Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dear Aunt Rose -- Talking About the Weather

How To Write a Personal Letter -- When You Really Don't Know What to Write About

There will probably be many times when you are faced with a blank piece of stationary not having a clue what to write when you want to write a personal letter to someone. It might be an obligatory note to a distant relative, or even a heartfelt letter to someone dear that you just haven't been in touch with for quite a while.

I don't have an Aunt Rose that I am aware of. If I do it would be a Great Aunt or further removed from me. However if she were a dear Great Aunt of mine who I hadn't seen for a long time and had little in common with, but wanted to write to -- if only because I knew she might appreciate a letter, or email -- I have a method which I have come up with for doing so.

It might sound cliché, but I start by talking about the weather. There is a reason why we joke about "talking about the weather". It is because it is a very basic thing that virtually all of us have in common in some way or another even living in different parts of the world and even the housebound will remember it. The point about talking about the weather is not that everyone is enraptured by the discussion, but rather it is a comfortable springboard for our imaginations to use to spring to other topics in a natural way without our having to work so much at it.

Dear Auntie Rose,

We have had some very nice Summer weather here on the coast the past few weeks. We haven't had any rain and it has not been extremely hot. It has just been pleasantly hot. They are a little concerned about the lack of water in the forests and interior though. We are expecting some rain tomorrow which will be greatly appreciated by the gardens and forest fighters -- probably not by the sunbathers and campers though.

I heard that you had some bad thunderstorms out your way last weekend. How are the gardens and flowers fairing? I remember the great gardens you used to have at the home in Duchess. The rhubarb pies were only matched in flavour by the maple pies you were famous for. Do you still find time to bake or has your daughter taken over the apron strings for the family?

How is your niece and her family doing -- for that matter how have you been keeping? It has been far too long since we took regular Summer camping trips together with your family and my Grandparents and our family. I do miss those family camping trips since Grandma and Grandpa have left us.

My Aunts and Uncles seem to be doing well. I would like to see them more often, but as families grow and my cousins have their own children, visits do grow farther apart...

You see how the conversation can flow from talking about the weather? You needn't talk about gardens or baking, or anything specific from this example. The thing is that by starting to talk about the weather your mind begins to remember your Aunt and come up with things to talk about. If you are still a bit "dry" on things to talk about go on to talk about what you see out the window as you write... The weather is just a first thing really. I am lucky, I have mountains, forest, ocean inlet, and even occasional bald eagles soaring overhead in addition to the active shopping centre across the lane.

I moved on to activities I remembered about my aunt and they were inspired in part by chatting about the weather and they in turn inspired other turns of the conversation. Remember a letter such as this can be an organic thing that grows from root to trunk to branch to stem. If you have no purpose it matters not what direction it takes. You might want to avoid some topics... politics always seems to be healthy to avoid and in some families religion is another. You might want to avoid mentioning health and medicine in some instances or be inundated with a listing of every ache pain and cure that your correspondent has had.

If you do have some things you want to write about, perhaps you might want to jot them down in advance to make sure you get to them... but then you already have some direction for that blank piece of paper.

Sometimes I start with what I see out the window or in my room, or what I did that morning or afternoon. Sometimes I even will start by describing an interesting meal I just made... but the weather is always a good starter.

~ Darrell


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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Highest Form of Flattery It Is Not

Imitation -- Not Copying -- Is The Highest Form of Flattery!

While I do not care for people infringing on people's copyright by using their images, text or other material without permission -- doing so without crediting the artist is worse. Copying the work and then claiming it as your own work is an even greater crime and truly theft!

Copying an image and not attributing it to the artist of the work in a sense might be -- by omission -- implying perhaps that you have rights to it or that you are the creator -- depending on how known the artist is. By not connecting the work to the creator whether artist or author, you also are stripping away the identity of that artist and making it nearly impossible for anyone to find other work by that artist.

In the past I have discovered some of my writing and artwork where someone has claimed it as their own. While it is flattering, it also gives me a bit of a creepy feeling.

Imitation might be the highest form of flattery, but imitation implies that someone has done some work. It is doing something in your style or in the manner that you are doing it -- not taking your work as their own.

With some forms of work the dividing line between style and complete content might not be so concrete as in others, but I think most can tell if they look at the work behind the original.

I am lucky that I am a bit of a detective. I can search out an artist who created an image I found on the Internet where no direct indication of their identity has been left with the image. Perhaps I am just a bit compulsive in my searching and willing to spend some time searching through a few hundred images. I am also a bit skilled in finding the proper keywords for a search to find what I am looking for. Sometimes I will search for things associated with my target to find better keywords and clues. Perhaps I am a bit obsessive with that too.

I can often succeed in my searches and make my findings known where possible to undo some of that damage if I can.

So if for some reason you are creating a collection of images or "whatever" remember to also record who created the item and where you found it... when is sometimes important too. Perhaps my hanging around Museum and Archaeology types is showing?

~ Darrell


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Blended Realms -- Not Just Pictures

Realms of the Imagination From Across the World Wide Web

You might think I have enough to chew on with this column and my other writing, but I have undertaken to collaborate on another web column. This one is "Blended Realms" which I suggested to my friend Mags Alden because she is constantly finding interesting art and artists on the Internet and wanting to share them. She also has an interest in writing and I have found has a pretty good eye for interesting artwork. Much tends to be Fantasy, Science Fiction, Space Art, or Surreal Artwork so after talking about it she came up with the title "Blended Realms".

We plan on regularly taking an image we find on the Internet and writing a short review of it and giving a bit of information on where you can find it and other work by that author. We might expand into biographical pieces as well, but for now we will just showcase individual pieces and say a little bit about them leaving you to follow the link to the site hosting the artist's works.

Mags and I noted that very often we have found that people on StumbleUpon will review a picture and it is only the picture. They will say "What a cool and beautiful picture!" -- but stripped of any identifying marks as to where it might have originated before it got into the collection it was found in or who the artist is -- it is impossible to find other examples of that artists works. We intend to make sure that we are including links to collections of an artists works and if we find a great piece without any indication I'll try to hunt down the artist. I have succeeded more than on a few occasions at that.

The Image to the right is the first one reviewed: Elements IV by Frank Melech, hosted on fotocommunity.

