Monday, January 30, 2012

Kitchener's Big Winter DIg

This winter, the lake in Victoria Park is being dug out for cleaning and reshaping.

Mary Ann and I often walk downtown, and on the way we usually stop to look at the progress of this  project, which is quite a spectacle.

Last year, Victoria park lake was the dirtiest I ever remember.  It smelled bad and was covered with scum and muck.  I have a picture of the Boathouse, a local blues hotspot, which has a deck right on the lake.  When the lake is clean, this boosts Kitchener's appeal, even if you are not sitting on the deck enjoying  beer, but just walking by.  But when the lake looks like an open sewer, it makes the city look kind of pathetic.

In the picture, you can see the layer of scum last June, but you need to smell it to know what it is. The link above is to a video of the work being done, in the local newspaper website.  Our newspaper is now known as "The Record" and apparently not the "Kitchener Waterloo Record".

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday the Fifteenth I am Still Not Near Port Dover

I missed going to Port Dover for Friday 13th, and I'll admit it was just because of the weather.  Up to Thursday the 12th, we had nice conditions for riding, but there was a snowstorm that night which left the roads slippery.  But I was impressed at the turnout according to these websites:

So I stayed home Friday.  But today was a regular Sunday Tim Hortons board meeting, and a combination of circumstances got me out of the house and riding.  The temperature warning was dire, with a low of -17c  and a high of only -8c.  On the other hand, I didn't have the car today,  the roads were bare and dry, and it's too far to walk. Given that I was also a bit annoyed at missing Friday 13th, once again I needed the motorcycle.

I chose the Burgman 400, as I find it very easy to ride with heavy mitts and big boots.  I fixed the glove compartment last time, so there should be no problem today.  I never know how early to start getting ready, as it is a half hour drive, plus the amount of time it takes me to get myself and the scooter ready to ride.  To be on the safe side, I started preparing ninety minutes early.  First I went to the garage to roll out the scooter and let it warm up. It took one very long crank, then coughed to life briefly and died. A second crank got it running steadily.  I left it to warm up while I went inside to collect all my gear.

The getup today was fairly simple, as I was only riding for half an hour before I would be warming up with a coffee and muffin.  I wore the electric vest just in case, but never needed it.  However at -10c, I always need something warm for the hands.  I have a few choices, but one effective solution (if the temperature is freezing) is heavy duty leather mitts with a pull-out thermal liner. It has to get really cold for a very long time before my hands go numb.  Next I used my Scorpion high visibility jacket, with both liners and the neck protector zipped up.  With long johns, a sweater, and leather overalls I was comfortable enough even without plugging in the electric vest.

I have one more invention for the cold, it is a snorkel to breathe out of.  I described this simple device about a month ago, but had never tested it in really cold weather.  Today there were no steamed up glasses or visor.

So when I arrived a Timmy's all I had to do was take off my jacket, the helmet, and mitts, and go inside the coffee shop.  There is some cold extremely effective gear that is no good for sitting in restaurants,  one piece snowmobile suits, for example.

I was a little surprised that three different people on three different occasions at Timmy's spoke to me about riding the bike in the cold.  Usually nobody says anything - but - it could be that because I was sitting alone for 45 minutes (I obviously got started way too early), or that I brought my helmet inside to keep it warm, or because Friday 13th was all over the radio, TV and newspapers.  In any case, the cashier said I was very brave to go riding.  The couple at the next table said "Cold enough for ya?" and we spoke about riding in the cold.  Then a man came in with his wife and approached me to ask me about the scooter and tell me about a wonderful day of he spent riding a Vespa 125 with his wife on a Caribbean island with mountainous roads.

Tim's is in the middle of a huge cultural changeover right now, which may scar many tender Canadians  psyches.  They are eliminating the small coffee, renaming the medium to small, large to medium, extra large to large, and they have found a paper bailing bucket that will now be referred to as an "extra large".  They also now sell a lasagna-like meal that I really like.  So it was very pleasant warming up with some hot stuff in hand before the actual meeting started.

