August 11, 2014

Manotick losing out on Tourist Dollars

I sent my first letters to the Manotick newspaper 19 years ago. In 1995 I got a copy of a planning document for Manotick created by architects which suggested a dock in Mahogany Harbour. I immediately sent a letter to the editor of the local paper describing our experiences cruising through the eastern USA, where local town welcomed visiting boats with free food and beer (really!), free cars to shop, free docks and tourist information. In one town we even got a free tour by a retired guy hired by the town to greet visiting boats!  These communities really wanted tourist business. Far cry from the Rideau (a World Heritage Site) where towns don't really care if visitors need food, beer, hardware, drugs, doctors or vets.

I received no response, so I encouraged boaters to anchor in Mahogany Harbour in my "Boating in Canada" page about the Rideau Canal - with instructions to dinghy ashore to buy supplies at the Mews of Manotick. I really should have asked boaters to mention they were on a boat. Maybe it would have sunk in by now.

Manotick is the only community between Merrickville and Ottawa with stores near the waterway - all those boats I see passing by all summer don't shop here. It's Manotick's loss.

April 12, 2014

Rideau River record flood 2014

April 10: The Rideau River where we live near Manotick is almost covered in ice - very late for this time of year. Normally the river melts in late March and peak water levels arrive around April 7. The Rideau Waterway (Rideau Canal) is a  World Heritage Site and water level is controlled by Parks Canada -- and hopefully some experienced guy who knows the "art". Huge square timbers at the dams are raised and lowed manually using forged iron gears and chains. [Pat's Boating in Canada: Rideau Waterway]

April 11: The ice on the Rideau that covered most of the river is now almost all gone downstream - along with a couple of very nice docks. A neighbour saw the first one go by at 7:30 but I only saw the second around 9 am. It was embedded in a large ice sheet and heading for our aluminum dock on its "ice-proof" rig pushed up at a crazy angle by the ice. When it hit our dinghy ramp made of crappy old wood, the whole ice sheet stopped! I started to breathe again. When the ice started moving away our dock frame which has been pushed up 2' suddenly dropped straight down - just as it's supposed to. See the video. Even the dinghy ramp survived the bashing, held by a 50 cent fitting fastened to a steel angle iron. 

As soon as the ice left, the mergansers (common, hooded) and ducks arrived - both sexes - to feed and flirt. I saw them going downstream at a terrific speed. They must enjoy the thrill as much as we do. Even the trees had new birds - starlings, juncos, robins.

Water levels in the Rideau River upsteam at Becketts Landing are 86.7 metres which matches the high of 2008. Highest water on this section of the Rideau Canal in 40 yrs and forecast is heavy rain for Sunday/Monday! Now I'm worried.  (Water level stats [PDF])

Manotick Dam
Watson's Mill -- Manotick Dam (open)
April 12: We were in Manotick village today and I took pictures of the dam at Watson's Mill. You only see it completely open in spring floods. All the logs in the dam were out except one at the east end, probably to protect erosion on that shore. Such a powerful current surging past.  Youtube video: Rideau River at Manotick Dam

Today's news from Rideau Valley Conservation Authority is scary (they even named where I live in their list of flood-prone areas). Unfortunately, Parks Canada is sending us another "surge" of water from the Rideau Lakes. Surviving spring breakup combined with the first water "surge" was only the first hurdle. Many have already lost their docks and have flooded basements.  We are somewhat lucky to have installed an expensive sump pump system with a backup pump and a 12-volt pump. With everything backed up now by an 11-kW natural gas generator. (And yes the power went out yesterday. My heart still skips a beat when that happens just from habit.)

Normally I would be happy with 25°C forecasts in April but it comes with 3 days of rain. The forecast looks like 20mm of rain tonight and tomorrow but could be double that if we get thunderstorms.

Time to find the oars -- or at least tie down the kayak on a sling under the canoe. The water has almost reached it. The globe cedars by the shore are half submerged and look like furry globes when they reflect in the water. The gulls seem happy to lunch on the tiny fish in the warm water in the middle of our back yard.

A neighbour said he talked to a guy out riding his bike who had a flooded basement. Therapy I guess. The neighbour himself had one of his sump pumps quit (he has a TripleSafe system) -- the repair guy can come Tuesday. Reminds me of a boating cartoon (Hagar #3) about sinking boats.

I'm posting this as the water is still rising and the rain arrives. (jadd photos later) Now we await the rain gods and their disciples the weather forecasters. The front yard has bulbs coming up - much more cheerful.

April 13:  It only rained 5mm last night according to my hi-tech tin can. The Weather Network now says 36-Hour Precipitation Outlook From 4:00pm Sun to 3:00am Tue Rain: 10-15 mm.
Quite a change. I spent an hour using the carpet cleaning machine to suck up a few gallons of water from the laundry room. (I know, who on earth has carpet in a laundry room!) The skipper used the shop vac on the water coming in the edge of the concrete floor. We have leaks this year we've never seen before.  The joys of living by a river are only felt in the other three seasons.