We will not be posting any images stripped of identity... except maybe if we get a large enough audience as a wanted poster in case others might be able to identify the artist for us.

I hope that if you have an interest in this sort of art -- or perhaps are curious -- that you will stop by Blended Realms.

~ Darrell


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Saturday, July 26, 2008

People for the Protection of Fig Trees (PPFT)

Did You Know There Was Nudity In Art?

Back in August 2001 I started a group on YAHOO! Groups called "Photos for Figure Drawing"*. The first message entered was:

Welcome to the Yahoo! Message Board for Photos for Figure Drawing.

Aug 23, 2001
2:31 am

I had been setting things up and pondering things like the name for quite a while and I am a bit of a night owl (insomniac) at heart anyway.

The whole point of the group was to put together an album of pictures that artists could use to draw or paint from. While it is very easy to find erotica and pornographic images on the Internet -- in fact you have to put up filters to avoid it -- finding decent images to draw an paint from might be a challenge if you really don't want to look at inappropriate content.

I had in art classes more than one time heard drawing instructors say that it was easy to find images of naked women in reclining and passive postures in magazines to use to draw from, but very difficult to find active useful poses that artists could use. I wanted to do more than just have pictures of naked women.

I guess this came up because I was wanting to draw pictures with men and women in them and I really had little experience drawing men. Looking for pictures of men kept flinging me to Gay sites with things I really did not want to see. I could only imagine that others felt that way even about seeking out images of women. So I worked putting together my own personal image collection to work from. I realized that putting together a group might be useful to others. I also might not have to do all the work and we might even get some models to actually pose for the images on a voluntary basis.

Now of course I often also looked for just the right clothed pose to work from too so it would not simply be a nude image gallery. In fact an image of someone in a swimsuit or leotard often would work just as good depending on the effect. Actually for many final products you really want someone posing in the appropriate supporting undergarment even if you are creating and drawing in the costume.

Probably nothing will beat having an actual model to pose for you and a large wardrobe to use as well complete with props and adjustable lighting. I think that many amateur artists -- espeically shy ones -- working from home quietly will never have that option.

So I created my group.

I placed the group in an appropriate location in "Drawing and Sketching Groups":

Top > Entertainment & Arts > Fine Arts > Visual Arts > Drawing and Sketching

Then I started adding what images I could trying to stick to images that were fairly available online and useful. I broke them down into categories so that someone could find an album with men-standing-clothed and go through those images when that was what they were looking for.

Then I worried about getting members, because without members the group was pointless. I went to a few other art groups and asked permission to advertise my group and included it on my signature and slowly I gained a membership. Eventually after a point the membership became large enough that it attracted its own members -- when you go looking in the categories the groups with the most members are listed first.

Eventually we had over 2000 members before I started weeding out some of the "dead" accounts. Those were accounts where the messages going to their emails were coming back with messages saying those accounts no longer existed. Those are "hard bouncing" accounts. There is also a category for messages that bounce back with a message like the mailbox is full or temporarily unavailable and that is considered "soft bouncing". I thought it was pretty cool that we had over 1000 members... It did take a number of years though, perhaps 3 as I think it was in April of 2005 that we got a disastrous notice for our group and its growth.

We had been in the top one or two groups in the area we were in for a fair while and all of a sudden we were no longer in "Drawing and Sketching Groups"! We had been moved to:

Top > Romance & Relationships > Adult

That is the area for sub groups such as Crossdressing, Electro Stimulation, Porn Stars, and other such groups... The reason? "Nudity".

Although we had been online in YAHOO! Groups from August 2001 until April 2005 without any issues -- with photos in the albums including nudity -- we were bounced. Perhaps that might not be too bad except now nobody could find us unless they already knew where we were. That was because we were no longer listed in the Drawing and Sketching area where someone looking for such resources might look. Even if they were to do a search for us we did not show up, or very rarely, and I find other groups that have been around a year or two about figure drawing and drawing the nude.

I had always been diligent to remove any photos that might be offensive. I used a fairly broad brush. I considered what nudes I might even have found in my High School library. There were nude pictures there in the form of National Geographic and Photography magazines as well as in books on photography and art. I took into account the sorts of poses that might be in those publications. Granted I was educated in Canada and not the USA and I have come to learn we are much more liberal when it comes to nudity -- conversely we don't care for quite so much violence. (as in censoring movies for prime-time TV) However! I also listened to any private or public complaint and erred on the side of caution. If one person spoke up as being uncomfortable, it probably meant that there were many who did not speak up and I balanced that with the value of the image. Normally the value was not so great.

There were occasions where a person joined and complained about there being any nudity at all -- especially male nudity or frontal female nudity between navel and knee. I did have to draw the line there and would inform the person that there were many warnings that there was nudity in the albums and files. I also mentioned the guidelines being those of National Geographic and Photography Magazines available in public High School I attended in Canada and that her complaint was noted. I also mentioned that the over 1000 other members in the group were not complaining.

However since then the group has really slowed down. There has been very slow growth with little in the manner of posting of message or image. At one time we had models posting modest collections of images of themselves and we had biweekly projects where a pose was chosen and people encouraged to interpret it.

The title graphic for the group is shown here (image to the left -- image from Photos for Figure Drawing*) although I faded it to near non-existence because. Google -- and hence Blogger -- has a policy against nudity. I figure the female torso qualifies. If you wish to see the picture you'll have to go to Photos for Figure Drawing*. Even though it is artwork I have a feeling that Google, like YAHOO! would shoot first and ask questions later not realizing that these were paintings and sketches and the project of an art studio essentially. This montage was the result of one of the drawing projects where we took a pose and members interpreted it. There is even one painting by yours truly.

Currently I am wanting to resurrect the group with it's over 1600 members. Even if only 100 are still active it would be worthwhile. My plan is to open a new group just as a gateway to lead to the actual group. It will be in the Drawing and Sketching area and will be only for minimal discussion or posting of images. Nothing with any nudity of course.

Perhaps I am odd, but I do not see anything wrong in there being art groups with some nudity. Even if they were moved behind an adult screen on YAHOO! Groups that would be okay, but they shouldn't be lumped with the erotica, porn, and alternate lifestyles. I can see there being limits here on Blogger too, but there has been nudity in artwork that has been acceptable in many museums so I figure the smaller than postage stamp sized images on the graphic are okay? Or should I put fig leaves on the paintings and sketches too?