BY three PM, the sun was threatening to go down, so I figured it was time to leave, as I do not like driving with temperatures falling and the shadows getting longer.

Photo: Friday 13 Port Dover from the Toronto Sun, I was shocked that I know one of the people in this picture.  No, thank God, it is not the nude guy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Are Foreigners Trying to Block Canada's New Pipeline?

There was a disturbing article in our local paper "The Record" about non-Canadians trying to block a new oil pipeline that the government wants to build.

The article is written by Kathryn Marshall of In it she blasts "foreign" money being used to sway Canadian decision making about oil pipelines.

In her article, she quotes an anonymous environmental radical saying that they would accept money from Mars.

"An organizer from the foreign-backed, anti-pipeline group, Dogwood Initiative, recently declared: “If I got duffel bags of money delivered from Martians from outer space I would still take that money.”"
Obviously, this is a hypothetical situation, but if (some) environmentalists would accept money from Mars, then you would obviously take money from Al Quaida, the Taliban, Socialists sources, and other unCanadian and unwholesome people.

The main tactic of this article is to sidetrack the argument away from "Is this pipeline good for Canada" to "Foreigners are trying to block a pipeline that Canadians obviously want, and need, and a pipeline that would be good for them".

Should I play along with this debating tactic, or should I take the high ground and refuse to get into "where does the money come from" and "who is more Canadian, you or me?".

We have had many debates about the environment in the last 50 years. This pipeline is a sub-debate about global warming, and is also about pollution from oil spills and destruction of habitat. So it is another environment vs. profits debate. In the past, these debates ended up being the little guy (environmentalists) mounting a grass roots opposition to giant, wealthy multinational corporations. In those debates, the government often sided with the corporations in the early stages before public opinion became unstoppable.

So up till now, it was always big corporate money vs. private individuals sending in small donations. If it was just about money, no environmental cause would ever win. But now it seems things have turned around. Now the big money, according to Kathryn, is behind the environmentalists. And if Martians had money, that would also go to the environmentalists.

Now it's time to stop and think. A reality check in other words. If Martians existed, their support would not go to the environmentalists on Earth. And if anybody has a lot of money, it is not environmentalists, it is Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Suncor and the like.

Exxon Mobil's Market Capitalization is 412,016.05M (I normally cannot count that high, is that 412 billion dollars?)
BP's Market Cap is only 139,661.83M (And that is AFTER the money spent in the Gulf oil spill.)

"Dogwood Initiative" as a non-profit organization is not listed on the stock exchange. It is based in Victoria B.C., and apparently its most recent campaign was to put stickers on loonies to oppose oil tankers in British Columbia waters. If you want a ballpark estimate of their financial resources, I would think under $100,000. (Or as they say in the oil business 0.01M) That means Exxon alone has about four million times as much money as Dogwood Initiative. (if my guess is right).

It looks to me like not much has changed in the environmental debates. It is still the local people pooling their puny resources against giant mega rich multinational corporations and their puppet governments (like Canada and the US governments for a start Yes Obama that means you.). Now if by chance some money should come to Dogwood Initiative from a "foreign" source like Greenpeace, let's remember that Greenpeace got its start in BC and became a worldwide organization later. And that fundamentally, it is still supported by small contributors around the world.

But even more important is that the global warming debate is a world wide concern, and it is natural that world wide support should be available for decisions that have a world wide impact.

I believe that by framing this debate as a purely Canadian internal matter, Kathryn Marshall is attempting to dismiss the global warming issue entirely.

I looked up the funding for "", Kathryn's organization and found out that it does NOT accept foreign funding. (Greenpeace is specifically mentioned as a foreign source that they (or she) will not accept money from). She does accept donations from "individuals and companies, including those working to produce ethical oil". Kathryn does not list the companies producing "ethical oil" but Exxon and BP would probably be acceptable according to her own definition.

