Monday, February 19, 2007


Well, we took the the new canoe out for her maiden voyage. "Voyage" is a strong word: we paddled around in a bay or two for 30 minutes or so.

We forgot to take the camera, but we got a couple more detail shots when we got home, so I updated the photo album:

I was going to christen her Persephone: I've always wanted to name a boat after Nick Adonidas' boat, and since this is the first boat I've ever owned, I naturally thought "this is my chance!". But Pocahontas thought we should name her Sacagawea, and I have to agree that's probably more appropriate. So Sacagawea it is.

She's got some scratches on the hull from a gravelly launch. Apparently Royalex can take a beating, so I'm not worried (they're not deep), but it re-emphasizes that I need to get some 303 or something on her before long. I typically wait 6 months on that kind of thing, I don't want to do that now.

So how is she?

We paddled tandem with three kids in the canoe, and she glides well. She's definitely an agile boat, and turns lightly. She's also not as stable as the huge freighter I grew up paddling, but she's a canoe: the kids were worried about her rocking, so I rocked her good and hard, and they got the idea of secondary stability.

I did paddle her solo after everyone disembarked, Canadian style. She rocks a lot, so I found myself shifting frequently, looking for her stability point. She's light too, so the wind caught her a lot without the weight of the others in the canoe. It may take some more practice to find the point where she likes to heel.

In the couple days between buying Sacagawea and putting her in the water, I've been doing some reading about canoeing online. Most of the information out there seems suspect, but there is some good stuff too. I'm sure Dad would be appalled at a lot of it. Dad's a more Zen paddler: "Just paddle the boat, and point it where you want to go!". Of course, that won't sell boats or allow people to get certified as instructors, so they have to name strokes and techniques.

As a side note: the couple times I've had a canoe instructor around, they always tried to teach me a "J-Stroke". I always thought it felt tight, cramped, and forced. I'm not entirely sure what it was my Dad taught me, but after a little reading, it seems it was either a "Canadian", or something very similar.

At any rate, I stumbled across something on the "mystical North Woods Stroke", where a paddler paddles without really taking the paddle out of the water. This excited me, as I remember Mum telling me many times about how Grandad would paddle without lifting his paddle out of the water.

Well, after some digging, I found out the so-called "mystical North Woods Stroke" is also called a "Knifing J Stroke" or "Canadian Stroke". It's basically what Dad used to make me do when we went canoeing. Not that I minded, of course: I was delighted to learn more canoe lore. But it is interesting to find out what my Dad taught me from a young age is considered "advanced", even "mystical".

That may actually be an oversimplification: apparently the really good "North Woods Strok"-ers do it without actually letting the paddle clear the water, which is more complex than what I do... but watching the demos I could find online, it's basically the same. Dad always made me skim my paddle just over the top of the water instead of knifing it through, but that's the only difference I can see. The "talking points" of the "Canadian Stroke" are all identical to what Dad told me a good paddler does.

But ever since I can remember, I tried to do what Grandad did, and invariably it wouldn't work, so I woud revert to "normal" paddling (which I now know is called a "Canadian Stroke", or maybe a really extended "J-Stroke"?). But I did find a hint that helped: and I think I got the trick of it. Now I just need to practice to get it perfect and powerful.

Apparently the "Grandad Stroke" is called an "Indian Stroke". There's a diagram of it here, which indicated what I had always done wrong: I was trying to "knife" the paddle in place, rather than paddling in an oval. In other words, I was turning the paddle the wrong way! I was turning it in instead of out.

So today I paddled most of the time "Indian style", and found it very relaxing. I don't have a lot of power there yet, and reverted to lifting the paddle out of the water on each stroke when I had to turn quickly around a sunken tree with protruding limbs. But I'm very excited: I've been trying to figure out the "Grandad Stroke" for twenty years (keep in mind about 15 of those with no access to a canoe), and today it finally clicked.

So we're very happy with our canoe, and I can hardly wait to get it back out there. Next time, I want to get the kids to take a turn at a paddle. That's how Dad taught us: 100ft of rope tied to the canoe, lifejackets on, paddle in hand, take the canoe out, kids! He'd stand on the shore and coach us. Then we graduated to taking turns in the bow while Mum enjoyed the view.

