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  • MS Bike 2017

    Posted on January 17th, 2017 admin No comments

    I’ve signed up for the 2017 Johnson MS Bike, Leduc to Camrose.   This will be my second participation in this 160 km event, and I’m looking forward to it.  (Circumstances prevented my riding in 2015 and 2016.  This year I just said “circumstances be danged — I’m gonna ride!”).

    Several of my friends have been diagnosed with MS — the disease is surprisingly common in Canada.  In fact,  Canada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis in the world  (Did you know that you are 13 times more likely to develops MS here than in Argentina, for example?)  The highest rate in the world — and as yet, no one knows why.

    But we’ll find out why.  We are also home to some of the best MS research in the world, thanks to the support of folks like you. MS research has changed people’s lives, and researchers are working hard to find a cure for the disease.

    Gear Up to Ride

    Gear Up to Ride

    I’ll be riding to raise money to help my friends and every other Canadian living with MS.    Proceeds raised fund both world-class research and innovative programs and services across Canada.   By supporting me in MS Bike, you make this research possible.

    Every little bit helps in the search for a cure, and you can help #endMS by donating.

    About Multiple Sclerosis

    MS is currently classified as an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord). The disease attacks myelin, the protective covering of the nerves, causing inflammation and often damaging the myelin. Myelin is necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses through nerve fibres. If damage to myelin is slight, nerve impulses travel with minor interruptions; however, if damage is substantial and if scar tissue replaces the myelin, nerve impulses may be completely disrupted, and the nerve fibres themselves can be damaged.

    MS is unpredictable and can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes. Its effects can be physical, emotional and financial. Currently there is no cure, but each day researchers are learning more about what causes MS and are zeroing in on ways to prevent it.

    About the MS Bike Route

    The MS Bike series is the largest event of its kind in North America, and the Leduc-Camrose ride is the largest in Canada.  There are many rides, and some cyclists participate in more than one ride.

    MS Bike, 2014

    MS Bike, 2014

    • Leduc to Camrose and Return
    • Route Length(s): Approx. 80km/day
    • Early Check-in Date: June 5 & 6 & 9 | June 7 & 8
    • Early Check-in Time: 9 am – 6 pm | 9 am – 8 pm
    • Ride Dates:  June 10-11, 2017
    • Start Time:  07:30

    About Fundraising Goals

    The Leduc-Camrose run is apparently the largest event of its kind in Canada.  Last year, some 3000 cyclists and teams collectively raised over $2,000,000.   We hope to match or better that this year.  We know times are tough for a lot of folks in Alberta these days, but things are even tougher when you have a debilitating disease like MS.

    Every cyclist will be riding to contribute to the overall goal.  My personal goal is $2000.  That’s a tiny fraction of the total , but every bit helps.  If  I have to talk to 200 people to get $10 each, that’s fine (a few at $50 and $100 is even finer, of course).   All I ask is that you give whatever you feel you can spare to help out.

    I’m just getting started and have already reached 5% of my goal!   With your help, I’ll get there.   With our help comes help for MS sufferers.

    How to Contribute

    You can donate online by going to my Participant Center and clicking “Donate Now”.

    Further Reading

  • Manitobah Mukluks – A Canadian Aboriginal Company?

    Posted on November 30th, 2016 admin No comments

    Went online to buy my wife a Christmas present on Black Friday:  A pair of Manitobah Mukluks, the high Snowy Owl waterproof ones.  The special Black Friday deal was a free pair of furry moccasins (this week, they offer free mittens20161130_1637591 — order now!).

    Manitobah Mukluks is “an Aboriginal-owned company” whose “vision is to build a vibrant, global brand that makes a significant impact in Aboriginal Communities.”  They boast “one of a kind, hand-crafted works of art,”  for their top product line.  Their tagline is “Authentic Aboriginal Footwear”.   CEO and founder Sean McCormick is of Métis descent; he says:  We…take pride in being Canadian, which is why we continue to produce 20 per cent of our footwear at our Indigenous-owned production facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba.   Well, hey, that’s cool, let’s buy a pair.  Wonder where the other 80% are produced.

    On first try, the boots were out of stock, and the online chat agent told me there were no rain checks for Black Friday; out of stock meant out of luck.