So, to summarize. Despite the conservatives and oil company propaganda to the contrary, the big foreign money is still 99.9% on their side. And no matter what Harper or bloggers like Kathryn say, some Canadians (including me) are still in favour of limiting corporate damage to planet Earth. Now let's get back to a sensible debate about things that matter before I start asking questions like "Is Kathryn a Canadian?".

Picture: Some random pipeline I got off the internet, I think our new pipeline is still on the drawing board.
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Book "Your Money or Your Life" is now Twenty Years Old

"Twenty years after publication of "Your Money or Your Life" by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, it is featured as one of USA Weekend’s 5 Personal Finance Books for 2012 you can bank on."

I read the book "Your Money or Your Life" about twenty years ago when it first came out. It might have transformed my life, if it did not restate a lot of ideas that I already believed in or gave instructions on how to do things I was already doing. I figure there are really not that many different ways to get control of your financial affairs, so it makes sense that the book's basic methods were very similar to mine.

But there was one significant area that my ideas differed from the book. As I recall, the original edition of the book advised against using a computer to track your expenses. The authors seemed to think that using a computer would be a distraction, and instead they gave detailed instructions as to how to track finances with a manual paper system. But I had started developing my own system, which was very similar to theirs (remember there are only so many ways to accurately keep track of expenses) and I had converted my system over to a computer about six years before I read the book.

Now, twenty years later, one of the authors seems to have softened the anti-computer stance, saying a computer "may be useful" but

"A computer is not essential as both authors achieved Financial Independence without using computers."

In my opinion, people who enjoy using spreadsheets, or can write basic programs, or at least have a spouse who likes programming or using computers, will do better using a computer. I'm not the only one who likes writing programs that serve some good use - and achieving financial independence is one of the all-time best uses of a computer in my opinion.

The problem with using a computer to achieve financial independence, is that you must have a clear idea of what the computer can do and must do to help you, and the computer must not get in your way by either requiring you to do all the work, or making you do extra meaningless work, and in the end not providing the results you really need.

For example, if you check the Internet for home financial spreadsheet templates, you will find that most of them are "budget setting" spreadsheets. You input your monthly total expenses for each category, and the spreadsheet will compare the totals against pre-set budget limits, and highlight the ones you have gone over budget, and calculate what percent you have gone over budget. While this idea may actually appeal to you, I would point out that the computer leaves you to do all the hard work on your own: namely inputting the monthly totals per category of expense. The only benefit the computer provides is telling you how far over or under you are compared to your budget - which is basically a pointless exercise because (a) you set those budget items arbitrarily in the first place (b) you are wasting a lot of time doing something you don't need to do, and (c) provides no real extra insight in your financial affairs.

The remaining spreadsheet templates are of the "Checkbook balancing" variety, where you input all your bank transactions and checks, and the spreadsheet helps you see if any checks have not yet been cashed, or if any checks have been cashed that you didn't write. In this age of instant withdrawal debit cards, I don't see much use in writing checks let alone balancing them.

Here is what I see as the basic requirements of an expense tracking system. The computer must download your bank statements (or credit card accounts) into a series of similarly formatted worksheets. With today's technology. the computer must leave you the task of going through the transactions to identify a category you want each transaction to be included in. (forty years from now, the computer may have enough intelligence to do this for you, or at least to argue intelligently with you about which categories should be assigned, but this is not possible today). Then, once you have had a chance to adjust the data as it suits you, the computer can take care of the job of summarizing the whole thing on a final year-end summary. The final summary is best presented in a classical spreadsheet format: one column for each month, a row for each category. This is fundamentally what needs to happen in an expense tracking system, no more and no less. Any other functions would only be needed for for ease of setup, ease of making ongoing changes, tracking errors, backing things up etc.

In the nearly forty years of tracking expenses, I have progressed from adding things in my head, to electronic calculator, to using a computer and writing my own programs to handle these functions. My latest version consists of some spreadsheet templates in "LibreCalc" the free spreadsheet program in the free operating system of Ubuntu 11.10. And I have written three Libre-BASIC macros that I will put on the Internet as open source, in keeping with the spirit of Linux. Who knows, maybe one day someone will enhance these programs, make them even better, (for example by importing from banks other than CIBC or TD) and I can in turn benefit from their work.

