A good day

I took two days off work to spend some quality time with Oscar. We were joined by his buddy Owen and Owen’s dad, Milos. On day one, we took an early ferry to Centre Island, where we spent the morning before heading over to the Island Yacht Club, or Spoke on the water as it is being renamed, to enquire about membership.

We took a water taxi from Centre Island over to Mugg’s Island. There’s no direct ferry service and the IYC tender doesn’t run from island to island.

Oscar immediately found a tree to climb. There’s enough space between these branches for an entire gaggle of kids.


The Toronto skyline, from the pier of the Island Yacht Club.

The fuckers

It’s rare that I swear on this blog, but this time I will make an exception and here’s why – somebody tried to steal, or vandalize, our ZipDee awning, in the process causing serious damage to our beautiful Airstream.

I noticed something what strange when I visited the trailer two days before we were setting out on our summer trip to Long Point. We store the trailer with RV Park and Go just north of Hamilton, in a secure lot, hidden well away from the street and prying eyes.

Because of our travels to Europe this year, we had not used the Airstream as much as we usually would have done. I decided to drop by two days before we were setting off for a week’s camping in Long Point to make sure our batteries were charged, tire pressure ok, that we had propane on board. When walking around the trailer, I noticed that one of the securing wheels on the awning was missing, and one of the supporting arms was out of its holder. At the time I thought that somebody had stolen the wheel itself, which was annoying, but not the end of the world as these are easily replaced.

I figured that all I had to do was get a replacement shipped, and thought nothing more of it.

Until, that is, we arrived at the campground and started to set up. If you own a ZipDee awning, you know that the one thing you never, ever, do is to let it snap back when packing up. Doing so can drive the fabric handle all the way underneath the front roller, making it difficult, if not impossible, to pull the awning forward again.

This is exactly what I found. Somebody had pulled out the awning, then snapped it back. Using wires, and pliers, I finally managed to free the handle and then pulled – only for the entire right side of the awning to come flying towards me, free from the support arm and ripping almost the entire awning support off the trailer, rivets pinging in all directions.

A ZipDee awning on a 34′ trailer is about 25′ long. Its heavy, too heavy to be stopped by one person. The weight ripped the rivets connecting the top of the awning to the trailer right out. The left arm was still connected and stopped the entire awning come out, but the damage was done.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, but it wasn’t a pretty sight. Somebody, for whatever reason, had started dismantling the awning, then either gave up or got interrupted. When we pulled the awning out, the damage unfolded.

So here we were, just arrived, with three little kids and a trailer full of holes. My first thought was that rain was predicted for the next day, my second that CanAm RV was about an hour and a half away, so we should just pack the kids back into the car and tow the trailer up to London, then head home and cancel the holidays.

But cooler headed prevailed. A neighbour, who had seen the damage, rushed over with an offer of help, step ladders and tools. Together, we freed the remains of mangled metal and fabric, sawed off a drain and sealed the holes created with a tube of silicone that he had on board.

Because of the immense force generated by the awning ripping free, the holes were relatively clean, small and easily plugged – thank God for small mercies.

RV Park and Go responded to a terse, out of office hours, voicemail within ten minutes and are currently checking their security camera recordings. The silicone plugs survived a rainstorm and we’re booked to drop the trailer off with CanAm RV on Saturday. Our insurance will most likely cover the damage and I hope that the old awning, which was in great condition, can be repaired and reused.

I’ll be updating this post as developments warrant. Right now, my main question is: Why? Was this another Airstream owner, there are several parked on the same lot, who needed a spare part for his own awning? Did I make an enemy, towing with a minivan, who wanted to teach me a lesson by vandalizing my trailer? It wasn’t a bunch of kids, that’s for sure – they would have just smashed a window, or let a tire down. This was a targeted, precise, operation. But why? Unless the security cameras caught the act, I guess we’ll never know.

Geek dreams – a pencil sharpening machine


When I was a boy, I loved using my dad’s pencil sharpening machine. Black, made from heavy bakelite, it sharpened pencils beautifully. The pencils were centred by a spring loaded clamping mechanism that pulled them into the machine as they were being sharpened.

I still use pencils daily, they are my favourite writing instruments, and had been pining for a similar machine for the longest time.

