Monthly Archives: October 2012

Up One Side, Down The Other


The past several dozen hours and the next several dozen hours see the planet go wobbly for a bit.  An earthquake hit on the Left Coast of Canada, near Haida Gwaii, tripping off the tsunami warnings out as far as Hawaii.  No serious damage, but still one heck of a shake. 

Near Wawa, Ontario, rains and storms have washed the Trans Canada away in several places.  The problem is that the only road across this part of Northern Ontario is the Trans Canada and the washouts aren’t little four-foot fixes.  One part of a whole car dealership and a half a motel washed away.  This is not a front-end loader full of gravel fix to the only road that runs left-to right across this part of the country.

Now Hurricane Sandy is set to roll into New York City tomorrow: Mayor Mike is closing the joint down as of 7 pm.  Weather-meat assure us that after Sandy hits it will roll up into Ontario, flood Toronto, make Niagara Falls run backwards and drown everyone from Ottawa to Montreal.  Or not.

What we’re seeing is October.  Damp, rainy, cold, grey October.  This is why rum was invented.  

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That Last Step


Austrian Felix Baumgartner did something remarkable today as part of the Red Bull Stratos project.  He jumped out of a balloon.  This in itself is not all that remarkable, BASE jumpers have been doing that for years, taking conventional hot-air balloons up to altitude then jumping out of the basket for some free-fall time, then parachuting to safety.

That Felix Baumgartner’s balloon was 24 miles/39 kilometres above the surface of the planet was more the remarkable achievement.  Those of an historical bent will recall pictures of Capt. Joe Kittinger jumping out of a balloon in Project Excelsior circa 1959.  Kittinger’s big step was from 102,800 feet:  Baumgartner’s jump clocked in at 123,000 feet.  Both men survived of course, as that kind of high altitude jump might ruin ones’ day if things go wrong.  Services tend to be private afterwards.

Where the real fun comes in is the whole idea of private corporations, like Red Bull, SpaceX, or Virgin doing the things that NASA used to do.  Sure, the Red Bull Stratos jump was a bit of a publicity stunt to promote their beverage, but it also packed some legit science along for the ride.  SpaceX has proven their Dragon capsule works nicely as a cheap tug to the International Space Space Station.  Of course there has always been ‘private’ companies working with NASA, like Boeing, North American, Grumman, Hughes and such, but none of the usual suspects would so much as lift a slide rule without a NASA contract for cost-plus.

We like that private industry has the vision and the stones to get it done and get it on.  NASA and for that matter, most of the aerospace industry have been paralyzed by project managers and bureaucrats who treasure process over actual results or accomplishments.  Our explorers were never process monkeys who got a secretive stiffy over a GANTT chart with multiple milestones.  They were folks who did some back of the envelope calculations, took a look again, then said Giv’er.

What the jump actually shows us is that we can embrace the potential for dramatic failure, in the bright light of public scrutiny and through some luck, some pluck and some good science, make it work.

Mason Baveux on Canadian Thanksgiving


We’ve received a few requests to explain the differences between Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving for our American readers.  A few years ago Mason Baveux, our guest writer, did a piece on the comparisons between the two, so I asked him to do a rewrite.  After staring at me like I had a spare head growing out of my chest, he finally clued in;  “You mean like do’er over but explain her better?”  This is what he sent back;

Thanks lad fer givin me another shot at the blog writing. I’m getting the hang of ‘er and I don’t have to get my drink on like last time from watching the US politics. Plus, I’m startin to get a handle on this HyperTex Tampax Protocol stuff, ‘cept it sounds a little too feminine for me. Just the same. Thanksgiving.

OK, now us Canadians are havin our turkey today, the 8th of October.  You Yanks are getting stuffed November 22nd, what is also the anniversary of JFK gettin’ cured of his migraines.  You’d think we’d line these two holidays up a bit better, but there’s a reason why we don’t. Lemme explain it out for you.

The whole shebangs been going on since before there was a North America. Thanksgiving’s a harvest festival, meaning the locals got the crops in and then sat down to put the feedbag on before the snow flied.

In Europe, or the UK more like, she started raining for two friggin months, with a day or two of snow. She was too wet to plow or do much more than sit around the fire and say “Fook, she’s rainin; again. Yep, she’s rainin’ and we got fog too. Fook this, crack open ye olde flagon of ale and let’s get lit up!” Which is how they passed the winters in Bill Shakespeare’s time. The same’s true at Lahr in Germany, when the base was open there, which it isn’t anymore.