~ Darrell


* ---> Warning <---, the links to Photos for Figure Drawing will take you to an "Adult" area of YAHOO! Groups. The Group itself has pictures with nudity in it and there are pictures with the naughty bits showing, but there are no graphic depictions of sex or violence in the group's site. The link "should" take you first to YAHOO!'s warning page in any case telling you that you are going to an adult area of YAHOO! Groups and confirming you wish to go there. I am not sure of the age confirmation they are using at the moment. At one point you needed to have a profile posted with them that included your age and that included a statement that it was your age. The link to Photos for Figure Drawing.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Boys are from Earth, Girls are from Earth

Girls Can Do Math Just As Well As Boys

As a adult it always seemed strange to me when I heard that girls fell behind boys in school when it came to math and science. When I was in school I always thought of girls as the better students. I know there were always guys who did well, and when I was in Computer Club -- at a time before there were programming or computer courses in secondary schools -- there were only one or two girls in it for the dozen or so members we had. But the lab assistants seemed to be at least as many girls as boys and I recall perhaps more.

The girls always seemed the more studious and diligent with their schoolwork. Perhaps though I am remembering the earlier grades to grade 9? Perhaps at the time the girls tended to behave more politely and the teachers thought better of them as many of the boys were rough and tumble? I am not sure but I got that impression of girls being more scholastic than boys so it came as a surprise to me that they were falling behind in the maths and sciences -- especially calculus and physics -- in high school.

Now it seems that girls have caught up to boys in the standardized tests for Math*. They are discovering that there are fewer differences between how boy's brains and girl's brains are wired. The working theory has been that boys were expected to be going into occupations that would require the maths and physics and so took more of those courses so that when it came time for the standardized exams, they did better. The girls did not have the practise and so could not preform as well on those tests of academic ability.

There still are differences, but they are becoming smaller and smaller to the point of not being statistically relevant. More important though is the difference in performance between children in richer and poorer communities. Children in underprivileged settings are falling behind in their education.

I think that can be said regardless of race, creed, or background.

~ Darrell


* "Girls close math gap" Tom Spears -- Canwest News Sevice July 24, 2008, Ottawa Citizen.

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OGOPOGO on the Prowl

BC's Lake Monster, Ogopogo Spotted Again

There have been a number of sightings of Lake Okanagan's resident lake monster since April. A Kelowna Resident, Robyn Holman spotted a wave July 20th in the waters of the lake from Highway 97 near the town of Peachland. She managed to take a picture but is still waiting for the picture to be developed.

There have been 5 known sightings of the animal. It is a serpent which swims with humps and is supposed to be green with a large head. The First Nations people call it the "N'ha-a-itk" and the first recorded sighting by westerners is 1872.

"I don't think a year goes by where there isn't at least one or two sightings," Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd said. "It's something our community embraces as being something kind of unique and mysterious about our area and I think that's always fun."*

What is this critter that people have been spotting in the lake? -- besides a tourist draw to the area much as Nessie is to the Loch Ness area. (image to left -- image from Ogopogo Monster) The image is the 1968 picture taken by Art Folden and located on the Ogopogo Monster** site. (You'll want to go to their photo page!) The lake is deep and long and subject probably to similar sorts of wind and waves ad Loch Ness. Lake Okanagan is a lot more land locked than Loch Ness however. When they did an in depth search with radar and sophisticated video surveillance they came up with sonar phototgraphs of something swimming that was over 15 feet long. I remember the news with video coverage of "something" that they say was over 12 feet long which they said was "just a beaver"...

I figured a 12 foot long beaver would be considered something noteworthy! It made me wonder what the chances were that Ogopogo might actually be some sort of River Otter that was perhaps 12-15 foot or longer? Or perhaps some relative of the beaver. I recall from paleontology texts and books that there were giant beaver and otter 10,000 years ago at a time when men were first in North America. I don't know -- looking at the photos by Ken Chaplin from 1989 (image to left and image to right -- image from Ogopogo Monster) -- to me it looks like it could be a large river otter swimming and raising its tail straight up with its nose in the air?

What if it were over 15 feet long? What would you think if you saw something like this at night? Perhaps its fur might look greenish or even scaly when it is out of the water? What might one be capable of eating if it weren't eating fish?

I sometimes think people get a bit of tunnel vision. When people want to see certain things they can become blind to others. If Ogopogo were not some sort of serpent or pleisiosaur and instead were some giant otter or beaver; giant landlocked seal, walrus, or sea lion; or carnivorous nearly completely aquatic moose, they would not accept it and keep looking for the serpent. I do not think they'd accept a Sasquatch that turned out not to be an ape either.

~ Darrell


* "B.C. lake monster spotted five times this year" Maria Cootauco -- Canwest News Service July 24, 2008 (Vancouver Province) --

** "Ogopogo Monster, Canada's Famous Lake Monster" -- Ogopogo Monster


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ferret Better or Worst

Service and Assist Animals on Transit

To Assist or Not to Assist, That is the Question.

Gyno lost his transit pass last April for reasons that still haven't been made clear. Gyno (pronounced Gino - "JEE-no") is Frances Woodard's albino ferret. I nearly said "pet ferret" but Gyno (image to right being held by Ms Woodard -- image from Ottawa Citizen) is a working ferret that Ms Woodard uses to give her freedom of movement.

Gyno's duties are not those of a Guide Dog that most are probably familiar with or even another service animal such as might be seen leading a person in a wheel chair by helping to pull it or by opening doors for someone physically disabled. Gyno is the sort of assist animal whose work is a bit more invisible like a number of disabilities and handicaps also tend to be.

Here is a list* of the many types of service animals:

  • Guide dogs (or dog guides) for persons who have visual impairments.
  • Service animals (e.g., dogs, cats, monkeys, pigs) for persons who have physical disabilities.
  • Hearing and signal animals (e.g., dogs and cats) for persons who are deaf or have hearing impairments.
  • Seizure-response/alert animals (e.g., dogs, cats, birds) that alert individuals with seizure disorders to oncoming seizures and/or help the individual during and following the seizure.
  • Emotional support animals (e.g., dogs and cats) that provide assistance for persons with severe emotional impairments or mental disabilities.

