December 14, 2019

It is 11:37 p.m., Friday, 13 December, 2019, and nothing terrible has happened to me yet today.

When I woke up and stumbled downstairs to coffee and my MacBook, I was surprised that the computer was off when I opened it, and then that it took about ten minutes to load a new operating system.  Somebody at Apple must have a wicked sense of humour to send that clunker out on a Friday 13th.

But it came back from the dead and even ran a little better than usual.  I resolved to select the safest possible activities for the day, especially activities which did not involve plumbing or heating systems,  electricity or engines.

So I went for a walk.  There was a bit of fresh snow on the trail, and a cat-sized creature had walked along the trail ahead of me, unhurriedly moseying along, casually looking for a mouse, I guess.  On top of the cat’s tracks was a set of fox tracks, moving more quickly, and keeping in mind the cat’s destination.  A pair of coyotes covered the other two tracks with their unbelievably fast movements all over the trail and the field and hedge, quick stops to pick up a mouse or two, and on again, tirelessly.  These tracks put me in mind of that fishy food pyramid, with each character about to be eaten by a bigger one overtaking it, but I saw no evidence of any conflict among the cat, the fox, and the coyote family.

Back at the house, I grew tired of reading about Andrew Scheer.  Now that guy, the Conservative leader, he was having a bad day today.  But I was running out of safe things to do, so I decided to take the car for a bath in Elgin.  The local car wash has warm water but no soap.  Still, the lineups aren’t long, it’s cheap, and the water washes the salt off.

But I drove by my Ranger, languishing in the yard of the small engines place.  Omigosh, it’s fixed.  Uh-oh.  Here comes a catastrophic bill.  I went on and washed the car, working up my nerve, then boldly pulled in, parked, and presented my wallet to Cory, the owner of the business.

“New car, Rod?”

“No, I’ve had it about 7 months, and it’s a 2014.”

Cory’s questioning clarified that I still had the Cayenne, but wasn’t driving it much because of the new hybrid which is cheap and interesting.

“So, are you ready to sell the Cayenne to me?”  He handed me the bill, a reasonable sum.  All I could think was that I was expecting some head-boggling bit of ironic disaster, and here a guy wants to buy my old car, by any standard a good thing.  What day is this, anyway?  I muttered something non-comital, thanked him and went home to get the Cayenne and trailer to pick the Ranger up.

So the disaster would either be with the Porsche or the Polaris or the trailer.  But they all worked as they should.

And so it went for the rest of the day, until the dot of midnight.  It is now Saturday the 14th.

Maybe it’s time I grew out of my long-standing case of triskaidekaphobia.  I don’t think I’ll risk the stairs for a midnight snack, though.

Scott Moe and propane prices

November 15, 2019

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe did a press conference after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which he claims he pleaded the case of Saskatchewan farmers who would suffer greatly unless the carbon tax on propane for drying their crops was postponed for a year.

I looked up a few items and have concluded that Moe is full of it.

First, the carbon tax on propane in Saskatchewan is 3.1 cents per litre.  Propane is currently selling in the mid 60 cent range per litre.  At the beginning of this year it cost double that amount.  Now how is a 5% increase on a fuel selling for half price the cause of an existential crisis for these farmers?

Moe’s mendacity here undercuts the validity of anything else he has to say.


Yesterday I picked up a copy of Testaments in Costco.  At the cash I commented that the experience would be more complete if a stern woman with glasses were on hand to sign my book.  The cashier grinned, told me she is often accused of a stern gaze, but segued into an account of the last book signing she remembers in the Kingston store.  “It was a hockey player.”

To my surprise I read the first half of the book last night.  Lady Atwood can keep the reader turning the pages, and regularly drops these memorable one-liners which leave me wishing I had a pencil with me while reading her work.

Part of the book’s appeal is the short attention span required to read it.  It’s epistolary in structure, and the diary entries are only a couple of pages in many cases.  Perhaps Atwood had the world she wanted to create in mind and put together bits of the tapestry in each day’s writing.  In any case, the narrative is masterfully done and quite accessible to the casual reader.

In The Handmaid’s Tale Canada was the unformed idea of escape from theocratic tyranny.  Perhaps as a nod to the success of the television series, Testaments moves many of its scenes to Toronto.  Offred’s dream of escape becomes a later-day underground railroad with complaints about the porous border in this case coming from the theocrats to the south, rather than the Conservative Party of Canada.

And that’s about as far as I have read so far.  The Testaments is a fine read, and I’ll complete this review later.

UPDATE:  14 November, 2019

It’s frustrating not having the book to enjoy any more.  I won’t spoil it with too much information at this point, so I’ll just stress that it has a number of vibrant and contrasting characters, there is a bit of run-and-duck adventure narrative, as well as a rich dollop of political intrigue in this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

The novel has deserved its accolades.  It will not disappoint.

