Extending the Cycling Season

Oliver and I arrived home last night on the Maritime Bus around supper time to find the larder in need of replenishing, so my first task on this bright fall day was to head to Riverview Country Market and Sobeys to do just that. Along the way I stopped at Charlottetown Vet Clinic for Ethan’s dog food, and at The Bookmark to pick up a just-arrived pre-order of Danny Gregory’s new book How to Draw Without Talent (based on his online course of the same name).

By the time I was done, the bicycle trailer was fully-loaded, and my body was a little weirded out by my sudden request that it spring to life and cycle 6 km after a week of sedentary reflection.

With no snow on the ground, and temperatures still mostly above zero, I’m managing to extend cycling season much longer than I have in years previous; I’m very happy about this, and thus somewhat dreading the coming of the bleak midwinter.

My bicycle and trailer, loaded up from a shopping trip this morning


Toward the end of his career as a nearshore sedimentologist, one of the tools my father spent a lot of time working with was RoxAnn, which a paper of his describes like this:

RoxAnn is an acoustic processor which analyzes echo-sounder returns to produce a classification of bottom-sediment types which is then confirmed or adjusted with independent sample, diver or television data. Acoustic data are logged and displayed on a notebook computer running the survey program, Microplot. Microplot logs RoxAnn data and associated GPS positions at one-second intervals or about 2-3 m for the standard survey speed of 2-3 m/s and within the depth range of 2 to 30 m. Acoustic bottom types are displayed as they are collected on an electronic chart of the survey area within the Microplot program.

Put simply, RoxAnn bounces sound off the lake-bottom to see what’s down there — mud, sand, gravel, and so on.

As a RoxAnn survey proceeded, the position of the survey vessel would be logged, and could then be visualized as “tracklines,” like this:

RoxAnn Tracklines

One of the last areas that Dad focused his research on was the St. Clair river, which runs between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, past Sarnia and Detroit.

One day, during a RoxAnn survey of the river, unbeknownst to him, Dad’s technicians secretly arranged to send him a message via these tracklines. As he described it to us, when Dad got back at to his home base at the National Water Research Institute after the Sarnia trip, he was analyzing the data in Microplot and, the, as he watched the RoxAnn tracklines progress through the Government Dock in Sarnia, he watched his name spelled out in GPS traces — N O R M.

When he retired, he was presented with a poster of the result, which hung on his office wall for all the years after his retirement:

Photo of Roxann plot

What a lovely parting homage to a distinguished career and a good working relationship it was.

Let there be light

Walking downstairs into my parents’ basement involved navigating a dark patch before you could get to the light switch for the basement lights, so my father installed a battery-powered motion-detecting LED light on the wall opposite that turns on as soon as you’re halfway down.

I walked up and down those stairs a lot this week, and every time that light came on I thought of my father, wherever he is now, whispering quietly “here, Peter, let me turn the light on for you.”

It has been a sad, hard, happy, brutal, emotional, lovely, intense week here in Ontario. It was all made fuller, more survivable, more possible, by the presence of my Mom, my three brothers, my sister-in-law, my nephew, and Oliver, all of whom rose to the challenge of helping all of us make it through a week of remembering Dad’s life, attending to the bureaucratic details of death, and remembering to eat.

Oliver and I are in Toronto tonight; tomorrow we board the VIA Rail train for Montreal, and tomorrow evening we’re overnight from Montreal to Moncton. It’s the slowest possible way home, but that’s exactly what we need right now.

Norm Rukavina, 1937-2019

In the spring of 1980, the year I turned 14, Greyhound Lines, a bus company in the United States, ran a “Thank You Canada” special to mark our country’s role in the Canadian Caper that had seen U.S. diplomats in Iran rescued with the help of the Canadian Embassy.

By purchasing a Thank You Canada pass, Canadians could enjoy unlimited bus travel in the United States for a month.

For reasons I never have completely understood, my father proposed that he and I should take advantage of this offer and take an adventure together. And so we did. I must have missed a month of school; he must have missed a month of work; and my mother must have been convinced to stay at home with my three brothers as a temporarily-single parent.

And what a grand adventure it was.

We took a Canada Coach Lines bus from Hamilton to the Greyhound station in Buffalo where we bought our passes. As far as I can recall, we didn’t have a plan, other than to see where the bus would take us for 30 days.