Dogs are by far the most common type of service animal. However, cats, pot bellied pigs, monkeys, and birds also are trained as service animals. Some dogs also are cross-trained to provide a combination of assistance, such as guiding a visually impaired person while pulling his or her wheelchair.

Granted that list is from the US, but it is a functional one rather than a legal one and so I think it is useful here. The ferret fits into the "Emotional support animals" category in that it provides emotional support to Ms Woodard when she is out of the comfort zone of her home. Having the ferret to focus on allows her to cope with the panic attacks of anxiety she would suffer. Petting and stroking it calms her down. The ferret is kept in a harness intended for the purpose and intended to be escape proof for a ferret and the ferret is to be kept in its carrying bag at all times while on the bus.

Ms Woodard went and got the proper pass to allow her to take the ferret on public transit last fall as a working animal. She has a note from her psychiatrist stating that "an assistance animal, specifically a ferret should accompany her at all times when she is in public, especially on transportation."** Ms Woodard also "had Gyno assessed by an animal-behaviour consultant in May and has a letter from that says Gyno is well-behaved and could not possibly escape from the harness he's put in when he's on the bus."**

The reason given for having given the pass was that it was at the discretion of the issuing officer based on her assessing on what was done in other jurisdictions across Canada while the reason given for taking it away states that what was done in other jurisdictions does not apply in Ottawa and that having the animal on public transit could pose a danger to passengers and driver for the reason of precautions that Ms Woodard had accepted as provision for her being able to use transit. IE if the driver or any passengers were allergic she would get off and wait for the next bus or train; the ferret would have to remain on the special harness for the whole journey and would have to remain in its special carrying bag.***.

Now considering that in other jurisdictions of cities the size of Ottawa and larger which allow animals -- and not even service or assist animals but simply pets -- on public transit as long as they are in appropriate cage or kennel that can sit on the patron's lap or at their feet -- without worry or concern for their drivers, why should this be such a problem in Ottawa?

This is from Vancouver's Translink's FAQ page on Using the System and whether you can bring an pet on public transit:****

Q Can I bring my pet on transit?

A Yes, in most cases. Pets including dogs, cats, rabbits and small fur-bearing or feathered pets are allowed, as long as they are in small hand-held cages. The container must fit on your lap or at your feet. We suggest off-peak times are best for travelling with your pet. The bus operator, at his or her discretion, may not permit your pet on board if there is a concern for the safety or comfort of your fellow passengers.

I wonder how much of the taking away of the pass has to do with a statement by the president of the union that represents the bus drivers, André Cornellier who said he doesn't think ferrets should count as service animals?

"Seeing-eye dogs and hearing-impaired dogs are recognized under the law, but I don't think a ferret is considered under the human-rights code," he said.

Personally I do not think that the driver's union should be steering this decision much but I suspect there is some weight behind that statement.

I also wonder if there is any connection to another article I read from Ottawa Sun News Columnist, Susan Sherring, "Pet issue dogs public transit" July 22, 2008? "There is a movement to allow dogs, cats, and other small animals on public transit."*****

The plan has the support of Mayor Larry O'Brien and is being put forward by the local chapter of the Responsible Dog Owners of Canada. The point they make is that if guide dogs are allowed on public transit, he can't see any reason "...that domestic pets should not be allowed on public transit under the right conditions"*****

I suspect that the bus drivers' union is not happy with other domestic animals being allowed on the buses in addition to the allowed guide dogs and this is being connected with assistance animals of sorts other than the traditional guide dog for the blind being allowed on the buses.

Of course that is being quite cynical about things. There are legitimate concerns about people with allergies and dangers to toddlers sticking fingers too close to snapping dogs or ferrets. There are moves being made to ban strong perfumes and colognes from public transit too for there are passengers and drivers with sensitivities to them... but wait... these are things to allow people with hidden disabilities -- allergies and asthma -- to ride public transit safely. Perfume and cologne are not aides to disabled people. Assist and service animals should have higher priority. There are times when someone with an assist animal might be asked to take the next bus perhaps due to driver allergy just as when the spaces reserved for movement aides are all in use.

In the U.S. you are not required to have certificate of training and in fact people can not ask you to produce it before providing service to you if you have an assist animal just as they can not ask you for paperwork proving whether you are disabled or not. That is regardless of whether or not the State has certification programs. Now we do have different laws, but there are reasons behind the American ones*. They do make some sense. There is reason to have certification for some sorts of service and assist animals, but others do not need the same sort of training. Some like the ferret in question mostly just need to be of good nature and in good harness. Their job isn't to look out for stray cars or missing stairways -- their job is just to help assure the bearer that all is all right. I hate to think what the stress of all this is doing to Ms Woodard.

~ Darrell


*"Assisting Passengers" RITA U.S. Department of Transportation | Research and Innovative Technology Administration -- National Transportation Library

**"Ottawa transit refuses to reinstate pet ferret's bus pass" Laura Drake -- Ottawa Citizen, July 23, 2008

"Ferret barred from Ottawa buses; disabled owner files complaint" CBC News, July 23, 2008.

***Link to a PDF file of the Letter from OC Transpo to Frances Woodard on May 6, 2008 on the site.

****"Can I bring my pet on transit?" Using The System, Frequently Asked Questions -- TransLink - South Coast British Coliumbia Transit Authority

*****"Pet issue dogs public transit" Susan Sherring, News Columnists -- Ottawa Sun, July 22, 2008

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Piracy on the BC Seas!

Fair Ferry Fares or UnFair?

Fuel prices are increasing all over and the West Coast of BC is not immune. Those large car ferries which carry people, cars, trucks and freight back and forth between the mainland and Vancouver Island -- as well as the smaller islands and isolated island communities on the coast -- use a great deal of fuel doing so.

With the increasing fuel costs there have been constant annual fare increases and fuel tariffs added to the price of the ticket to use the services of BC Ferries, the Crown Corporation which runs this largest of ferry services in BC. There have been smaller private services which have started, but none have been able to find the recipe to make it work so far.