The problem was that all I could find for sale in Canada was just a weak imitation of the real thing as I remembered it. Some sharpened off-centre, others didn’t have the spring loaded action and required the user to pull the pencil against the blades by hand, which means the machine had to be screwed to the desk to work – and I’m not drilling holes into my beautiful walnut desktop.

Finally, I saw this gorgeous Caran d’Ache machine for sale on the manufactum.de website. The downside? They don’t ship to Canada. But, we were going to Germany for a summer vacation/family visit, so I made a beeline to the Manufactum store in Hamburg and picked up my very own model. While it wasn’t cheap, I do expect it to last me for a lifetime, just as my dad’s is still lasting him.

After installing it in my office this morning, I’m now in pencil sharpening nirvana.

Apple watch – my initial reactions

I went ahead and ordered an Apple watch back in April – the 42mm stainless model with the Milanese loop band. It arrived quite a bit sooner than than I had anticipated, three days ago. I own an original Pebble, as well as an original Samsung smartwatch that we acquired for next to nothing when people didn’t buy them.

Both the Pebble and the Samsung are currently collecting dust in a drawer. Why would the Apple watch be any different?

When the watch arrived the first thing I noticed was that, as per usual, Apple is a master of packaging. While the large box felt quite wasteful, the quality of it all was clear from the beginning. The final box holding the watch is a pristine, heavy white plastic lined with a white felt. The watch itself is substantial without being too heavy, the Milanese band thin and flawless. The first, and immediately noticeable, difference between Apple’s entry into the market and the competition is that this aims to be a watch, a quality timepiece with added abilities, not a plastic wrist computer with a limited lifespan.

The weight, the craftsmanship, the beautiful fit and finish all came together to justify the purchase price just shy of $1000. It’s a beautiful, substantial bit of kit, probably the nicest Apple has ever made.

Setting the watch up didn’t take long, but was probably the most confusing experience I had so far with any Apple product. Now, given that I’ve been a Mac user since the days of the Mac Plus, my understanding of the Apple way of running a computer has long passed into muscle memory, but either I am getting old, or the process of setting the watch up, and to start using it, wasn’t as straightforward as most things Apple are.

Pairing the watch took seconds, a very cool process where a unique pattern appears on the screen of the watch that is recognized by the watch app on the iPhone via the camera. Very futuristic, seamless and cool.

But then the learning curve started, not helped by some very un_apple like hardware decisions. For example, the large button underneath the digital crown does one thing only – call up a screen from where I can either call or message a list of predefined contacts. While this is no doubt helpful, allocating a dedicated hardware button to this function feels weird.

The same thing could have been achieved in a number of different, and more elegant, ways.

The digital crown is nice, works well and is another hardware interface I rarely use. The touchscreen is fast and responsive and controls almost all aspects of the watch perfectly. In most case, the digital crown does little more than add a secondary way to control functions that can be called up perfectly well via the touch interface. It feels like Apple have lost their nerve here, trying to please everybody and predicting all eventualities.

The biggest surprise for me was how the watch has changed my use of Siri, Apple’s voice recognition solution. Before the watch, I rarely used it, but now it has become my favourite way to interact with it and, by extension, with my phone.

There’s something addicting to raising your arm and saying “Hey Siri, call my wife” or “Hey Siri, send a message to dad” and have the voice recognition do it’s job, quickly and flawlessly.

But the biggest thing about the watch isn’t in what it does, the biggest benefit is in how it does things.

After wearing it for half a day, I switched almost all notifications off. The exceptions were messages, Slack (a messaging app we use at work), Sunrise calendar and phone calls. Even here, all notifications are set to silent, haptic only.

And here’s where the watch shines, quietly.

Rather than pinging every five seconds, rather than advertising, and justifying, its presence through frantic activity, it fades into the background. But it’s the kind of background where 10 minutes before my next work meeting I get a gentle tap on my wrist. Where the watch keeps track of my activity levels and, quietly, reminds me to get moving if I’ve been sitting too long or haven’t met my daily activity goal.

Messages from my wife reach me immediately, so do personal, i.e important, mentions on Slack – while at the same time filtering out any noise.