It's supposed to get to 68F this week, so maybe I can take the afternoon off and we can spend it on the lake!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

New Arrival

Well, we finally did it. We bought a canoe.

We've been talking about this for years, but in the last couple years, I looked at Pocahontas and said "We really need to get a canoe!" We are really sedentary people, and while we're all well read; we really all need some fresh air and exercise. And since we live in a place where it's warm well over half the year, a canoe seemed like a good idea.

We did our research, and I wanted either a Wenonah or an Old Town. A local shop: Great Outdoor Provision Co. was highly recommended, so we went there. They didn't have the canoe I was looking for: the Minnesota II by Wenonah, but they had a 16 foot Prospector in stock. I have to admit the Prospector caught my eye as soon as I saw it. It's didn't look like much on Wenonah's website, but in person it was beautiful: sweeping lines, high bow and stern, and a wide hull. But it wasn't what I had been looking for, so we thanked Amanda for her help, and went to the Bass Pro Shop.

The Bass Pro Shop had a few more canoes than the Outdoor Provision Co., but sales staff wasn't anywhere around, and the majority of their stock was too small for us. However, they had two Old Town Discoveries in the 16 foot length.

So now we had two 16 foot offerings available, from two excellent names in canoes, but the Old Town was a lot cheaper than the Wenonah (around $400 or so).

Of course I wanted the more expensive one more...

So I did some research online, and decided the Prospector was the right thing to do. It cost more, but seemed more along the lines of what we wanted. And it was slightly narrower than the Discovery, which means slightly easier to push across a lake.

So this morning we went back to Outdoor Provision Co. and talked to Amanda again (if you're buying a canoe or kayak in Charlotte, talk to Amanda, she's awesome). We bought the canoe, two padddles, some assorted gear, and lifejackets all around. A little pricey, but it'll have been worth every penny if we get some family time outside out of it.

The reason I finally went with the Prospector is this: when I was growing up, you bought a canoe. Now they're modernized the industry to the point where you can't just buy a canoe, you buy a canoe for lake travel on days when it's sunny, and you're heading due north. The canoes people make are uber-specialized, and it's a little intimidating. The first thing they ask is "what'll you use it for?" Well, when I was growing up, Dad and I took our huge canoe on lakes, whitewater, and even saltwater. If you wanted to go solo, you turned it around, sat backwards in the "front" seat, and went "backwards". Now you're expected to buy a seat to sit in the middle of your canoe, just for solo trips.

But the Prospector is a remake of a circa 1910 canoe. It's as old-school as you get. Actually, I noticed it was hailed as a great all-round canoe before I realized a lot of companies make a "Prospector", and they're all take-offs of one built in the early 1900s. So this is the closest thing to the canoes I grew up with. But being made of newer materials, this thing is light. I carried it more or less alone from the truck to the backyard, and it was a breeze.

And just for comparison, the Discovery, the other canoe we were considering, has molded plastic seats. So you couldn't turn it around and run it backwards if you wanted to!

Of course, a lot of canoes today wouldn't run backwards, as they're not symmetric front-to-back. Check out the Wenonah Minnesota II I was considering on their website for an example.

We got everyone to sit in it before we decided to buy, and we all fit great, with room enough for a night or two of camping supplies. So it's a good, practical choice.

It's been too cold to go out on the water, so the baby's sleeping in our backyard. But next weekend is supposed to be warmer, so we'll try again Saturday. Then I suppose we'll know whether it really is worth what we paid.

I'll be sure to post a full review of it here once we actually get it wet.

Friday, February 9, 2007


Starbuck's has been a major point of hypocrisy with me for the last year or so.

You see, I endeavour to patronize locally-owned shops whenever possible. There are some niches that no one locally will ever fill: Costco is one example. There are some exceptions to this rule: it's really more of a guideline than a rule. For example, I prefer to shop at Books A Million than Borders or Barnes and Noble, because Books A Million is not exactly "local", but it's regional---headquarters in Atlanta. But restaurants and coffee shops are always highly localizable, so I try to eat and drink at "Mama Someone-Or-Others House of Spaghetti" rather than Olive Garden or Carraba's.