1.  The original owner was a retired judge in Ottawa who used his Subaru to go to the boat in summer and the Lexus for winter trips to Florida.  After four years he took me to the Ottawa Lexus dealership with him to buy his trade-in while he paid cash for a 2009 es350.  He and his wife repeated this process twice more for his son and daughter.  His widow still claims that the 2005 was the best Lexus of all of them.

2.  Ice fell off his roof in the Glebe and dented the hood on one occasion.  A scrape in a parking lot caused the trunk to be repainted on another.  Though he took it back to Tony Graham’s for the repairs, neither paint job was up to Lexus standards.  My wife and I were about to trade the car in at Kingston Toyota a year ago when we went to a restaurant for lunch to talk it over.  When we came out someone had sideswiped the right front fender, necessitating $1100 worth of paint, including a redo of the non-Lexus paint jobs on the hood and trunk and the left rocker panel moulding which I had partially stripped with a pressure washer.  No new parts were needed for this rather fine local repair.
3. I did routine maintenance in our hoist-equipped hobby shop.  The car uses Pennzoil synthetic and has never been late for an oil change.  Kingston Lexus did the timing belt for the reasonable sum of $835, as I recall.  I made appropriate mileage notations in the service manual for the oil changes and timing belt replacement and likely for the tune up.
4. Brian Madeley is a European car and bike specialist in Kingston.  He took the top off the engine to change the spark plugs and tighten the head bolts as part of the scheduled tune-up.  At the time he remarked upon the superb condition of the car. He also repaired a minor power steering leak about three years ago.  I changed the battery at ten years, and the alternator at 14. This spring I replaced the hood latch and cable with Lexus parts. I replaced rear control arms because of worn bushings two summers ago, and brakes and front lower control arms for the safety check.
When I replaced the parking brake mechanism I had to gain access to the cables which hide above a stainless steel cover above the exhaust system.  Three, 10 mm nuts on studs hold this baffle in place.  In this location after long service, the nuts and studs should have degraded, but these little nuts backed off relatively easily to allow access to the cables, and then twisted back on.  The quality of the components in the original build of this car is quite remarkable.
5. I keep a supply of oil spray cans (the pink stuff from CTC) on my bench.  Whenever a car is up on the hoist I spray whatever looks as though it needs attention, regardless of the car’s age.
6. Our son hauled an 8.5X20 enclosed trailer home from Vancouver with a 2004 Porsche Cayenne S he bought for the purpose to tow his track BMW.  The car impressed me, so I asked him to find me one the next time he was in Vancouver.  He shipped another ’04 Cayenne S home by rail in the summer of 2016, and it quickly became my hobby and our daily driver, with the Lexus relegated to my wife’s bi-weekly grocery runs.
7. No one has smoked in the Lexus, but our spaniel has occasionally joined us for evening ice cream runs, and the previous owners had a schnauzer.
8. After three years with the thirsty Cayenne I wanted a Prius, but my wife wouldn’t consider the idea because of the name.  She also hated the styling of the new Lexus models, but when I found a 2014 es300h on a private sale in Hamilton, she took to it rather well.  The Cayenne is too useful a tow vehicle to liquidate, so the 2005 es330 and the 2002 Tacoma need to go.

A decorative maple grows near the Ranger’s shed at the farm. Its large, ruby leaves blow off during storms. One of these appeared before us on the grass as we walked toward the main part of the lawn. I held it up to Ada.

“What kind of leaf is this?”

“A big leaf.”

“From what tree?”

“A maple tree.” Ada examined it carefully, but chose to discard it as it was too bulky for her insect jar.

Later she had captured her frog again and transported it in its net to the bird bath for a wetting. She apparently recalled my comment last week that frogs need to keep their skins wet in order to breathe properly.

She looked for quite a while at the frog from the safety of the other side of the butterfly net, then commented to Bet that that maple leaf had two colours, like the frog. It looked like a frog.

She seems to have begun to think about mottled colours, perhaps because she finds it so difficult to see the frog when it is crouched in the grass of the lawn.

Ada will turn three next week.

After painting the steel roof beneath the bucket, I had to repaint some areas splintered by the roofers’ nails, and get rid of two old wasp nests at the very highest point of the cornice.


A mysterious, splintered hole appeared in the coping above where I am applying a tidy patch secured by many small brass screws to bend the plywood to the contour of the moulding.