When the phone rings, I can answer or dismiss, according to need. I can even answer and say, “hey, will call you back in ten minutes” if that what the situation calls for, without getting my phone out. Those are all genuinely helpful tools, well executed.

So for me, the Apple watch succeeds not because of what it is doing, but of how it is doing things. In the background, quietly, without making a fuss. Like a watch, not a computer.

To Dodge, or not to Dodge

After my recent conversation with Andy Thomson at CanAm I went to check out autotrader.ca to see how much a Dodge Durango would set us back.

We always buy vehicles that are off lease, for cash if possible. They’re 50% cheaper than new, and just as good as new, with a full service history and typically some manufacturer’s warranty remaining. I’ve owned one brand new vehicle in my life and that was when work paid for it – even then I hated the monthly payments. It seemed a total waste of money, even though it wasn’t my money.

The three things we need in our next car are: Space for the boys, oomph to move the Airstream and a high payload so we can pack bikes or kayaks on the roof and still stay within specs. Oh, and a decent drive. I got seduced by the space and the high payload capacity of the Ford Expedition, but driving it is an insane experience. As somebody who’s used to European cars I don’t understand how people put up with the wallowing, wandering, can’t-even-drive-in-a-straight-line-at-speed driving these body on frame vehicles deliver. The Ford was out.

The car that included all of our mandatories was the Mercedes GL class, but we had a couple of concerns. First, there’s the price, both for purchase and for servicing and repairs. I’ve owned three Mercs in my life, two classic models and one recent B-class. Cheap, they were not.

Then, there is the question of parts availability. The plan is to take time off work in a couple of years and drive across the continent for a summer. Should anything go wrong in rural Manitoba, a Mercedes isn’t the best car to be in. Parts and repair would be difficult.

So when Andy recommended the Dodge Durango, I was all ears. The Dodge and the Mercedes share the same platform, a hangover from the days when GM and Mercedes were, briefly, one company. As a result, the Dodge is pretty much a GL class Merc, but at a fraction of the cost.

There’s one big drawback however and that’s the choice of engines. The Dodge doesn’t have access to the wonderful Mercedes BlueTEC diesel power plant, which is both fuel efficient and gutsy, with oodles of torque. However, given that we don’t actually drive much most of the time, I am ok with not worrying too much about fuel efficiency. The eight cylinder hemi engine in the Dodge delivers all the grunt we could ever want to move our trailer. An added benefit is that few people want the big engine, making the car even more affordable. Andy’s take was that dealers “can’t give them away” and prices I’ve seen so far seem to corroborate that opinion.

So, if you’re interested in buying a gently used Honda Odyssey with less than 70K km on the clock annd a CanAm reinforced hitch with a Prodigy II brake controller that’s all set up for towing, drop us a line. We’re planning on making the switch next spring, but could make it anytime.

Back from winter quarters

A photo posted by Andreas Duess (@andreasduess) on May 1, 2015 at 6:57am PDT I picked up our Airstream from Can-Am in London today, where we kept her over the winter to get a number of gremlins sorted out. We had a small leak somewhere at the back, the hot water heater had issues igniting… Continue Reading

Camping in Long Point

Shots of the gang – almost all taken with our GoPro Hero 3+. We just spent a wonderful week tucked away on a camp site in Long Point Provincial Park. Long Point is one of our favourite parks in Ontario. Only two hours from our storage facility in Hamilton, it’s easily accessible via winding country… Continue Reading

Favourite photo

Felix, coming down the slide, a split second before splashing down into a puddle, soaking his pants. Anja, just realizing what was going to happen. Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time. For those who are thinking “bad dad”, these were swimming trunks and we had towels and… Continue Reading

Canada Day

After all the fun we had at Dufferin Grove last weekend, we decided to spend our Canada Day morning there as well. The second we left the house it started raining hard for ten minutes, but we decided to go on anyway. In the end we were glad we did, as it cleared up into… Continue Reading

At the Dufferin Grove Playground

Today we spent a happy, muddy morning at the Dufferin Grove Adventure Playground. Water, sand, wood and shovels. Tasty hot dogs and macaroni cheese from a little volunteer manned cafe. It doesn’t get much better, especially in the middle of the city. I took our waterproof GoPro Hero with me, so we could grab some pictures without worrying about a… Continue Reading