“They’re all garbage.”

January 25, 2016

Twelve years ago the deal my wife and I made was that we could leave the brick Edwardian on a corner lot in town and move to the stone cottage at the farm – if – Bet could have her dream kitchen.

So we renovated, putting in a couple of years of cheerful labour, designing the lower floor of the project so that the kitchen occupied the west half and the sink was in the centre of the room on a large slab of American beech with excellent views in all possible directions.

Over a winter I built red oak cabinets to cover every available wall.  The appliances were the final touch.  A fine stainless steel “commercial” range looked wonderful until the oven door fell off during delivery.  It took two calls to Australia to locate a service man in Merrickville capable of working on the thing.

But it’s been great ever since.

The dealer wanted $2400. for a range hood to match the stove.  I baulked and bought a matching high-capacity domestic model for $200. from a Kijiji ad.  The hard part of the job was cutting a 7″ hole through 25″ of stone for the exhaust, but the ventilation system was well worth the effort.

The pride of the kitchen was the three-doored, stainless steel KitchenAid refrigerator.  Getting the 36″, 360 pound monster through the low front door (since replaced) was a comedy of errors for the rather dim delivery guys, but once they had it set up we loved the thing, even when it started to rattle and the service tech from Brockville turned out to be a young woman who had me drag it out from the wall, tearing up the new varnish before she failed to find anything wrong with it.

Last night it died.

Today’s tech from Elgin surprised me by twisting a couple of bolts under the fridge and lo and behold, casters descended to roll it away from the wall.  A few minutes later he told us the fridge is toast.  The compressor is seized, and that part’s not really repairable as the fix involves a very tricky coolant transfer and nobody wants to do it outside a factory setting because of the high probability of failure.

“It’s only eight years old!  How long do they last?”

“Seven to twelve years.  The energy saving rating means they use little 1/8 hp motors in them now.  Ten years ago these fridges cost $3 thousand, and prices haven’t gone up with inflation, so now they’re building them cheaper. The motor and the compressor are a single unit so you can’t just switch the motor if it quits.

“And all brands are the same, all garbage, but at least with our brand you can get someone to come and work on it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a little cheap one or a great big fancy model, your fridge will last you seven to twelve years, and then it’s a throw-away.”

The replacement’s due on Friday.  Anybody want a three-door, stainless steel bookshelf?

UPDATE:  4 February, 2016

The replacement, a Frigidaire Gallery, started up without a hitch and has delighted us with its shiny newness.

In talking with Willy Colford of Duncan’s Appliances, I learned interesting facts about the appliance business and the mechanics of moving heavy objects.

First I’ll deal with the banking.  The Royal Bank charges him between 3 and 4% per credit card transaction, regardless of the size of the bill.  That really ads up on a large item.  The debit card charge, on the other hand, is 30 cents.  Of course most debit cards have a daily maximum of $2K, but a cheque to cover the balance costs only 70cents.  Cash for payment isn’t so great either, as his bank charges 1.7% to handle the stuff.  In Willy’s opinion the enormous annual Royal Bank profits are extracted from small business owners through fees on credit card transactions.

The most interesting part of the deal, however, involved the delivery.  Willy arrived with fellow Elgin businessman Steve Gordanier with the fridge in the back of an elderly GM pickup.  He commented that his regular assistant had to be away and so Steve agreed to help out.

The truck had a well-used lift gate attached, so I suggested he back up the slope to the house and set the gate on the small concrete step attached to the house.  Willy used 4WD to place the edge of the gate exactly where I suggested on the first try.  Having done this maneuver many times over the course of an eight-year renovation, I realized I was dealing with an experienced individual.

