IMG_20170507_165706At last the frozen lakes are out of the way and Grandpa can finally get around to fixating on the only important topic in his world:  Me!  Today is my seven-month birthday. Doesn’t everyone have birthdays every month?  Maybe it’s only because there’s just one of me and two sets of grandparents.

In any case, Mommy shot this video while riding in the back with me as I tried out the new car seat, which is good.  Daddy’s really fond of the Cayenne, too.  I like to go for rides in it because Mommy can sit right beside me, I can take naps if I get tired, and when we get to Grandma’s house that loud stuffed animal wags her tail and Mommy pats her a lot.  They call her Taffy.

About the Porsche? I like to ride in it.  Daddy loads all of my stuff in and there’s still room for Mommy and Grandma beside my seat.  I have to sit facing back, but I can see out the windows well.  Daddy mentioned shades for the back windows and a sunroof, but I haven’t seen either yet.  He’s happy when he drives it, though.  Mommy is calm when she rides in it, too, even when there are a lot of other cars going by, or snowstorms.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my review of the ride to Grandma’s house.

Ada

 

 

How the Lake works

April 8, 2017

Readers of the ice reports on this blog have a proprietorial attachment to the body of water which surrounds Scott Island, but the coming summer will be one of celebrations on the canal and free lock passes, so it’s a good idea to look at surrounding lakes and the culture of those who cherish them.

The Big Rideau Lake Association’s website now features an ongoing series of learned essays under the general title How the Lake Works.  They sent me copies of the first six papers.  Of very high quality, the essays seek to inform without bias, so the tone remains carefully neutral and the bibliographies are good.

I particularly recommend the paper on water levels by Brian Hawkins, and Life Under the Surface by wildlife biologist Buzz Boles which will be posted over the next few weeks.

https://www.bigrideaulakeassociation.com/howthelakeworks/

Or you can go immediately to my neighbour Doug Bond’s lyrical description of the geological features of the area:

https://www.bigrideaulakeassociation.com/how-the-lake-works

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For years I have told anyone who would listen that the most hazardous driving conditions of the winter occur in April, when a quick fall of snow is saturated by rain at 32 degrees F.  I even had a name for the phenomenon, April grease.

We drove into some on the way home from Merrickville today.  I was mildly curious to see how Ruby would do on zero-traction slush, but primarily I was eager to get her home without damage.

The trip began bravely enough, with very little traffic on the back roads.  The few winter- hardy drivers plowed along, their pickups in 4WD and loaded tanks of sap in the back.

As long as I was exactly in their wheel ruts, things were normal.  But if the right wheels climbed a 1″ pile of slush, Ruby let me know with a stutter-step to the right, the same as any other car I’ve driven in this stuff.

On a side note:  because of this slush I quit using a Volkswagen for winter commutes.  A light FWD like our Jetta would lose control for as long as both front wheels were floating on slush — in passing situations, for example.  I opted for a series of Volvo sedans, those of the skinny, tall Michelins. They were pretty good, though I managed the odd front-wheel skid with them, as well.  When the new 4Runner came along I learned just to drive it in 4WD through thick and thin.  It was very stable in the passing lane unless in 2WD, at which point it behaved like an annoyed pig on ice.

Back to Ruby and the unfamiliar April slush.  As we passed Toledo things became greasier, though I noticed that most drivers were still holding a pace for dry pavement.  Then one guy braked to turn.  His SUV split-arsed a bit, but he recovered neatly and continued into a barn yard.  Though well back, I tried my brakes on the tricky surface.  To my surprise nothing happened for a bit.  It wasn’t a skid — no machine gun rattle from various corners of the car — but rather it seemed that the brakes just weren’t working.  Ice on the rotors, or all wheels with zero traction?  Likely ice.  I’ve noticed that before on Ruby.  This never happens on a Lexus, but Toyota engineers didn’t have to worry about brake cooling on a sedan designed for geezers.  Cayennes occasionally find themselves on a track, so the rotors are built to run very cold.  32 degree F slush, a whirling, shiny object and you have a perfect chance for ice to form.