In the mean-time the prices just keep going up and the people who live in these remote communities and these islands in the passages off the British Columbian Mainland are starting to complain about the high costs involved not only for travel too and from their communities, but also of the goods which have to be ferried to their communities.

The Provincial Government does have some obligation to provide the ferry service to these islands here in BC where it seems to me the Federal Government does on the East Coast... I think that might have to do with the fact that the ferries on the East Coast tend to connect one province with another. Why it is one way here and another way there really is not the main theme of this article though.

What I sometimes wonder -- inspired by some of what my Father has argued at the dinner table -- is why the folk who live in isolated places should be subsidized for their transportation by the rest?

Yes, I have put forward arguments to do with the public transit system and why people in the remote areas should not pay higher amounts for poorer service in past articles. Perhaps those arguments come into play here as well, though there are some differences. People who are living on many of the islands and remote communities are often doing it for the very remoteness and benefits of that isolation from the rest of the world. There are many who might want to live that far off the beaten track if they could afford to either because of travel difficulty or because they simply would not be able to find work or afford a nice place out there. In the suburban areas of the metropolitan area, the people are still choosing to live within the city so-to-speak but are having to live a bit out from the core for economical and other reasons.

That really pulls in my Dad's argument. Most of the people with property on the islands -- other than those who are working in industries based on those islands and remote places like in the forestry, fishery, and timber industries -- are their for the advantages of being away from things. They are reaping the benefit of living on an island in a small community where they can practise whatever they do. Many are artists and craftspeople and some do crafts that might be awkward in a city in any case. -- raising sheep to harvest the wool so that you can create woollen work from scratch in a natural way is not easy to do in the city. It might be easier to fire raku pottery in a rural setting as well, or tanning your own leather, or welding metal sculptures or finding the peace for painting away from the hubbub of the city. Perhaps added cost to travel too and from where you live might be the price of that peace and solitude?

It is just as a person who might want to live in a house rather than a condo apartment or townhouse pays more for that slightly greater peace and solitude not only with higher initial price but higher upkeep and taxes -- forgetting those paying a premium to be in the downtown core in a condo apartment in a luxury high rise... who are also paying more for those benefits.

Granted, perhaps there should be some moderation in the transportation costs, especially when it comes to shipping of the necessities like groceries and so-forth. I am no expert on budgets or balances.

I do know there are folk like my Dad who have always wanted to live in a cabin on an island, but just were put off by the costs involved while they were working and some of the dangers of the isolation after retiring.

They are looking at linking a number of the islands with a chain of bridges and highways and in the end very much reducing costs of transportation. The plans even talk about a link between the mainland and Vancouver Island... makes me wonder... if those plans become more than dreams and become concrete plans which budgets start being put together for... how many folk in these places will cry "foul" because their isolation might be disrupted?

~ Darrell


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Monday, July 21, 2008

All day I face the barren waste without the taste of water*

Cool Water -- What if Water Drives City Growth?

I used to live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and our drinking water came from the Glenmore Reservoir which was fed by the glacier fed Elbow River. I used to figure the water supply pretty secure as the glaciers had been their for tens of thousands of years as opposed to aquifer supplied ground water in areas where the water tables seemed to be dropping regularly as consumption exceeded local rainfall or areas where river fed systems were reliant on winter snowfall and rainfall in watersheds.

But now with glaciers shrinking at what I am led to believe are alarming rates it makes me wonder...

While it is true we might get desalination plants running economically and at scales where it is useful to supply cities with and conservation efforts would make huge differences -- perhaps many cities in some areas of the World might have populations slowly shrink while others would gain based on the availability of water?

Coastal cities may grow at much larger rates than projected and landlocked cities while not shrinking might stay at current sizes -- shrinking relatively speaking.

Of course in a sense over decades you might move a city's population, but what about food production? Perhaps the bread baskets of the world might simply shift north or south a number of degrees latitude which will make some farms boom while others bust, but it might be more drastic. I just watched a news piece on grape harvest in Spain having problems. You see they are at the southern-warmest-driest limits for wine grapes and with weather getting hotter and drier the varieties of grapes they have been growing traditionally have started producing less well. For instance there is increased activity of pests associated with the grape vines and the picking is happening days and weeks earlier in the season. Growers are starting to plant new vineyards higher up the slopes of the mountains than ever before because it is cooler up there. Northern producers of wine are having excellent crops though with the weather improving for them.

I am sure that some varieties of some foods might be a problem.

However how will this effect the cities of our World? In addition to populations perhaps moving to places where there is more water -- and perhaps that being where salt water might be desalinated -- those might also be the areas more prone to problems of storm surges and flooding with any rise in world sea levels?

It makes you think.

~ Darrell


*Lyrics to Cool Water -- Sons of the Pioneers is on

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Maybe Simpler Than It Looks

The Internet Might be Simpler Than it Looks

Okay, using the computer to write email might be simpler than you think. I am not just talking to teens and twenties, or adults or the middle aged. I mean for nearly anyone to be able to use a computer to do things like read and write email.

Granted some of this is just a wee bit dated since I don't have Windows Vista installed, but that should make things easier and not harder -- right Microsoft?

There actually is a point to that game "Solitaire" that all computers since the ones running Windows first came out have had installed on them. Sure that simple card game can be addictive to some and a time waster -- but if you can turn the computer on, turn on that game and play it, then turn the game off and turn the computer off -- you already know how to do most of the stuff you need to in order to do most anything on the Internet!

Nearly everything else you "need" can be known if you also know how to start up that utility called "Notepad" and write a note and save it so that you can later retrieve it.

I'm not really going to teach you all that here, but just a few things...

First you learn how to turn the thing on. There'll be a way that you are supposed to do it -- normally a button on the case-computer box if it is a desktop, but you can ask about it. (notebook-laptop computers have switches and buttons somewhere too) You might have to turn on the power bar-extension cord first and you might have to turn on the monitor-tv screen. Why not call it the computer's "tv screen"? I mean we know it isn't the TV, but that is what it looks like, right? Anyway you might have to use that mouse to choose your user name on the screen when it asks for it and then enter in a code. Probably it will be something easy for you to type but hard for someone to guess. (not your spouse's name or your name or birthday -- especially not your spouse's birthday!) It should be easy to type because the computer will not print the letters or numbers on the screen and you will be typing a bit blind. Then you sit back and let the computer turn itself on!