    Still, I hunted around on the web site and found a place where I could post my email address to be notified when more stock came in.  I thought I might be notified later in the week, and would get the boots without the free moccasins.  Too bad, but no tragedy.  To my great surprise, within a couple of hours I was notified that what I wanted, the right style and size, were now in stock.  I immediately placed my order.

    Free Moccasins

    Free Moccasins

    They arrived within a week.  Wow, that was fast!  I don’t usually recommend companies or products, but these guys were good.  Both mukluks and moccasins  look nice and fit well.

    They came with a Certificate of Authenticity, which guarantees that “the product you have purchased was made by a Canadian Aboriginal Company…as certified by CAMSC…the official certifying organization in Canada for Aboriginal-owned businesses.”

    They do look quite nice, but not quite….authentic.    Vibram soles, well, yes, that makes them waterproof.  Okay, a modernization for urban customers.   According to a MM chat agent, the footwear is made from rabbit fur (a by-product of domestic meat industry in Europe) and suede and grain-leather from cattle.  Again, a modern adaptation, as domestic trapping could not supply the amount of product needed.  Fair enough.

    The moccasins have a label stiched in that reads “Proudly Canadian”.    But inside each moccasin and mukluk is a tiny tag that, when you flip it over, reads “Made in Vietnam”.  Can you say, “irony”?

    Okay, so Indigenous-owned does not necessarily mean “Aboriginal-made”.   At least, not made by Canadian aboriginals.  Kind of disappointing.  Still, I’m sure the Vietnamese are indigenous to Vietnam.  So nothing about this company is misleading, right?  It’s not really inaccurate, right?

    Wherever they’re made, they look nice and warm, and my wife likes them.  Brownie points for me.



  • Ottawa Wins 104th Grey Cup

    Posted on November 27th, 2016 admin No comments

    An exciting game, where Calgary tied the score with 10 seconds left in the game.  Ottawa won in overtime by an unconverted TD.

    CFL Officials. I was unable to determine ownership of this photo.

    What impressed me throughout, though, was the officiating.  How those guys in the striped shirts can see things so quickly on the field and in the mêlée just amazes me.   In almost all the cases, the control-room review backed up the call in the field.   They were quick, they were accurate, they were fair and impartial.

    Back in 2009, CFL officials were paid between $550 and $850 per game; officials are all part-time and one official reported making $15000 a year officiating.  In 2014, the average CFL player salary was close to $90,000; with 16 games per team in the regular season, that’s $5500 per game, roughly ten times the pay of the officials.   Yet the game wouldn’t work as well without the officials.

    I think they’re underappreciated and underpaid.

  • Calling at a “Country Festival”

    Posted on November 26th, 2016 admin No comments

    We called last night at an LDS church in Bonnie Doon for their “Country Festival”.  This was our third time with this group, starting with Trek 2014 then last year’s Trek followup hoedown.

    The event, a free social evening organized by the church, consisted of games, dinner, an auction, and dance.

    image-pattycakeAt various games, participants could win play money to be used during the auction.  The games were old “penny carnival” favorites and some western-themed activities

    • Ring Toss around water bottles
    • Bean Bag Toss
    • Ball toss to knock down beverage glasses
    • Steer roping (where a sawhorse “steer” waited patiently while standing particpants tossed a lasso)
    • Calf roping (ditto, except the cowpoke was on a barrel “horse” while roping)
    • Target shooting with an Airsoft assault rifle

    image-girlFollowing the games, we had a very nice chicken dinner, then the auction for homemade pies and various other items, including an uncured wolf pelt.   The bidding was fast and furious, especially for the blue-ribbon pies, and as a result the auction went a little overtime.

    The dance, originally scheduled for 8-9 pm, started about 8:45 and went until 9:40.   We had five squares to start, and wound down to two squares as the night advanced and people trickled home.  It was a good dance and people seemed to be having a good time.

    A big thanks to the church for inviting us, and to all the volunteers (especially the young people) for their work in organizing the event.