Willy measured the door openings (36 1/2″) and decided not to remove the doors on the fridge, just the handles.  “For a 32″ door we have to take off the front doors of the fridge, which isn’t too hard, but the real work is in putting them back on.”  Off came the styrofoam sheeting which covered the entire refrigerator.  Onto the dolly it went, and then onto the tailgate for the short descent to the concrete.  Willy commented that his truck is old, but the bodies on the new models are too high for appliance work, so he has kept it.  “The back of a new Ford F150 is way up here (gesturing).  You can’t deliver appliances with something that high.”  I agreed.  That had always struck me as the biggest disadvantage of modern pickups.

When the first crew brought a fridge ten years ago, the door of the house was only 6′ 1″ tall because of a small light of windows above the opening.  Soon after that debacle I replaced the whole thing with a magnificent oak-and-glass structure just under eight feet in height, then added a matching cedar storm door with interchangeable glass and screen panels.  The 36X36X75″ shiny block rolled right in on the dolly, so the real work of the installation involved stripping plastic wrap from what seemed to be every surface of the fridge, packing up the scrap, and wheeling the thing into its space.  A couple of seconds with a ratchet and the fridge was down off its casters and sitting level on the irregular floor.  Willy’s skill was evident in the ease with which this transpired.

Because we had not bothered to connect the water supply on the other fridge, Willy offered to remove the ice maker from the new one to provide more refrigeration space.  This turned out to be more complicated than I had expected, and it certainly opened up the the interior of the freezer.  A good idea.

Willy left me an Allen wrench to re-tighten the screws on the fridge’s handles in a month.

To reflect upon the deal, Duncan’s price was competitive and delivery was on time.  The advantage lay in the service involved:  free delivery and removal of the old unit are pretty much expected in the country, but the quality of the installation stood out in stark contrast to the amateurish efforts of the guys on the McMullen truck ten years ago.



5 January, 2016        Tom Stutzman is the winner of the inaugural Newboro Harbour  Ice-in Contest.

At 9:30 this morning I looked from the agreed vantage point and could see no open water.  I thus feel justified in announcing Tom Stutzman the first winner* in the inaugural Newboro Harbour Ice-in Contest.

*Peter Frey reported on 11 January that the ice had survived two days of rain and wind, and we are now into a cold snap, so Tom’s bragging rights for the year are ensured.

Tom responds:

Whew! The “January Thaw” almost voided my entry that was based on the alignment of the planets, December’s heavy boat traffic, and seeing a blonde squirrel back in July. With great humility I accept the award, and am now ordering bumper stickers.

With any luck the ice will behave itself, remain where it is until late February, and then magically disappear without lingering.  Thank you all for your contributions and good humour.

December 30, 2015

Entries are now closed for this contest.



John, Keith and Tom have suggested an ice-in contest, so here goes:

I think you should start a 2015 ice-in pool.  Given the weather, I think I am going to head across by boat on New Year’s Eve.  

John Lee

Given the mild weather, how about an “ice-in” contest? Winner is the entrant who has guessed the date on which no open water can be seen when standing at the Newboro Public Dock.

Tom Stutzman

I’ll need to build in the caveat that the ice in Newboro Harbour (as defined by Tom’s comment above) must remain in place as a unit for at least five days for the winner’s selection to become official.  Last year the ice came in and quickly went out again at least once.

Rod  (Acting Judge, Host, and Auditor)

To get dibs on a date for the inaugural Newboro Harbour Ice-In Competition, post your selection (including a multi-word name and the name of your property, should you choose to include it) as a comment on this post only.  Dates will be assigned on a first-posted, first served basis.  Should two entrants select the same date, the later entrant will be assigned the next available calendar date.

Prize?  Same as in spring:  bragging rights until the winner of the next (ice-in) contest is announced.

Let the game begin!


Canadian Vehicle Use Study Participant Report

A few months ago a letter from the Ministry of Transport of Canada requested that I participate in a study of the operation of my 2002 Toyota Tacoma.  They’d send me along a computer to hook to the plug on the truck and it would record its data for three weeks and then I would send it back to them.

Somebody had just offered me a new measuring gadget, and also something I could plug into my truck!  Of course I’d play with the new toy!