April 14: This morning my hi-tech rain gage says 30mm last night. It doesn't register the thunder and lightening that scared the cat. River is rising again. Today was odd with really hot, humid weather with showers - I got caught in 2 of them out shopping. Left the raincoat in the car like an idiot.

Forecast rain, ice pellets, windy and 1-3cm SNOW with -9 overnight. What?! Surely there's a tornado they forgot about.

March 01, 2014

Web Developers adapting to Tablets

There are increasing numbers of people using touch devices like tablets and phones. Recently I've run into a surprising number of problems using a tablet to access websites of large businesses - you'd assume they could afford qualified web developers.  Websites can be programmed to detect if you are using a desktop or mobile device and also different operating systems.  But you also have to design a website for accessability controls used by people with disabilities,  And also the use of "touch" devices instead of a mouse or keyboard.

On a touch device, you cannot use the mouse "hover" function to display text, change an image, or gather data.  Information you might want to display by hovering cannot be seen on a touch device. If the information is important, the web designer needs to find a duplicate or even a different method. Or just forget you ever heard of "hover".

Mobile v.s. Desktop
My tablets has a 10" screen that can display a desktop formatted screen, yet it is identified as a "mobile" device. The desktop version of the page is usually far superiour - mobile pages often leave out a lot of the information you get on a desktop page, making it an annoying touch-touch-touch navigation to get to what you want. (Similar to that annoying click-click-click.)  I'm lucky to use Firefox Beta that has an addon to force "desktop" pages to be shown (you can uncheck it in the menu).

Drop-down Menus
There are problems using a drop-down menu on a touch device. These menus are used by many large online sellers as  as home-brew sites. The problem of trying to use these by touch is often made more difficult if a small font size is used.  My rather small fingers often select the wrong item from these lists.  I've started using a touch-pen (smudge-control) which helps choose the right item, but I really shouldn't have to.  On a phone it's much worse of course, but then the website might send me a "mobile" page which works on small screens.

My favorite weather site started using "sliders" to control the sequential radar maps - speed, transparency, etc. - which are impossible to "slide" by touch.  All I can do is tap an empty part of the slider bar (and sometimes there's not enough space to do that). Basically I have no fine control at all, so I end up stepping the maps manually.  (They also continue into "future" maps with no way to turn that off, which is another usability problem altogether.)

Special Mobile Features
Many touch devices can detect a "hand wave" close to the device which can be used as an input to the operating system. Yet few apps for mobile devices make use of this unique feature. Web browsers on tablets should allow me to at least "swipe" to navigate to a previous or next page, since they seem to move up and down as you might expect.  Ebook readers have the swipe navigation figured out. Luckily, I found a Firefox for Android addon that adds this functionality, but basic touch navigation should be built-in to mobile browsers from the start.

February 22, 2014

Top Ten Reasons Why I Live in Rural Ottawa

10.  If you go for a walk, you don't get run over by in-line skaters.

 9.  The local coffee shop actually sells black coffee.

 8.  There are no cell-phone chatters on the street.

 7.  Pedestrians and baby strollers can walk safely on streets.

 6.  You know the guy in the hardware store by name.

 5.  There are very few traffic jams.

 4.  You rarely hear a police or fire siren.

 3.  People in the grocery store don't look startled if you talk to them.

 2.  You always meet people you know at a community event.

      ...and finally the top reason I live in rural Ottawa...

 1.  On a hot summer day, the air still smells clean.

January 24, 2014

Generac 8kW Generator is Junk

The Generac 8kW generator was supposed to provide backup power for our rural home during a power outage - automatically. Or maybe not if you live in Ontario, Canada.

After the Ice Storm of 1998, we were without power for 9 days, and also without heat and well water. A powerless sump pump also meant the danger of our basement flooding. We were lucky to have a 12-volt pump, then borrowed a small generator, kerosene heaters, and a load of wood for the fireplace. But keeping the gennie running and playing "musical extension cords" was exhausting - and cold. For a while, we had a portable generator, but found it too heavy.

After a few more power outages, we decided to get a generator that would work even if we weren't home. After installing and wiring an automatic Generac generator into our house electric panel, we thought we had power outages solved. Boy were we wrong. Our weekly "test" time was chosen so I'd be home to hear it. The starter burned out the first time temperatures dropped to -20C -- in fact, the generator would not start any time it got cold!

So, basically, in a Canadian winter when you really need a backup power system, the Generac Guardian 8 kW generator doesn't work. So we are going to bite the bullet and replace it with a 10 kW generator. Apparently they start in the cold weather (-20C). You can solve most any problem if you just throw money at it. Stay tuned, because if the new one doesn't work, I will post, tweet and facebook about it.