I think you can figure out when it has finished with that. The mouse pointer will look like a ponter rather than a rotating hour glass or whatever it looks like when the computer is busy thinking.

Now the hard part... finding out where they hid stuff. For now we look for Solitaire... This will be easier if you have someone who can point the way. Remember it is sort of like a maze on paper. Each time you click or double click on something you go to another page. When you get to solitaire have someone show you how to play. Have someone show you how to get there a couple times. Show them that you can do it too so that you might show someone else in future.

Everything you do in solitaire is something you do on the computer on the Internet.

  • You click on things
  • You double click on things
  • You open menus and click on items
  • You drag things and let go of them in the right place
  • You might even learn to right click on things
  • You learn about the menu bar and where the quit item is
  • You learn where the options are like how to change the card backs or style of game

If you can do these things you have learned much.

Next you learn how to go to NotePad and how to type in messages and save them....

Now my telling you how to do these things makes them sound very complicated. If I showed you how, you might be amazed how easy it is.

One thing you might be interested in knowing is that nearly regardless of what type or age of computer you are running on, it is the page you go to that determines how it works. So when I go to Gmail using my MacBook using my Firefox web browser program it works exactly the same as if I were to use my Windows XP desktop computer using Internet Explorer or if I used other browsers such as Safari or Opera. I actually use Firefox on both my Windows XP desktop computer and my MacBook so the experience is identical.

Then what you need to do is have someone create you an email account and get you the email addresses of those you want to write. It is only a few more bits and pieces to be shown in order to correspond with your loved ones and others. I have a few tricks on writing letters for later!

~ Darrell


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Hamster Ball to the Recue! - Virtusphere

Something New For Virtual Reality -- A People Ball!

Actually it looks pretty cool -- I mean I haven't seen it in person and haven't really even seen a video of it in action but the concept and stills I see give me a good idea of what it is about.

The user appears to be in a large sphere -- large enough that his shoulders or chest appear to be at the centre of the sphere as he stands in the middle. There are two versions on VIRTUSPHERE's web page, one sphere looks like it is made of a combination of slightly domed transparent plastic pentagons and hexagons, (image to right -- image from virtusphere) the other sphere appears to be made of a perforated metal mesh.(image to left -- image from virtusphere)

I might think the metal mesh one is intended for the military clients they are seeking -- that is backed by the filename, "VS_mil11-218x264.jpg". Actually it makes me think of my friends who play "Halo" -- not that they dress that way, just that I think that the pictures of the characters I think look a bit like that.

Watching the video of the Virtusphere in operation they look like they take a few moments to get used to. I remember trying to walk in that rotating cylinder in the "Funhouse" at the Calgary Stampede Fairground Midway and working to keep my footing and at that young age failing -- but it looks like it doesn't take very long at all. I only see one or two stumbles in the very beginning. Looking at the page with the videos and photos with the captions I take it that the transparent plastic sphere really is just for "show" and the metal sphere is the actual working model.

On their FAQ page I note in answer to the question -- "Q: Have you sold any?":

A: VirtuSphere has sold products and services to the Office of Naval Research, Intel Corporation, Moscow City Government’s Tourism Office, TatNeft Oil, Moscow 2012 Olympic Bid Committee and a number of other fine customers. VirtuSphere systems have been delivered to the Naval Research Lab/U.S. Marine Corp's VIRTE program, the Museum of Communications and University of Telecommunications, and the University of Washington, among others. 18 VirtuSphere systems have been built. We have received numerous RFPs and are working with interested parties in different parts of Europe, Asia, America, and the Middle East.

Now I don't see that too many gamers are going to jump and buy them for their game centres at home. Even if they had the room for an 8.5 - 10 foot sphere in their living room -- I think it is a bit bigger than the average pool table. (joking). I think it would be fun... they say they are the first step towards a "Star Trek Holodeck"... though I still remember my experiences with the Fun house tunnel...

~ Darrell


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Liar Liar Chips on Fire!

Frustrations in the 'Tronics Stores

Having a bit of knowledge and being a bit stubborn can be a real eye-opener sometimes. A good friend has related a few incidents he has had at a couple of major electronics chains -- well actually a major electronics chain and a major drug store chain that happens to play department store with an electronics department within itself.

He has gone in to purchase particular items that have been advertised online or in their flyers and has been frustrated by both sales people and managers alike. The frustration has not been so much on whether they had the item in question, but rather that they are lying.

Now granted my friend has some specific needs. he is running a now becoming vintage computer system -- Windows 98 -- and some current hardware simply won't work with it. There is hardware that does still work for it, but you have to do your research and know which brands and models work. Then there is further research to find which chains carry it and which specific stores have it in stock.

Herein lays the problem. You do the research, even to finding that the store in question has it in stock and you go in to the store and ask for the product and are told lies. Not always of course -- but too often. You might be told, "We have never had that product in stock, but you would be perfectly happy with this other one." where the other one will not work on your system, having checked and sometimes even tested. Pushing a bit further my friend encouraged the sales person enough to go check "the computer" to see if they had it and in stock. He said he would and walked off -- not knowing my friend was following. He went passed the computer and chatted with some other staff a while and came back to say that he had checked but it wasn't in stock. My friend being stubborn had gone to the public access terminal they have in the store and accessed the very page that showed that the item was sold in that chain and in fact was in stock in that store and even that it was on sale price that week. The sales person was not amused, he stuck with his claim that he had checked the "store's computer" and it said there was none in stock. A claim that might perhaps hold water if he had actually gone to any computer at all to even pretend to check.

It might be simple to just go to another store and to business there, except for some items, other stores might not actually carry them because they actually are hard to find.

Another case, which I find is very typical in computer stores is the answer -- "Oh another store carried them? That must have been obsolete stock being cleared out." Again looking for harder to find items, in this case an item one fellow bought at one store in a chain being asked for in another. The claim is that the item is no longer being made and hasn't been for quite a while. Now the factory is still making them and in fact what is being looked for is the current model and also that was what was bought at the other store. The item is also on the online catalogue for the chain.