Mind you, I hardly ever drive the Tacoma.  It’s fourth on the depth chart, behind the Lexus, the Scion, and a personal favourite, the Ranger UTV. The truck covers fishing trips and visits to local farms.  If it’s on the highway, there’s usually a trailer attached.

I was far from sure that the Ministry of Transport would be interested in my drive from one shed to another with a trailer-load of lumber, or even the expedition down the back road to the saw mill with three logs on same trailer.

Anyway, the results package arrived today in a 12-page PDF.  In a nutshell, the truck runs very well for its age, and quite efficiently, once it’s warm.

Have a look if you like.



Ice Report: Winter of 2015-16

December 10, 2015

The current version of the Ice Report is in a page at the top of the column to the right of this post.


10 December, 2015

As usual I’ll begin the annual ice report as a “post,” then transfer it to a “page” with an “a” in the title so that will appear at the top of the alphabetical list of the pages to the right of this screen.

For now, please stay here.

It’s been quite a fall with the federal election, but winter seems reluctant to arrive.  Today I measured the water temperature on Newboro Lake at 40.6 degrees F., and 41 F at the Elbow.

Tony and I decided to drop our fishing boats in for a last fling at the bass because the season closes December 15th.  Other years we have struggled out onto the early ice in an effort to cheat the season and get a meal of largemouth fillets.

Tony landed three nice ones over two expeditions and had a series of remote releases this morning, as well.

I drowned minnows around the lake, but couldn’t find anything with fins which would even consider my bait.  There seemed to be lots of pike on the screen of the depth finder (either pike or long weeds, suspended at 12 to 20′, but they wouldn’t bite, either.  Tony claims he found his fish at 8 to 10′, but he was fishing (unsuccessfully) in 3′ of water in a bay when I spoke to him.  Claimed it was warmer in there out of the wind.

Anyway, if you were dressed for it, it was a lovely fall day on Newboro Lake today, and I don’t think we’ll see ice for a bit.

Welcome back.


UPDATE:  11 December, 2015

Don’t miss the ice-in contest post, also on this site.

One spring years ago we needed a supply teacher for a week at our school and my colleague Elizabeth Docker had a sister visiting who was willing to help out.  Margaret had just completed her  PHD in biology at the University of Guelph.

At the time I was writing a young-adult science fiction novel, and when I discovered our new English teacher specialized in fish, our talk drifted to the semester Margaret and her classmates made salmon fry grow very large by manually destroying the gene in the egg which limits growth.

They used the tiniest pipette they could find, heated it in a bunsen burner until it melted, then twisted it apart until a tiny shard of glass protruded.  With an electron microscope they could carve away at fertilized salmon eggs with this improvised tool and actually damage individual genes.  Apparently the growth-regulating gene is easy to find and shut off.

The salmon fry which hatched grew really big, about 30 times the regular size.

In further research I read a newspaper account of a similar study in New Zealand which ended, not when the test specimens hit 750 kg and took on a scary green hue and huge lumps on their skulls, but when the scientists doing the work realized the things were fertile.

Current news stories have a Canadian aquaculture company raising Chinook salmon with an eel chromosome in fresh-water tanks inland in Panama, but also another company raising double-sized Atlantic salmon in saltwater pens in Nova Scotia.

My friend Dr. Martin Mallet is a geneticist and president of the New Brunswick Shellfish Grower’s Association, so I emailed him an open-ended question on the topic.

So, Dr. Mallet, what do you think?

Martin:  My understanding is that these new GMO salmon are to be sterile females only (though I suppose there must be fertile broodstock somewhere).  

Regardless, my biggest beef with this is not so much with the technology itself as with the production and economic system it embodies. I do not want to see the mistakes of intensive agriculture repeated at sea.

Here’s a similar example: 

Total North American cattle inventory in 2014 was about 100 million head. Peak Buffalo population in North America before we exterminated them? about 100 million. 