My Indian buddy, Peter Three-Skidoos told me about how the First Nationals used to celebrate the same thing over here, before the Europeans came over. Same idea of party it up before the snow flies. And Peter isn’t an Indian Indian, like from Calcutta with the curry. He’s 100 percent Ojibway First National: Like he says, his family met my family when we came over about 400 years ago, so he should know, right?

I did some looking up about it on that Wiki-tiki-tavi-pedia thing. Seems the first thanksgiving by white folks was done in 1548, in Newfie, fer Christ sake. The explorer Martin Frobisher, who was looking for the Northwest Passage, finally got back to his base camp on the Rock. Marty Frobisher and the rest of the lads cracked the rum open and had a go to celebrate Not Dying. Good a reason as any.

The Americans got into it late, as usual. We’re not counting some Spaniels, or Spanyards who did it up September 8th, 1565 near St. Augustine Florida. There were 600 of them, so’s I suspect there was a hell of a party. I think they had it near the Arby’s in St. Augustine. I’ve been there you know.

The American folks who claim the first one up, were what were called the Berkeley Hundred, in Dec 4 1619 near Jamestown Virginia. They weren’t into the turkey then, they were just glad to not be dead from sailing across the ocean. It was more a prayer service than anything.

The first Americans who did something like the kids story Thanksgiving were the Pilgrims at Plymouth Mass. Before the car, there was the town Plymouth and they did it in 1621. Seems that a First National called Squanto and his tribe, the Wampanomags taught the Pilgrims how to catch turkeys and eels and how to use the foods that grew there in Plymouth. That would be pumpkins and cranberries and squash and sweet potatoes. And turkey.

If Squanto and the Wampo tribe lads hadn’t been there to help the Pilgrims get their heads out of their arses, the Pilgrims would have all starved to death that winter and we wouldn’t have Plymouth cars. They’d be called Worcesters or Massachusettses. Worchester Belvedere? That’s no damn good.

For the longest time where Thanksgiving showed up on the Canadian and the American calendar moved around a bit. Up here we kept it in October, as that’s more or less when the last of the corn comes in. Down south, the seasons longer, so the US Thanksgiving sometimes would run later the more south you went.

For a while, both of us kept to the British tradition in October, but when the Yanks had their Revolution in 1776 they wanted to get rid of all the British leftovers, so they looked for a later date. It wasn’t until Honest Abe and Civil War that you Yanks settled on November and that’s where she sits now.

As for what we do up here, we do the same thing. We cook a big goddam turkey and more vegetables than the third floor ward at the Penatanguishine Home for the Insane. There’s bread stuffing, cranberries, both jellied and whole, mashed spuds, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, boiled carrots, green beans and enough gravy to float a skiff. You eat until your pants don’t fit, then loosen the belt and have seconds or thirds.

When you can’t see no more, you push back and take a break. In our house we used to have gravy bread for the last course. If you’ve never had gravy bread, I’ll give you the recipe. You take a slice of white bread, put it on the plate. Then you pour turkey gravy on it until is just starts to think about floating. Then you eat it. An old family recipe that.

Then there’s the pie. Pumpkin pie, apple pie, mincemeat pie and sometimes lemon pie. You get whipped cream on the pumpkin, but not on the lemon pie as that’s just wrong. And Apple Pie without Cheese is like a Kiss without a Squeeze.

For drinks, well, you’ve got the traditional basics: Rum and Coke. Rum and Ginger. Rum and Diet Coke for those who are watching their weight. After you’re done, sometimes there’s Rum and Coffee, but lately it’s been Bailey’s and Coffee, or Rum and tea for them what drinks tea. The usual measure is three fingers of Rum or Bailey’s and top the mug up with coffee.

By this time you’re half in the bag and can’t feel your legs anymore. Some of the family go out hunting, if its close to deer season. Well, more proper, they go jacklighting off the ATV’s or the snow machines, if we’ve had a early snow.

Sometimes they get a deer, but more often than not they just shoot the hell out of the highway signs. I’ve never seen them bring back the highway signs, but the deer always come back across the ATV if they’ve had some luck.

By now most of us have had a snooze and its about time for cards. Cribbage is the game of choice. Now there’s a choice of rum or beer. I’ll stick to the beer about then, as I can’t count cribbage if I’m full of rum. On the rum, it’s 15-2, 15-4 and then I get confused and it goes to hell from there. On the Red Cap, it’s fine. I can peg and count at the same time. There’s always an argument or two.

Around midnight, we give it up and go home.

I kinda like the old ways some days. Just a day for saying “Hey, we’re not dead today! Thanks!” The rest is good, but not always necessary, so’s your could say I’m from the Marty Frobisher school of Thanksgiving.  We’re not dead today!

Thank you Mason, as always, curiously insightful.  A Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to you all.