    Photos courtesy Dawn Gray.  We blurred the faces but left the smiles!image-pattycake-2

  • Lumos Bike Helmet

    Posted on November 21st, 2016 admin No comments
    Lumos illuminated bike helmet

    Lumos illuminated bike helmet

    One Kickstarter product I’m awaiting with eagerness is the Lumos Bike Helmet, a snazzy-looking high-tech helmet with built-in brake and signal lights.   The brakes are controlled by accelerometry, while the turn signals are manually operated from a wireless switch mounted on the handlebars.  An optional smart phone app is available to control braking preferences and monitor life of the USB-rechargeable battery.  Both helmet and switch are water resistant.

    Some 6,000 backers kicked in $800,000 for the helmet.  The lowest pledge level was $85 USD for the helmet,  which is set to retail at $179 USD.  This is not outrageous; my Specialized helmet cost $120 CAD (about $85 USD).

    Lumos front LEDs

    Lumos front LEDs

    User Feedback

    The Lumos has received a lot of attention in various media, and is being tested by the City of Ottawa as part of a road safety program. The goal is to make cyclists more visible to motorists, with the signal lights being more noticeable than hand signals in low-light conditions. Apparently some elitist cyclists diss the unit as being “car-like”.  Nobody will force them to use one, I guess.

    Reviews from those who have already received their Lumos are almost universally positive, 5-stars all the way with lots of praise in the comments.  Once I get my Lumos, I’ll post a review here.

    LucidBrake, a Kickstarter Alternative Brake Light

    Another cycling brake light I backed, the Intelligent Brake Light called LucidBrake, cost $100 USD, the same as my pledge for the Lumos.  The LucidBrake will mount on all of my bikes, and I also made a helmet mount for it (on a $40 Bell helmet).   I think it was a bit pricey for what I got, but it does its job — being bright, letting people see me, announcing that I’m slowing down — quite well.  However, I have lost three of them (the method of attachment is not as secure as the inventor would like to think).  The company has graciously replaced the unit in each case, but it’s still not the best solution.  I have to tether it to my bike to retain it in case it falls off, yet I really don’t want to leave a $100 light attached to my bike when I park it.   Hence the helmet attachment — when I take the helmet with me, I also take the light.

    A Couple of Issues

    • The  Lumos has white front LEDs and because of this it lacks a visor.  Wonder how that will be in the summer sun.  I might just pick up a cheap used helmet and transfer the visor. I imagine I can rig up some magnets for snap-on use during the day.
    • On a road bike, when I’m riding “head down”, my helmet-mounted LucidBrake points to the sky and is less visible, the same way a traditional right-turn hand signal is hard to see in that position. Here is where a rear-rack-mounted signalling system has an advantage.  I think the Lumos brake and signal LEDs will be similarly hard to see when head-down.  I have to remember to sit up a bit before a turn so the signal is visible.

    The Lumos is due to arrive within a month, only seven months later than the promised April delivery (not bad for a KS project, actually), so I’ll have it by Christmas.

    I bet the lights will look pretty in the snow.


  • Are Instant Noodles (Ramen) Toxic?

    Posted on November 20th, 2016 admin No comments

    I love crap like this! Health sites are spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) and outright misinformation about instant noodles.  Eat them and die, fast-food freaks!

    For example,…, and you’ll find it at the ever-popular Dr. Mercola’s health misinformation site.  No doubt Dr. Oz has already weighed in.

    However, the actual study shows a CONNECTION between instant noodle consumption and metabolic disorders but doesn’t prove that one causes the other.

    I eventually tracked this down to the Journal of Nutrition at It appears to have had nothing to do with Harvard except that some of the authors studied there.  If you read the study, you’ll learn that that Korean women who eat two or more packets or ramen a week have a slightly elevated chance (p < .04, which means a slight statistical probability) of having metabolic disorder compared to women who don’t eat noodles. Korean noodle-munching men had no statistical difference over non-noodlers.

    Instant noodles was only one of 63 foods studied, and was involved in a “non-traditional” fast-food-heavy diet. The study’s authors concluded that “Our study had several limitations. First, we cannot infer a causal relation given our cross-sectional study design.”

    In plain English, they can find a CONNECTION between instant noodle consumption and metabolic disorders but can’t prove that one causes the other.  As we used to say in the lab, “correlation is not causation.”

    It pays to do a little research before you believe the stuff you read.

  • To Call or Not to Call?