So instead of responsibly managing a wild resource, we’ve come up with our own pathetic approximation, a heavily subsidized, unsustainable and polluting one at that. 

How is this different from your oyster operation?  Is it not a feedlot as well?

Martin:  Hardly. We don’t feed the oysters anything once they’re out to sea, so we’re not relying on non-renewable resources for our production, with the exception of gas for the boats and plastic for the grow-out bags and buoys. I’ve not done the formal calculations but I estimate that those costs are largely offset by the carbon oysters capture in their shells. Oyster abundance is historically low, so we’re contributing to restoring some of the lost ecosystem function by adding to the oyster biomass in our bay, with many of the same advantages as natural reefs (filtering capacity, habitat for small fish and crustacean etc..). On top of that, cultured oysters spawn and their offspring are able to colonize available habitat so are much more likely to contribute to wild stocks rather than harm them.

I would argue that the gap between farmed and wild is much much smaller in shellfish culture than in almost any other food production system. If I believed I was doing harm, I wouldn’t be doing it.

Of course, that doesn’t guarantee I’m not doing harm.

My other learned friend Roslyn Dakin, an evolutionary biologist, is completing post-doctorate research on hummingbird flight at the University of British Columbia.

Dr.  Dakin, what’s the view on genetically modified salmon from the west coast?

I like what Martin has to say. I don’t think there’s anything inherently or necessarily bad about genetically modified fish. Same goes with genetically modified plant crops. I’m all for both, if they would solve problems that result from having to fuel so many humans. The classic example is artificial selection – every domesticated animal and plant is the result of genetic modification by many generations of breeders. The question is, do we have the right incentives and regulations to avoid harm by a GM fish industry?

It’s also interesting that just the idea of genetically modified whatever can be so horrifying. The “ick” factor increases the closer you get to us on the evolutionary tree. It’s not hard to sell a GM tomato. But will people buy GM chicken, or GM pork? Also interesting that people in the UK are particularly against genetic modification. Why?

But how about the view in your lab?

The one thing I know is a little bit of the work on wild salmon here showing that their temperature tolerance is remarkably well adapted to the exact natal stream to which they return in the Fraser.
The downside of this is that as the river warms the populations lower in the system will probably be wiped out.  No kidding.

I wonder if the eel-gene allows B.C. salmon to tolerate warmer water?

UPDATE:  9 December, 2015

Dear Rod,

It’s good to hear from you, and I have to say that I’m very surprised that you remembered our discussions after all these years.  I read your blog on GM salmon and, although some of the details are inaccurate (e.g., there is no way that one can manually destroy select genes of interest in salmon eggs while leaving others intact), I’m impressed that you remember the conversations.  I don’t even want to try to figure out how long ago that was!

I hope you’re enjoying retirement.

Best regards, 


Margaret F. Docker, Associate Professor

Department of Biological Sciences

University of Manitoba


Oops!  I guess it’s as my friend Robert Ewart says: my memory is rather flexible on the details when a story is at stake.  Now Rob will  undoubtedly chime up with a correction of this quotation from the dimmest echoes  of last Sunday’s dinner.


Embassy Magazine had a spread this morning on Maple Leaf’s need for unionized staff for its massive pork-processing plants across Canada.  (Peter Mazereeuw, Embassy News, 19/11/15)

Pigs are unclean to Muslims*.  Anybody who would deign to take a job in a slaughterhouse processing pigs would not be a Muslim.  On the other hand there’s no reason why Syrian Christians might not apply for the jobs.

Update, Jan. 8, 2016

Maple Leaf Foods offers to hire Syrian refugees at plants in Manitoba, Alberta

*The key additions to the information above were: 1)  Maple Leaf was hit hard by the ban on temporary foreign workers last year, and 2)  while Muslims may not eat pork, there’s no problem with handling pigs and pig carcasses.  I was wrong about that.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 34 other followers