Archive for the ‘Random thoughts’ Category

A note to our email subscribers

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Hi everyone,

If you are reading our blog using the email subscription method (right panel), you may notice that when you view the website later, the posts have changed. This is because the email subscription only sends out posts when they are first published. As we find snippets of time on the road, we go back to posts and update them pictures and additional information. Unfortunately, the email subscription utilities does not inform you when we make these changes.

I don’t have a great solution to this problem yet; however, it is something we will look at when we get back to Ottawa. Hopefully, we’ll have the time to find a better way to let you know when things are updated. For now, if you want to see pictures, then please browse back over articles a week or so after they occur.

The alternative is that we wait to post the articles until we know they are finished. Unfortunatley that would mean that you would first see posts 4-5 days after they occurred. I think our families would prefer to see partial posts in a more timely fashion, rather than completed posts later.



Using a GPS for bicycle touring

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

This is our first trip with a mapping GPS (Becky has had a Garmin Edge 305 fitness GPS for a while, but it doesn’t have maps) and it is proving to be quite useful. For our ride to Kingston, I have been trying to follow the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour route, as best as I can remember it. Yesterday I was a bit iffy in a couple of places, but the GPS (with a big pink arrow pointing us toward Perth) was very helpful. It let us know we were going in the right direction (even when Becky didn’t believe me) and how far we had to go – as the crow flies at least.

It is possible to get detailed GPS maps with turn by turn routing, but they’re expensive, and a paper map worked just fine as a backup.

During our rest day today, I discovered that someone had uploaded an RLCT route to Bikely, and that I could download a GPX file from Bikely to Mapsource, and then to my GPS. Pretty basic stuff to some I’m sure, but I’m impressed!

I discovered that my recollection of the RLCT route was spot-on as far as Perth, but I was confused about the Perth to Kingston portion. Good to know now before tomorrow, since my planned route would have put us on more heavily travelled roads.

I do want to be careful that these new tools don’t cause us to artificially limit our routes though – sometimes the best adventures come from unplanned detours!

I’m sure there are other useful routes on Bikely, as well as other sites like Alex Carr’s article on Bicycle Touring with a GPS on CGOAB has more details and other suggestions. Perhaps if I had re-read it after getting the GPS I wouldn’t be discovering this now…

RLCT Classic to Kingston

Share your bike routes @

Loss of knowledge

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

During a break in the ACM action, I came home and tackled a project I’d been putting off for some time.  I opened up the box containing my university notes, and recycled many of them. This box has been taped shut for more than a decade, and through several moves.

This was a painful process.  Although I’m sure I’ll never look at many of them again, they represent knowledge hard-obtained, over my five-year undergraduate degree.  With my poor memory, they are also touchstones reminding me of events and activities I had otherwise forgotten.  Among the treasures I discovered were:

  • A journal I kept during my Religion and Ecology course
  • A technical report on my implementation of Internet tools at Northern Telecom in 1994, including Usenet, Gopher, and that most modern of tools:  World-Wide-Web, with Hypertext links!
  • A number of lab reports and commerce papes which brought back fond memories

I kept most of this, as well as many of the notes from my commerce courses, but the majority of Physics, Math and Engineering Physics notes went into the recycle bin.  As I let them go, I felt like the knowledge contained in them was lost, but I reminded myself that it was unlikely I would need it again.  If I do, these are not insights into the nature of the universe, they’re undergrad course notes.  Somehow, I’ll find the information again, probably faster than if I had to dig through my course notes.

I’m glad I finally did it, and also that I took the time to glance at everything, say goodbye to the things I discarded, and keep a few of the small treasures.

A note about writing

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

You may be noticing that the style of my writing is varying between posts. I’m experimenting with different writing styles and techniques. If you like a particular style of article, please leave a comment to let me know.

You will also notice that I am posting some articles in the past. I struggled with which date I should use for posts – the date the event occurred or the date in which I completed the article. I decided that when I am writing about specific events in the past (that is, specific journal entries), that I will date stamp them with the date they occurred, rather than the date I got around to finishing the article. I am not sure how this affects the various blog readers and email subscriptions. If this is a bad idea or really annoying for those of you reading, please let me know! I expect it will be easier to follow for those that are reading at least a month after the events, as things will be chronologically correct.

Accepting the kindness of strangers

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

I woke up this morning and was trying to visualize how we would camp during our shakedown cruise around Lake Ontario in June, and I couldn’t quite see it. It will be difficult (not to mention expensive) to find campgrounds every time we want to stop, since we’re planning on riding about 80 km per day. The idea of going up to people’s doors and asking to camp in their backyard seems like an imposition, and finding a place to camp where we’re invisible seems tricky even in Canada, let alone in the US.

I am inspired by Kevin Kelly’s 2007 Christmas Essay about willingness to accept generosity, although it will certainly require effort to reach out past my shyness and ask.

One might even call the art of accepting generosity a type of compassion. The compassion of being kinded. One year I rode my bicycle across America, from San Francisco to New Jersey. I started out camping in state parks, but past the Rockies, parks became so scarce I switched to camping on people’s lawns. I worked up a routine. As darkness fell, I began scouting the homes I passed for a likely candidate: neat house, big lawn in the back, easy access for my bike. When I selected the lucky home, I parked my bag-loaded bike in front of the door and rang the bell. “Hello,” I’d say. “I’m riding my bike across America. I’d like to pitch my tent tonight where I have permission and where someone knows where I am. I’ve just eaten dinner, and I’ll be gone first thing in the morning. Would you mind if I put up my tent in your backyard?”