I think that many assume they can get away with that lie because computers change so quickly and things do become obsolete. But it is wrong to use it as a crutch for being too lazy to look into something.

I tell my friend that he really has to look into upgrading his software. Ten years is an eternity in computer terms and Windows 98 will be supported less and less. He tells me that some of the software he depends on might not be supported and that some of it he won't be able to reinstall if any upgrade goes funny with the system. Some companies go out of business, other special offers no longer exist.

Still, the thing is we should not be lied to. If the store has stopped stocking that item for lack of sales, then they should say so. If they do not know an answer they should say so -- better would be to say so and seek the answer.

...and if they do not stock an item at the moment, and the customer is willing to pay -- in advance -- why not order it in for them?

But it is that false salesmanship that says "the salesman must always appear to know all" and lie to do it that I don't get. I figure a good salesman will tell you when he has to get the information and he will stick to his word and get it or tell you why he can't. A good salesman will stick to his word and it will be honest.

When you know a bit about the product, those lies stick out like a sore thumb.

~ Darrell


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Planets Planets Everywhere!

Planets Planets Everywhere - Are there some with water to drink?

There has been a search going on for extra-solar planets for a long time. It has been going on seriously for a couple of decades and there has been some success in finding them. Perhaps most people are not as familiar as I am with the fact that there has been success in finding these planets.

The planets found so far tend to be very large ones, many would dwarf Jupiter and many orbit their sun much closer than the planets of our own solar system. As of July 16, 2008 there are 307 candidates detected according to "The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia" on their Catalogue Page. Of course that is "candidates" rather than saying "planets" as it is rather hard to prove completely without any possible doubt. That site I found not really for the casual reader but has a ton of very current information on it.

I find the Wikipedia Page on it -- "Extrasolar planet -- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia" -- to be a much more interesting and digestible read. (image to right -- image from Wikipedia)

While most of the planets detected have been huge rating up to 13 times the mass of Jupiter which is the limiting mass beyond which a body is considered a Brown Dwarf Star rather than a planet in part this is because it is much easier to detect the much larger bodies using the only techniques we have. Also most of the planets we have detected are close to their suns and tend to be around smaller suns for similar reasons. A very large planet orbiting close to a small star is much easier to detect. The planet is larger in ratio to the sun and moves faster so the changes that are made are easier to observe.

We are detecting smaller bodies even so. From this we seem to be able to predict that the low mass planets may outnumber the Jupiter-like planets by a facter of 3 to 1.

Sometimes they seem to be a bit picky and arbitrary on things like definitions of what a planet is though... that is why Pluto is no longer considered a planet. According to the International Astronomical Union, the working definition for extrasolar planets established in 2001 and last modified in 2003 are:

1. Objects with true masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium (currently calculated to be 13 Jupiter masses for objects of solar metallicity) that orbit stars or stellar remnants are "planets" (no matter how they formed). The minimum mass/size required for an extrasolar object to be considered a planet should be the same as that used in our Solar System.

2. Substellar objects with true masses above the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are "brown dwarfs", no matter how they formed nor where they are located.

3. Free-floating objects in young star clusters with masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are not "planets", but are "sub-brown dwarfs" (or whatever name is most appropriate).

It seems that free-floating planetary-mass objects (planemo) or "rogue planets" or "interstellar planets" aren't included in the discussion on the Wikipedia page.

Personally I think it is very short sited to have a definition of "planet" that is dependant on orbital characteristics. I think that more important should be structure, size, and origin. In my definition, many of the larger moons would be included as planets. There would be ice planets and rock planets, There would also perhaps be a few varieties of gas planet and then there would be the "space junk" which in my definition would be masses which weren't large enough to form into a relative sphere. Thus a body like the earth which formed around another star, but which was thrown out of its orbit and captured by a gas giant or perhaps becomes free floating in interstellar space would still be a planet. But that is my personal view.

It does seem to me that if we can ever figure out some exotic interstellar propulsion system or other method of interstellar transport, there just might be reason to go to other stars. There seem to be other planets to look at and some might be like ours. System of 55 Cancri compared with our Solar System. (image to left -- image from Wikipedia)

~ Darrell


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Friday, July 18, 2008

Petri Dish TV

Petri Dish TV - A Variety of Culture

...with English Language Network TV

I haven't heard it recently, but in the past in Canada there was often discussion about how so much TV we got here was American and that it was diluting any difference there was between American and Canadian Culture. At the time many people were under the impression that there really wasn't any distinct Canadian Culture.

I think perhaps in a sense the were right.

Canada is a very large and diverse country even if its population is not huge in the global scheme of things. However there are many different distinct cultures in Canada even if you look beyond the "Distinct Society" that Quebec wishes to hold franchise on. But looking beyond the salad bar* of cultures making up Canada - meaning the mix and unmix of cultures which have immigrated into Canada from other nations - there are distinctions from your more typical equivalent American populations.

I am not wishing to get into the differences, but they are more evident now to many people in Canada that we are not just American "wanabes". There are many similarities beyond language for sure, but many important differences, even if to some perhaps subtle. The important thing is that there are differences just as there are between Canadians, Americans, British, Australian, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, New Zealander, and other populations of English speaking people.

The more I watch TV originating from the different English speaking countries the more I see this and the more I think I see reason to look at what might happen if one country or another dominate a communication industry especially in entertainment.

I am not sure how it is to live in other countries, but here in Canada a large amount of our Network Television comes from the US. It is there and convenient and has been since before the great satellite dishes were the norm for cable companies to draw down their signals with. Most Canadian city cable companies could just point a big antenna down towards a half way major American city near the border and pick up a few network affiliates. In fact in a number of cities in Canada you merely need a good antenna and you can pick the broadcasts up directly.

There was much debate and discussion on how this harmed the Canadian Television Industry and that the danger of this was the loss of Canadian Culture -- what I was mentioning earlier. This was during the 60's and 70's in particular, but into the 80's as well.

I was young and naive, but I had a solution that I thought was pretty simple. Instead of working on ways to limit access to American television content or financial incentives to Canadian networks -- I thought, why not encourage the cable companies to include networks from other English speaking countries as well. I came up with this idea watching a British TV Police Drama series called "Dempsey and Makepeace" (image to left -- from Luisa's page of Dempsey & Makepeace) from the mid-1980s which I found very interesting because the stereotypes used were so different from the ones you found in American Police Dramas.