So part of the routine for driving Ruby in near-freezing conditions is frequent touches of the brakes to defrost them.

Once they were dry, I over-applied the brakes as a test.  The usual muted machine-guns went off, and the car slowed quickly, dead-straight.  A basic safety line established, I experimented with the Goodyear winter tires and the grease.  Frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed.  The wheels are simply too wide for the weight of the vehicle on grease.  The coarse off-road treads of my pickup would grip the asphalt better, I think.  I slowed down to just a bit over 80 km/hr.

Why the critical attitude when I certainly should have been driving more slowly in bad conditions?  In my wife’s Lexus, a pretty good slush car with a relatively high weight-to-tire width, I know how quickly I’m driving without a look at the speedometer.  In Ruby, I really don’t know without instruments.  Speed creeps up if I don’t use cruise control.  Stealth speed is not what a driver needs in April grease.

Will I leave Ruby at home next time in bad conditions?  Naw.  I’ll just set the cruise at 80 km and go for it.  It’s still by far the best, safest car we’ve ever driven.  I just need to adjust the control nut behind the wheel.

And now that I think of it, on one memorable 5 a.m. drive to the Ottawa Airport on April 7th, I refused to drive my Volvo an inch further because I couldn’t keep it on the road.  We went in our friend’s Dodge Mini-Van with AWD.  It drove like a motorized living room, but it didn’t slide around on grease.

I searched online today for any news article dated after January 30th about the accused shooter in the murder of six men and the injury of nine others, all of whom were praying at their Quebec City mosque on January 29, 2017.

It’s been less than two months, but the killer seems to have vanished from the public record.  Only the BBC continues to cover the story.

Last August I posted a column on this blog suggesting that one way to discourage domestic terrorism would be to deny notoriety to the perpetrators.  Reporters seem to have done that in spades in this case.

I can’t help but wonder, however, if the news vacuum might have more to do with the pur lain surname of the perpetrator and the non-French surnames of the victims, rather than my suggestion.

The media silence, broken only by an Angus Reid push-poll today against 103, the Anti-Islamophobia motion, suggests that Canadians just want to forget that this massacre ever happened.  We’re good at that.

https://rodcroskery.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/its-up-to-journalists-to-deny-notoriety-to-those-who-most-want-it/

UPDATE:  31 March, 2017

In a brief news clip the reporter mentions a court date today for the accused killer.  She further explains that the previous defence attorney had requested and gained a publication blackout on the case.  That attorney has quit and a legal aid lawyer is now representing the accused.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1089002

No, I did not go out on the ice.

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That’s a 24″ male splake, taken by casting from shore into open water.  Splake are in the shallows at this time of year, easily reached with light tackle and a floating Rapalla.  This one fought rather well on six-pound test line.  I could feel every rock he rubbed the line over as I brought him in, each time expecting it to part.  But my luck was better than his on this day.

Do not try this on the Big Rideau or the other Rideaus.  Splake are considered Lake Trout on those lakes for season and limit purposes.  On the bodies of water toward Kingston, on the other hand, splake and lake trout are all lumped in as splake, and they have no season, with a catch limit of five.

A lake trout is generally not as pretty as a splake, and it has a distinctive forked tail.

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My catch produced two 1 1/2-pound fillets.  Bet baked one for supper.  As splake go, this one was pretty edible.  Elsewhere in this blog you’ll find a couple of humorous articles: How to Catch a Splake, and How to Cook a Splake.  If you click Fish Stories or Splake below, the server will cue up a number of splake-related articles.

https://rodcroskery.wordpress.com/2008/04/20/how-to-catch-a-splake/

https://rodcroskery.wordpress.com/2008/11/09/450/

A Quora reader asked, so I answered:

As a determined planter of black walnut trees, over the last 13 years I’ve had quite an ambivalent relationship to squirrels on my property in Eastern Ontario. First I have to make a distinction between gray squirrels and reds.

