more.

But my wife complained that her favourite dog walk had become “spooky” with the dense hay growing between the trees. This new worry might have something to do with the large black bear we saw on the property earlier in the spring.

Anyway, I made good progress with the TAFE on the 5′ Rhino, but only down the centre of the aisles. With its ROPS, sun cover and loader, the 35 hp field tractor is now too cumbersome to work around the rapidly growing and brittle branches.

I had already put a couple of tanks through the Kubota trimming around 15,000 younger seedlings with the 48″ Braber rotary cutter. As long as the grass wasn’t too long it did a good job. When I tackled a one-acre plot of hay running rich to wild parsnip, however, it did a lousy job. The wide turf tires flattened about a quarter of the hay and the blades tore up the rest. At the time it didn’t look too bad, but five days later I couldn’t stand the mess any more and re-did the job with the Rhino on the TAFE.

Up until now I have blamed the crappy, off-brand 48″ bush hog. The blades seem shaped improperly on it, pushing the grass (and rocks, I suppose) down, rather than drawing up.

With its ROPS the Kubota is too high for work under trees, so today was the turn of the Bolens. Normally I use 1st gear HI for mowing, but the hay was too heavy. We crawled around under the trees in 3rd LO with the PTO in 2nd gear. The “crummy” mower did a surprisingly good job.

If the increase in pto revolutions from 540 to 750 produces a major improvement in cut, could it be that 48″ mowers turn too slowly with a standard, 540 rpm shaft? Simple geometry would suggest that the same gearbox used on a 4′ and on a 5′ will only deliver 80% of the tip speed on the smaller chassis.

The 5′ mower produces an effortless cut. Until now I have attributed it to the high-priced components in the Rhino. But if I were to buy a 48″ Rhino, would it still produce only 80% of the tip speed of the 60″?

I just finished changing the hydraulic oil in the Kubota B7510. It’s quite a job. I’m told HST machines live or die on the condition of their oil, so it needs doing every 300 hours. The previous owner told me he had changed it just before I bought the tractor at 210 hours, but he apparently went by the manual and only changed the single filter mentioned there. That filter handles the lifting hydraulics. The other one (which the manual seems to have forgotten) handles the hydrostatic drive (HSD) It’s the one which gets all of the use on my machine, and it still had a factory black filter at 370 hours.

To judge from a lack of particulates in the oil and no evidence of metal filings anywhere, everything turned out to be in top condition, but to determine that I had to drain 11 litres of oil from the transmission case (from 6 different orfices: 6 potential leaks) and then pour new oil back in until it was full. The parts guy said its capacity is 13.4 litres, so he sold me 15. The manual said 13.4 litres for a B7510DT, but this one (HST or HSD, depending upon context) needs 15.3. It took 11.

The tough part was the strainer everyone warned me about. It’s a 26mm nut, factory-tightened very tight. Very few garage socket sets contain a 26mm socket, and none of the wrench sets do. I almost rounded the nut with a 27 mm socket when I removed it. Out the long, skinny cylindrical screen came, attached to the nut. I washed it, but it wasn’t dirty. I couldn’t find any metal fragments in the strainer, but the learning curve was a bit steep when I set out to replace the strainer. Eventually it went in easily if I lay directly beneath the assembly at the bottom of the transmission. This was not a bolt I could put in by feel alone.

I plan to check this strainer regularly from now on — about every 1000 hours.

The new, higher-quality oil from the Kubota dealer seemed to make the tractor quieter, and likely smoother. I’ll know better after a few hours of work. Update, 15 June: It’s certainly no quieter with the lighter premium oil, though everything seems to work well.

In retrospect, changing the HST oil was a messy job made tedious by the risk of a leak, but things went together quite well once I’d figured out how to do it.

A commenter on the Kubota page on Tractorbynet just told me that I missed one drain. That would account for the 11 litre drain and refill.

Next up is the front axle lube change. The same guy said that his machine weeped oil at the seals with the lighter oil, though it’s fine since he went to 90W gear oil, so I’ll try that.


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