We started off by heading west, from Buffalo to Chicago, through Des Moines, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Reno, and Sacramento. We had to switch buses a number of times, but we never stopped moving, never spent a night in a hotel until we got to San Francisco. Those were the days when smoking was allowed on buses, and so my enduring memory of that mad transcontinental dash is of the pungent cocktail of cigarette smoke and bathroom disinfectant.

The rigours of sitting on a bus for three days put Dad’s back into spasm, and so our time in San Francisco consisted of a lot of hobbling around. Until we got to Golden Gate Park and he decided that we should rent bicycles: his theory was that riding a bike would either disable him completely, or solve his back problems. Miraculously, it solved his back problems, and he was fine for the rest of the trip.

From San Francisco we went south, bypassing Los Angeles and stopping in San Diego for a night or two; from there, having reached the end of the U.S., we turned back east, stopping in Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, and Springfield, spending a few nights in every city, usually at the YMCA or a cheap hotel. We ate a lot of chicken fried steak. We never did laundry. And we saw corners of the United States of America that we never would have seen otherwise.

I think, in the end, we were gone for 21 days, not quite wringing every last drop of our 30 day entitlement out of the pass, but coming pretty close.

The trip was, by times, grueling and uncomfortable and scary. But it was the best trip of my life, and the best gift a father could give his teenage son: 21 days of undivided attention in a “wherever the wind will carry us” spirit.

It is not an exaggeration to say that trip changed my life, and laid the groundwork for an approach to travel, and an approach to life, that has been far more fearless, confident, and improvisational than it might have been otherwise.

Whatever possessed him?

My father died yesterday, at the age of 82.

Dad out for lunch

Options for Watching the Legislative Assembly Stream

The official wrapper for the live video stream from the Legislative Assembly of PEI is here.

But you have options:

There’s a standalone page here (it’s what gets embedded in the page above).

There’s a M3U8 playlist file here (you can feed this to a video player l like VLC to watch the stream outside of a browser):


Open a Network stream in VLC

Opening a Network stream in VLC

Legislative Assembly video playing in VLC

As a special bonus move in VLC, select Preferences > Video and then uncheck the “Window decorations” checkbox:

Minimize window decorations in VLC

Once you do this you’ll have a tiny window with the video that you can tuck away in the corner of your desktop:

VLC video tucked away in the corner on my Mac desktop

Selecting Video > Float on Top from the VLC menu will make sure your tiny floating window stays in the foreground when you’re using other applications.

Life in the Aftermist

The salvation of any Island family with needle-averse children in recent years has been the “flu mist,” an alternate form of the yearly influenza vaccine that gets squirted into the nose rather than needled into the arm.

For Oliver the coming of the mist was transformative; flu vaccine time was still an anxious time of the year, mostly because being in a hall filled with other people about to get a needle is like sitting in the waiting room of a particularly brutal airport. But the anxiety was manageable, and thus not a source of seasonal dread.

So much so that we secured permission from Dr. Heather Morrison, Chief Public Health Officer, to allow Oliver to continue to receive the mist into adulthood.

Which is why, when it was announced in September that the flu mist would not be available in Canada this season, due to shortages, my chest tightened.

After confirming with Dr. Morrison that the mist was out, we decided to follow her advice to look into receiving the flu shot from our family doctor, a setting where we could be more in control of the environment, and where Oliver would be more comfortable.

Fortunately we have a family doctor, and our family doctor has an exceptionally talented nurse, Cheryl, who Oliver’s known for many years, and with whom he has a good relationship.

So we made an appointment for this morning.

I chatted with Cheryl on the phone before we came into the office to establish a shared understanding of the challenge ahead.

And then casually mentioned to Oliver, after breakfast, that we had an appointment with Cheryl to get the flu shot (reminding him of her excellent bedside manner, and problem-free blood draw this summer).

And we headed into the office for 10:00 a.m.

About 10 minutes before giving Oliver the shot, Cheryl came out into the waiting room and applied some numbing cream to the injection site; once Oliver’s arm had a chance to numb up, we went into an exam room, Oliver hopped up on the exam table, and he got his flu shot.

No fuss, no muss.

Well, some preemptive muss. And a lot of hang-wringing and worry on my part and Catherine’s.

But Oliver rose to the occasion. Cheryl rose to the occasion. And Oliver’s been vaccinated.