The red squirrel provides no benefit to forests, and is as destructive to nut trees as a chipmunk. Both are larder hoarders: chipmunks bury nuts deep in the ground where they cannot germinate, and red squirrels are too stupid to remember where they have put nuts they have harvested, so they pile them in hollow trees or under fence rails where they can encounter them by accident each day.

Then there is the gray squirrel. In my area most grays have black fur due to a mutation in the gene pool. Rarer versions can be gray, blonde, or even white. But it’s not the fur that’s important; it’s the brain. The gray has a formidable intellect.

Grays are scatter-hoarders, storing their food by burying nuts just below the surface and returning to collect them, as needed. Think of the spatial recall necessary to accomplish this when there’s a foot of snow on the ground. Researchers claim the gray uses his sense of smell only in the last inch or two of the search. Of course about nine-tenths of the nuts thus stored are abandoned in a typical year. Forests and lawn plantings result.

So if you have a piece of property which you’d like populated with black walnut and oak, feed the squirrels. Gather a few bushels of black walnut seeds and create feeding stations on the property by placing burlap bags full of nuts in locations sheltered from the rain. There will be no need to open the bags, believe me.

The grays will distribute the nuts over a wide area. On my property I have found black walnut seedlings growing a half-mile from the nearest tree. There was also this one kook who liked to jam walnuts into a fork in the branches of little trees. I have photographed these odd bits of art work all over the 114 acres of the farm. The little guys really get around.

Of course there is a downside to the presence of squirrels when one is attempting to establish a black walnut plantation by planting seeds on a 20′ grid: grays have no respect whatever for rows. They’re also better at planting than I was in my early attempts. They’d dig up the nuts and, more often than not, plant them again six to ten feet from the original hill. Try mowing that. They’d also predate the outer rows of the field, popping out from fence rows for a shady snack, leaving the outer forty feet of the field virtually barren.

Attempts to discipline the squirrel population with my .22 rifle produced varying results. Red squirrels are too stupid to fear a gunshot, so while they’re hard to hit, they can be controlled pretty effectively by hunting. Grays adapt. A case in point: ten years ago a couple of grad students in biology discovered the woodlot and came frequently to help with sugar making and to hunt squirrels.

Clever fellows the biologists were, but individually they had little success against their agile prey, who would simply hide on the other side of the tree branches until their tormentor had given up. Then the guys started hunting in pairs, with an exponential improvement in success rate. The behaviour of the grays mutated in a single generation: even ten years later, when a human enters this particular woodlot on foot, the grays get out of the trees and run Hell-for-leather in a straight line across the ground until they are out of sight. A squirrel running through heavy cover is impossible to hit with a .22 shot.

Around our house one family of grays has resisted all of my disciplinary efforts by living under a heavily vegetated fence line in a burrow which I have been unable to locate in many years of bemused observation. These guys seem to have learned that it’s o.k. to run across the utility cable from the tall cedar hedge to the edge of the stone house roof to get to a maple which leads to the walnut tree, but any further incursions onto the roof will result in death.

Yes, they learn rules. During a long renovation on our stone house we lived twenty miles away in town. The grays learned that as long as my truck sat outside the house, they had to stay out of sight. My mother lived on the site in another wing of the same house. She used to joke that as soon as my truck cleared the end of the driveway, the squirrels would be all over the lawn.

The most vulnerable time for squirrels is in late winter and early spring when they spend a considerable part of their days browsing elm buds. Once the leaves come out there are lots of bird’s nests to raid for eggs and chicks, but we don’t really know what they’re up to because they are hidden in the dense foliage until the young ones come out to explore their new worlds. Five or six adolescent grays in a game of tag through a row of maple trees is quite a show.