    Posted on November 4th, 2016 admin 1 comment

    A few weeks ago,  for a variety of reasons, I was seriously considering giving up calling.  I just wasn’t able to get enough practice to get to the level of delivery I want.  And I realized that in six years of doing this, I have never called a dance in Alberta.  California and BC, but never in Alberta.  So I was ready to call it quits.

    Three things have changed my mind, at least for now.  clip

    First, we had a wonderful time at Wolf Creek Community Church in Lacombe, with three squares of enthusiastic young adults. They had fun, and I had fun.  They reminded me why I got into this in the first place.

    Second, I got fed up with the feeling of being compared to the 30-year callers in our area, so started preceding all of my tips by explaining that having a tip here and there makes it really hard to learn. “Can you imagine learning to square dance if you could dance only one tip a week?”   Then I thank the dancers for their cooperation in helping me to practice and learn.  “Thank you for being my guinea pigs!  Tonight I’m practicing Magic Modules, moving from corner boxes to partner lines.”   Somehow, this took a bit of the pressure off.

    FavoriteThird, I’m getting repeat business from word-of-mouth.  The Wolf Creek dance was a referral from a wedding I called last summer.  Last night, a fellow who was at an event in 2014 called to invite me back.  One young adult group has had me call every autumn for the past four years.  So whatever failings have kept local clubs from having me call,  my outside events (“one night stands”) are clearly successful.  Since these are the moneymakers, I need to focus more on developing this part of my calling.

  • 3D Printing: Cupcake Farewell

    Posted on October 31st, 2016 admin No comments
    Cupcake 3d Printer

    Cupcake by MakerBot Industries

    Some years ago, capsule my son and I partnered to purchase a Cupcake 3d printer by Makerbot. It was one of the first kit printers for home use.

    Fun to assemble but a bit of a bear to use, it was fiddly to calibrate and finicky to operate.   Still, we made a lot of stuff with it.

    In the fast-moving field of additive manufacturing, the Cupcake quickly became old-tech; in an attempt to keep it up to date we hacked it, modified it, tweaked it, added new parts,  loved it, hated it.

    It recently found a new home at a local high school, a donation to their Fabrication Program.   The teacher was excited to have it. (My son said, “Poor kids!”)

    If nothing else, they have a bunch of parts, and can rebuild the printer to more modern standards.

  • Where, Oh Where, Has Duke Engines Gone?

    Posted on May 30th, 2016 admin No comments
     The mystery of the vanishing engine!

    Duke Engines in New Zealand. Google them, you’ll find material on their unique five-cylinder axial engine…from back in 2011 or so.  it was said that this engine was lighter, more compact, and more powerful than an equivalent standard engine.  Touted as ideal for aircraft, motor cycles, outboard engines and the like, the motor attracted a great deal of attention.

    The Duke Engine – Version 3

    Duke Engine V3 in test stand

    Apparently a  well-funded company with solid investors and shareholders, Duke had working prototypes independently tested in the UK and USA.  Yet, neither their web site nor their facebook page has anything later than March, 2013. As far as the Internet is concerned, they’ve vanished.

    A check with the NZ Companies branch shows that they’ve filed regular updates and annual reports since their incorporation in 2001; their latest filing was July 28, 2015 — so they’re still around…maybe. NZ white and yellow pages don’t have a listing for them under the name Duke Engines. A reverse search for the phone number on their home page leads to Helensville, Warkworth, Hibiscus Coast, Great Barrier Island rather than to the registered corporate address in Auckland.

    Strange. I wonder if they found some military applications and were sworn to secrecy? :)

    This article suggests that they simply ran out of money.

    In the end, it turned out to be not such a mystery after all. I emailed the company and received a reply confirming that they are out of funds and looking for an investor to help them go into production.

    If you have a spare $6M, they’d love to hear from you.

  • USA West Square Dance Convention

    Posted on July 28th, 2015 admin No comments

    Yahoo!   Got my calling assignments:

    August 13-15 – USA West Convention, Helena MT  – Calling

    • Thursday:  10:50am (MS)
    • Friday:  2:40pm (MS),   8:30pm (MS)
    • Saturday:  11:10am (MS),  MC_2pm (MS)

    I’m quite excited about this, because I was invited to call here.   And our recent caller school has boosted my confidence somewhat.

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