The files are here:

Here are some quotes from a quick summary of the book "Your Money or Your Life" from the official website

"B: Keep track of every cent that comes into or out of your life.

So far we have established that money equals life energy, and we have learned to compute just how many hours of life energy we exchange for each dollar. Now we need to become conscious of the movement of that form of energy called money in every moment of our lives — we need to keep track of our income by keeping a Daily Money Log.


Devise a record-keeping system that works for you (such as a pocket sized memo book). Record daily expenditures accurately. Record all income.

Step 3: Where Is It All Going? (The Monthly Tabulation)

Don’t worry. Relax. This program is not about budgeting. Budgets, like diets, don’t work. They don’t work because they deal with the symptoms and not the cause. The cause of fat is not really the calories in the food, its the desires in our mind.

Every month create a table of all income and all expenses within categories generated by your own unique spending pattern.


Simple arithmetic. A computer home accounting program may be useful.

(A computer is not essential as both authors achieved Financial Independence without using computers.) "

A link to a review of this book as a life changing event

Picture: from this blog
"The highwayman in the image that accompanies this flash is the dashing David Marshall, tour guide with Alone in the Dark Entertainment. They're about to start running a new ghost walk around Washington in the north east of England"

Monday, January 2, 2012

Scooter Maintenance without the Zen

This is a story of "The Lost Motorcyclist" repairing Mary Ann's 2005 Suzuki Burgman 400 scooter.

I took the Burgman out for a ride and noticed the big glove box didn't close any more. The striker (a loop of steel that the lid latches on to), was loose and simply retracted when the box lid was pushed closed. The striker has to be solidly mounted for the latch to work. I continued my ride holding the glove box door up with my knee, but obviously Mary Ann will not be too happy with that arrangement.

Today I removed the panel just over the box lid, called the "Front Panel". It also is removed when checking the coolant level, and so I tried to not get distracted by the fact that I didn't see any coolant in the overflow tank. To get this front panel off, there is a single screw clip inside the glove box, which you need to screw out a little bit, then pull out the plastic clip assembly that it is screwed into. (One of the typical wacky fasteners on the Burgman's plastic bodywork.) Luckily I didn't lose it when it flew out of my hand, because its $1.83 for clip (black) 09409-06322-5PK - according to online parts manual under meter panel

With this panel off, I was able to see what was wrong: the striker is screwed into a plastic post molded into the "Front Box". The plastic post had snapped off. Naturally, the "front Box" is one of the largest and most expensive plastic parts of the Burgman.

The latch mechanism on the box lid was sticky. The way it normally works is that by simply pushing the lid closed, the latch will retract when it hits the striker, and then clicks back into place to hold the lid closed. On this bike the latch does not retract easily, and the last time I was slamming the door shut, the force probably broke the striker bracket.

I removed the latch from the door, disassembled and lubricated it. The latch slides, and unless it is slathered with grease, it sticks. It was tricky to put back together, and one little steel ball didn't make it. But the latch still seems to work as well as it did before I took it apart.

Then, under the "front panel" I found a way to unscrew the broken bracket from the striker, and I found a much longer screw and drilled a hole completely through the base. I inserted the new longer screw and tightened it up and it seemed to hold the big plastic fairing, broken plastic stud, and striker together.

I bent and sawed up some plastic bits while getting all the Tupperware back together. (Tupperware is a motorcyclist term for plastic bodywork on motorcycles or scooters.) Finally I closed the lid, and still, the only way it would close was if I held the latch open until the lid was in place. I informed Mary Ann that the latch was fixed, but that she must remember to hold the latch while closing the lid. She answered "I'll never remember that." So as a compromise, when the lid does not close, I asked her to call me before trying to slam it harder.