I could recognize them as stereotypes to be sure, but they were not your typical American ones and that was novel and refreshing and made me think that if you had more British TV coming into Canada as well as the American, they would perhaps create some balance. I then wondered what of the other English speaking countries? Surely Australia had its own television industry that was at least as strong as Canada's. What if English speaking networks from all over the world could be brought in?

Now true there would be difficulties in bringing them in live because of timezone differences, but they could be delayed broadcasts. I wondered what other networks were about.

Perhaps in the 80's it would have been more difficult to manage the time delay on so many network feeds and the cost of the satellite signals prohibitive, but I think we are getting closer and closer to where it is possible and probable as well as perhaps being healthy.

One issue might be fears that it would endanger the Canadian Television Industry, but with the increase in competition -- something already happening with cable networks and the Internet -- there also at the very same time is a greatly increased market if the quality of the Canadian product is high so that others would be interested. I think that it can be and is.

I just finished watching a few seasons of "Torchwood" "Life on Mars"(original BBC programme) (image to left -- image from Wickipedia) and "Primeval" from BBC and loved it. I know there are Canadian productions that are popular in the US albeit on Cable networks -- though some make it to networks I believe. I think I have seen a bit of Australian programming and wonder what comes from the countries which while not English have large English speaking populations.

Perhaps it might not preserve a "Canadian Culture" or "Canadian Cultures", but maybe just thinking it would be worth while is very Canadian?

~ Darrell


*Canada as a "salad bar" rather than melting pot or mosaic was something that came up in a dear friend's anthropology course - is was anthropology... or was it sociology?

If you want to explore here are some Wikipedia Links for TV Networks in Countries that have substantial English Speaking populations (not inclusive):

Australia, British UK, Canada, (China) Hong Kong, (China) Macau, Gibraltar, India, Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, United States broadcast - United States cable/satellite,

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Degrees of Separation

How Connected Do We Need To Be?

I just was reading about a "Rehab Resort for Crackberry addicts" which I cam across on a Technology news feed*. It talks about a new resort plan where people sign a waiver and pledge to go off-line for the duration of their stay while handing over their cellphones, BlackBerrys and other mobile devices. The devices get locked up in the hotel safe.

The package includes all the amenities of the resorts -- and we are talking the Fairmont Hotel and Resorts with the hot springs and other facilities included. The resorts are in Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, and Whistler.

All that to get away from their electronic umbilical cords for a short while. Of course people start young with their dependence on mobile devices with even special cellphones for children. I think a larger percentage of teens have them than not -- enough that there have to be regulations about cellphones and cellphone usage in school and on school property. All the time looking out the windows at the Gnomestead I see teens in the 7-11 parking lot talking or texting as if the rest of the world did not exist -- oblivious to the fact that they are actually standing in a strip mall parking lot with life streaming past -- they'd never notice the mountains around them or the bald eagle soaring overhead.

Adults who can't seem to be away from the office or other job site without being "attached" somehow are a similar issue though different. Are they so important that they are not allowed to have a life other than for the corporation? Can the company not function without their input while they are not actually working on shift? If the company does operate 24 hours or 16 hours a day, perhaps there should be supervisors that can be trusted to watch over it without needing constant referral to the people who are home?

Or... perhaps those who are glued to the hip to the phone or BlackBerry simply are so dissatisfied with their life that they would rather be with whomever is on the other end of the line than the person the are with in person? If someone is on a date and constantly talking or texting someone during it, perhaps they would rather be with that person? -- or at least someplace they can talk and text without the constant interruption of feeling they should be making conversation.

Or is that the point of standing in the corner store parking lot with the strangers streaming past? -- the privacy of a public corner in order to always be in contact with someone, someplace, anyplace, but where they are.

~ Darrell


* Rehab resorts for Crackberry addicts - Sarah Mc Ginnis, Canwest News Service - published July 17, 2008 - © Calgary Herald 2008

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Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb

Rhubarb is an Interesting Fruit... Vegetable?

I am not sure if rhubarb is a fruit, I suspect that it is really a vegetable. I believe that tomatoes are considered a fruit by botanists, however by agriculturalists -- at least those who are in charge of import, export and shipping type stuff -- they are considered vegetables like most people do when considering their mealtimes.

I shall call it a fruit!

Rhubarb is the first fruit that I ever really experienced that was actually being grown where I lived! We had a huge yard in the city and a huge garden. We did have a crab apple tree, but it kept getting "winter killed" and never bloomed for a long stretch of my childhood and we didn't have any other fruit trees or even berry bushes or plants on our yard. We did have a very strong pair of rhubarb plant roots though!

I recall that we received the plants from an elderly neighbour -- though we were in a very new district -- and rhubarb plants with older large roots produced better rhubarb. Our plants sure were good! As a child we would be allowed to have a stalk each and our friends as well and we were given a cup with sugar on the bottom to use as we ate it. It was fun to leave the great elephant ear like leaves on the stalk as we dipped the end into the sugar and bit off bites of the sour flesh.

In some ways it was an excuse to eat the sugar, but the rhubarb was neat too! Then we were left with the huge 40-50cm across leaves to play with!

I think even better was what Mom did with the rhubarb! She would cut the stalks into 1cm chunks and then cook them down into either a sort of sauce or she would mix it with brown sugar and oatmeal and other stuff to bake into rhubarb crunch and rhubarb crisp... probably rhubarb crumble too, though I don't recall that name. I think Mom also made rhubarb pies and experimented with rhubarb upside-down cake and muffins. The rhubarb sauce would sometimes be made into a jam, I think -- but it has been so very long.

I loved the rhubarb crunch warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream melting over it. I think it really was one of my favourite foods in the world -- next might be apple crisp...

I think that when we moved from that house in Calgary to the West Coast hear in BC we did not have quite so sweet a rhubarb in our garden patches. True later we had strawberry patches, blueberry patches, and raspberry patches. We also had producing crab apple, apple, pear trees and even a hazelnut tree! Mom made what I figure was the World's best crabapple jelly -- red as ruby and clear as glass -- but the rhubarb crunch has a very special place in my heart.

~ Darrell


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