Having said that, occasionally a company will sway my decision through their own incompetence. Books A Million, for example, messed up my discount card. I renewed it, but their online store won't acknowledge that, and refuses to give me my discounts. The brick-and-mortar location a mile from my house will, but they don't have nearly the selection of their online store.

Oops! I got tired of it and bought an Amazon Prime membership. We spend several hundred dollars a year on computer books (for work) and textbooks (for homeschool): it looks like the online portion of those dollars'll go to Amazon now...

Starbuck's is a place I love to hate. Not because of their coffee, but because of their pseudo-intellectual, wanna-be bohemian, "Oh look at me! I'm all liberal and politically correct" culture. You know the ones I mean: the people who dress like they can't afford new clothing, but they can pour down latte upon latte at $5 a pop. And they carry $2700 MacBooks. Those annoying people.

But I like Starbucks, because they make decent coffee. Not those stupid froo-froo coffee drinks (venti skim milk mocha latte, anyone?), but their coffee. You remember coffee? That black stuff people used to drink before someone decided it wasn't trendy enough?

So I have a love-hate relationship with Starbuck's. Or I did until last Monday.

I flat-out refuse to order in pseudo-Italian Starbucksese. I just won't do it. If I ask for a "really big dark coffee", I expect someone intelligent enough to actually make it to work in the morning ought to know what I want. How is "venti bold" better than "large dark coffee"?

Occasionally I get flak for it from the Starbuck's crew, but they usually smile. One woman frequently says "That's not on our menu", but gets me what I want anyhow.

Until Monday.

I think it was Monday, it might have been Friday. But one way or the other, she crossed the line last visit, and I won't forget it soon.

I went into Starbuck's to get a coffee and a froo-froo drink for the guy I work for (not technically my boss: I'm contracting on this gig). I asked for "a large Sumatra and a large skim milk mocha latte with whipped cream". You can see I've already sacrificed my principles to order the froo-froo drink; a better woman would have smiled knowingly, acknowledging my concession to the man, while filling my order; happy in the knowledge she was winning.

But this woman, gave me a large coffee and a medium froo-froo drink!

I toyed with the idea that she just made a mistake, but her history of correcting my orders with a smug "that's not on the menu" is pretty damning. In the end, I had to conclude she's attempting to use classic conditioning to make me order in Starbucksese.

As an aside, I would expect Psych majors to get jobs at Starbuck's. I guess the Philosophy majors nabbed all the fast food jobs, so the Psych majors have resorted to Starbuck's...

At any rate, I have concluded they are attempting to use social engineering to make me order in their abominable pseudo-language.

Well, I will win. I paid for my order by draining my Starbuck's gift card, and unlike all previous occasions, I did not recharge it. I paid the balance (my gift card is running low) in cash.

So now that there's no gift card, I'm no longer tied to Starbuck's.

There are two nice locally-owned bakeries just a mile or so from my main customer's site (Nova Bakery and Marguerite's), and a locally-owned coffee shop (Smelly Cat) just two miles away. That's three locally-owned coffee sources, and they all let me order in English.

I think the local folks will appreciate my money a little more, and they certainly give me service every bit as good as Starbuck's.

This could be the start of some beautiful friendships.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Spoils of war

I was getting a cup of coffee, and dug out my old Compaq mug. That got me thinking fondly of my days as a Tru64 Unix administrator.

So, besides a knowledge of the more obscure points of Unix administration, a high level of confidence in vi and csh, and the insight to see nothing really new has been done in storage since the days of DEC StorageWorks; pretty much all I have to show for my time in Tru64 Unix is a couple mugs and a shirt (not shown):

Alas how the mighty have fallen.

Better late than never...

Well, we woke up to snow in Charlotte!!!!!

If that don't beat all...

The best is, Charlotte shuts down for snow. So time for coffee, hot chocolate, warm wintery food, and getting some work done via VPN.