I had a host of little jobs to do around the 1896 brick house which would have been at the upper end of my 40′ ladder.  But it is too heavy for me to put up by myself any more, and I can rent a really cool tool, an electrically-powered cage with which I can climb in comfort while taking along my power tools, paint, and mortar, all in the same trip.  Cash in some ways can be a substitute for youthful vigour.  Bet appreciated having our friend Les around to operate the hoist and easing the pressure on the spousal unit.

This is a shot from the May, 2016 session where over three days we scraped and painted whatever was white, wherever we could reach it from the bucket.


The only catch is the rig’s weight.  At 4200 pounds it’s a bit too much for my 4 cylinder Tacoma with its elderly and much-maligned frame.  Even the rated 3500 pounds towing capacity seems heavy for the venerable old truck.

Of course Ruby, my 04 Cayenne S, is rated for 7400 pounds, even if it has been sitting in disgrace since I concluded that her replacement, a 2014 Lexus es300h hybrid, costs 2.7 times less per mile to drive.  But I needed a relatively heavy duty vehicle to pick up the hoist an hour away in Kingston, and prices are down again on premium gas, so Ruby got the nod and a chance to redeem herself.

Ruby’s build sheet lists a factory trailer hitch for $2000 and change, yet it has given me fits to get trailer lights to work on the thing.  I finally used an adaptor for digital bulbs into which I drilled an additional 12V lead, the other end plugged in like a cigarette lighter to the rear-hatch 12V feed.  I connected the constant 12v feed to the running lights for the trailer.  Then the signal lights would work.  Brake lights?  Gee, Officer, they don’t work?  Are you sure?  I just have to remember to shut off the lights.

My son’s Cayenne has an after-market hitch and his lights work brilliantly.  My inability to solve this signal light mystery was not for a lack of trying, though it has removed Ruby from contention as a tug for my son’s 20X8.5 enclosed car trailer.

Anyhow, at the rental place Ruby of course refused to fire the Bil-Jax’s signal lights.  A bit of contact spray the rental agent had got them going.  Once under way, Ruby handled the long, unwieldy device quite well on the road, and we soon arrived at the farm.

It was when I had to take the Bil-Jax up and down a steep slope and along a terraced driveway that I gave Ruby’s low range and centre differential lock a chance to work. Both functioned flawlessly on an off-camber path which unweighted one wheel after another. The diff lock and low range shifted out as easily as they had engaged.  An ’04 Cayenne is a serious tow vehicle at 1 km/hr.  I wonder how many Cayenne owners have really tested the low-speed pulling abilities of their pigs?


Les operated the Bil-Jax for all sessions, leaving me to juggle masonry, woodworking, and painting equipment in the bucket.


The Bil-Jax has a series of three hydraulic cylinders controlling booms.  The topmost boom had a fault whereby it started off with a vicious outward whack, regardless of whether it was asked to raise or lower the cage.  The instrument panel in the cage was ideally situated to injure a vertebrae on an unwarned passenger who was standing with his back to it, holding a pitcher of paint, for example.  Paint falls down through the expanded mesh of the cage without a problem, though it wreaks the usual havoc on brick and stone 40′ below.

Apart from the spilled-paint debacle, the rig allowed us to get a lot of brick repair, painting, tin roof painting, bee’s nest removal and the repair of a hole chewed by a squirrel into a chestnut fascia board 40′ above the ground.  Go figure.


Here I am at the height of an extended 40′ ladder, repairing the hole a squirrel carved in the fascia board of the house. A family of greys climbed the brick wall all winter to use their penthouse den.

The 110v feed in the Bil-Jax cage proved quite handy to run a reciprocating saw while I fitted a plug for this hole.   There’s also an air hose installed on each machine, though on the last one it was easier just to run a 100′ hose straight from the compressor to my nail gun.

At just under $300 CDN per day for rental or for a two-day weekend, I find the World of Rentals product a good value.

It turns out that Ruby still has considerable fun potential at the farm, even if Cayenne ownership seems rather fraught in comparison to the mindless ease of a Lexus hybrid’s.

I’ve found a new way to annoy the world:  hyper-miling in the Lexus es300h.

The hybrid encourages a whole new attitude toward driving.  I have gone from “that jerk in the Porsche passing everything in sight” to “that damned old geezer in the Lexus holding up traffic.”

It’s fun getting to know what uses up the fuel.  I have gotten good at making the round trip to Rosebridge at a fuel burn rate of 5.1 L/100 km.  That’s with the windows and sunroof open, and the a.c. shut off on the dash.

Today because it was raining I needed the fan for ventilation, but I didn’t want to run the a.c. because of the fuel penalty, so I went into the climate settings and shut the compressor off.  The computer showed 4.6 L/100 km.  That’s 61 miles per Imperial gallon on the return leg from Rosebridge.  Not bad for a 3800 pound car.  Almost up to diesel standards.