I was never turned away, not once. And there was always more. It was impossible for most folks to sit in their couch and watch TV while a guy who was riding his bicycle across America was camped in their backyard. What if he was famous? So I was usually invited into their home for desert and an interview. My job in this moment was clear: I was to relate my adventure. I was to help them enjoy a thrill they secretly desired, but would never do. My account would make an impossible dream seem real and possible, and thus part of them. Through me and my retelling of what happened so far, they would get to vicariously ride a bicycle across America. In exchange I would get a place to camp and a dish of ice cream. It was a sweet deal that benefited both of us. The weird thing is that I was, and still am, not sure whether I would have done what they did and let me sleep in the backyard. The “me” on the bicycle had a wild tangled beard, had not showered for weeks, and appeared destitute (my whole transcontinental trip cost me $500). I am not sure I would invite a casual tourist I met to take over my apartment, and cook for him. I definitely would not hand him the keys to my own car, as a hotel clerk in Dalarna, Sweden, did one mid-summer day when I asked her how I could reach the painter Carl Larsson’s house 150 miles away away.

The other option is to stealth camp, which requires finding a quiet corner of wilderness (or abandoned area). This will require a fair bit of bravery the first few times I expect. I try to remind myself that it’s all about opening myself to the experience.

On a more practical note, I found a great article on erecting a tent in the rain which clarified my thoughts about that. I’ve always done the “spread out the the fly first” approach, but never with the elegance of the author’s approach. I’ll try it with our Mountain Hardwear Viperine 3 and see how it works. Since the poles anchor to the tent with clips and not sleeves, we should be able to do it.

Learning the Language

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

For me, one of the big challenges about this trip is the different languages in all the places we’re planning to go. Neither Becky nor I have great had much success learning foreign languages, so I suspect we’ll be getting by in English.

I do want to learn at least a few words in the major languages we’ll encounter, and I have been gathering up a list of resources. The list of languages is pretty long, but at least we have some long freighter voyages to study. I’m planning to start with Turkish and Arabic, and then move on to Mandarin. We’ll be spending a bunch of time in countries where other languages are spoken, so I hope some of this early study will help loosen up the corners of my mind dedicated to language.

  • Our local library has a variety of Berlitz CDs and phrase books which should be helpful. So far we have a couple in Arabic and Mandarin. I’ve copied the CDs to my iPod for easier rewinding when I miss something.
  • I also found some recommendations on ask.metafilter for free podcasts from Open Culture, including a series on Jordanian Arabic from the Peace Corps.
  • According to another ask.metafilter post, getting comfortable with the alphabet is critical for Arabic, and likely for Chinese as well. I think that will be my biggest challenge.
  • Folks on ask.metafilter also recommended a Mandarin podcast subscription called ChinesePod and Clavis Sinic, a method for learning the script.
  • For Turkish, I’ve requested a Teach Yourself Turkish course, which doesn’t have great reviews on Amazon, but we’ll see how it works for me. If I’m struggling, I may get Conversational Turkish instead.
  • There are also various versions of the U.S. Foreign Service Institute language lessons available online. Since these are government-produced, they’re in the public domain, so some kind souls on the Internet are digitizing them and making them available for free. This looks like a good option for Cambodian, Lao (text only), Vietnamese and Thai.  There are various other paid versions of the FSI lesson plan as well.

There are lots of other options out there, but this is more than enough for me to get started with.

What would you do if …

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

you woke up to this?

instead of this?

We did as any good Canadian would, we strapped on our skis and skied to church this morning. Our neighbours who were brave (or foolish) enough to be out shovelling were quite amused.

Scott skiing around abandoned car in the middle of the road.

It’s a good thing we didn’t try driving – there was a car abandoned in the middle of our street.

Becky sinking knee deep while skiing near Lincoln Fields

Once we made it off of our street, things got a little better. The main roads are all plowed. We didn’t ski all the way to church (that would have been a challenge). We managed to catch a city bus for about 1/2 the distance. We skied about 5 km, including a stretch near Lincoln Fields bus station where we frequently sank to our knees (yes, even on skis!)

After church, we were able to get a ride to the top of the street. We skied back home and then began the daunting task of cleaning out the driveway.

In the last 2-days, we have received 51 cm of snow. For some extra excitement, we also had some snow lightening (very spooky). Last night’s snow (over 30 cm) came with high winds, which meant that anything that was previously shoveled was now packed with snow drifts. It is a good thing it is a weekend, and for the most part, people can stay close to home and enjoy the sunny weather.

Another snowy day

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

This winter has been a little bit crazy for snow in Ottawa. Every time I look out the window, I am reminded of my childhood in Northern BC!

To make our lives that much more difficult, this year we decided not to pay for snow removal. Last year, we paid the yearly fee and the snow plow only had to come by twice. This year, we are questioning our wisdom in not renewing the service!

To give you a sense of just how much snow we have, see below:

[local /wp-content/uploads/2008/03/snow2008_0004.wmv]

For those that can’t view the video, here is a static action shot:

Scott shovelling