But of course the question is, “What should you feed a squirrel?” Any bird feeder owner can answer that: sunflower seeds. If you want willing subjects for animal intelligence experiments, try keeping the grays out of your feeder. You won’t succeed, but you’ll discover that the squirrels seem to enjoy a good battle of wits.

https://rodcroskery.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/sarah-the-squirrel/

It went dark.

March 7, 2017

This evening I was just going to sleep when the bedside lamp suddenly went out.  Then I noticed all of the LEDs in the room were no longer there.  It was very dark.  And I had lost my sense of direction.

With no idea of where a flashlight might be, I opened my MacBook and used its powerful flare until I could find my phone, then searched out flashlights, then candles.  No matches.  Found a lighter.  A lifetime non-smoker, I couldn’t remember how to operate one.  Woke my wife up to light a candle.  She was less than pleased, but co-operated.

All lights off as far as I could see.  Eerie.  Then the street lights in Crosby came up.  A utility truck began to flash lights in Forfar, lighting up half the houses in the hamlet.

My Internet was out, so I couldn’t even instant-message anyone on my phone.  Had to text.

Soon I became bored with the darkness, so I went outside in the rain (46 F, thank goodness), lit up the Kubota, hitched it to the generator, and backed it up to the dangling emergency cable.  I had already flipped the generator switch in the basement, so in a couple of minutes I had the 220v feed adjusted to 60 hz, and we now had heat, water, and refrigeration.  And Internet, it turns out.  Seems at some point I must have deemed the circuit to power the router essential, because I noticed it was lit up.  I plugged a lamp into one of the plugs in the load centre, and we now had one light on the main floor, though the basement lights proved to be on the generator panel, as well.

A flashlight search of the house eventually located my laptop (upstairs bathroom, exchanged for large candle) and I logged onto the Hydro Storm Site.  Surely enough, we have a power outage from a pole fire.

.Incident Id: 4919341
Customers Affected: 285
Crew Status: Dispatched
Cause: Pole Fire
Estimated Restoration: Mar 8, 12:45 AM

Oh, well.  I didn’t miss anything on TV, and I finally had a chance to run the little pto generator I bought 3 years ago.

We don’t get many outages in Forfar since the Ice Storm.

Funny how dark it felt when the lights went out, though.

Update:  12:01, 8 March, 2017

There’s no longer evidence of work progressing in Forfar.  All is dark.  I checked the Storm Site:

Incident Id: 4919341
Customers Affected: 307
Crew Status: Crew Working in Area
Cause: Pole Fire
Estimated Restoration: Mar 8, 2:00 AM

Maybe they had to go get a pole, or a transformer.  Meanwhile, the Kubota’s humming contentedly as the wind steadily rises.

Update:  4:04 a.m., 8 March, 2017

Power restored at 3:40.  I had just refuelled the Kubota on-the-fly when the fire alarms bleeped and the lights came on.  I waited for the furnace to finish its cycle and then switched the generator panel back to Ontario Hydro power.  Neither the Kubota nor the 7.5 KW generator showed any sign of stress from about 15 litres of fuel turned into electricity over five hours on a warm, rainy night.

We are now in mud season.

Update:  1:30 p.m., 8 March, 2017

I have just spent an interesting hour researching pole fires.  The short version is that at this time of year, dirt and road salt can build up on the ceramic insulators which keep the wires away from the large bolts which support the wires and connect them to the pole.  Dry salt does not conduct, but under the right conditions of humidity, the accumulated salt can begin to conduct current through to the metal bolt beneath the insulation.  This can in its turn heat the bolt which chars the post, sometimes to the point that the wood ignites.  This produces a pole fire, the most common cause of power outages in cold climates.  Repairs typically involve replacing the pole and any hardware attached to it, as it’s all toast if there is a fire.

Last night’s pole fire resulted in a six-hour outage to four hundred customers.  Though they restored the power in that interval, I saw the crew was still at work on the pole (which appears to hold three transformers) in front of Baker’s Feeds at noon today.