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If you can read this, thank your teacher - chapter 1 · 18 June 2014 by colin newell

Teachers at war with the government

Had coffee with some of my work buddies this AM – and so clueless about what the life of teachers is like…
Nothing like a totally one sided discussion to get ones java boiling in the mug!

Anyway, I felt like sending them back to Elementary school… maybe Grade 1 even.

During the various rants various myths emerged – with my factual responses attached…

MYTH a.) Teachers work 180 days a year and get paid for 365 days a year.
FACT: They get paid for the days worked and the time in – Yes, they get a pay cheque year around for days worked – and consequently, their pay packets are about equal to 10 months work or more.

MYTH b.) Teachers get every summer off.
FACT: Many teachers work part time through the summer getting ready for the coming year.

MYTH c.) Teachers DON’T need to work in the summer because they have one set of lesson plans that they can use for their entire career.
FACT: Lesson plans and curricula change year by year depending on the needs of the students and the evolution of education.

MYTH d.) Teachers are overpaid!
FACT: No, bankers are overpaid… and even that is a bit of a stretch. Bankers make investors money (like you and I) which we appreciate.

MYTH e.) You cannot fire incompetent teachers because of the Union.
FACT: Progressive discipline is in effect in most unions and professional organizations. Bad teachers that break the law or, at the other end of the extreme, don’t do their jobs simply don’t survive.

Hey, if you can read this post and understand it (you might not agree with it…) Thank your teachers.

Colin Newell is a writer, technical analyst and engineering technologist at a local University that often gets asked… “Hey. Colin. What do you do on your summers off from working at a University?


West Coast Living - the survival chapters - chapter 1 · 7 November 2012 by colin newell

For those of us that have lived on the West coast for a while, almost everyone has encountered a minor tremor – an earthquake – or even more rarely, a staggering wind and rain storm that knocks out the power for a few hours – and even more rarely, a snow storm that brings everything to a standstill.

One such snow storm occurred, casually at first, on December 21st, 1996 – By Christmas day there was over 1 foot of snow in most places around the Victoria area – the snow picked up in earnest over the next few days and by the afternoon of December the 28th, the snowfall was full on with little indication of stopping anytime soon – and by the afternoon of the 29th, we had a 2 day record of 124cm or 48 inches – a whopping 4 feet of snow! This event seized up the transportation system. The roads were impassable. Telephone lines and power, for the time being, remained thankfully stable.

What was immediately problematic was – everyone was a shut in. For senior citizens and those unprepared for this kind of weather, the prospect of being “locked in” for 48 to 72 hours was almost completely probable.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody died or froze to death – but it was an excellent exercise in the area of “surviving” when at least one or two elements of mobility were taken away – in this case, the ability to “move” and the ability to “gather” supplies.
Most of us, at least, have 3 to 5 days worth of food on hand – some people more, some people less. And as much as I would like to have a larger supply of water in the house, I do not. (Yet) But I do have over 40 bottles of wine and 25+ pints of homemade beer – and that alone is a valuable source of nutrition! Friends, make a note of where I live!

Problem is, for Island residents, we have become somewhat complacent over time. When 25 – 35 years or so passes with little or no consequential seismic activity locally, we do not take the risks seriously. Recent events in the area of the Haida Gwaii and the central coast have been something of a wake up call – but how awake are we today, some weeks after the event. Who among us has become completely prepared? Here is a fairly complete list of what you probably need and what you should know in the event of an Earthquake or storm resulting in the loss of power, shelter and/or communications.

Here is one of the hardest facts that we all need to swallow: You may and likely will be without immediate help for up to 72 hours – that is 3 days. Prepare to settle in – and hope that the weather is not too unpleasant!

Water – Have a minimum two litres of water per person per day (including small bottles that can be carried easily in case of an evacuation order) – Most people do not drink enough water during normal day to day routines – but when there is a crisis, water is going to keep you alive and you are going to go through it quicker than you think and you may be sharing. Have some in your home, in your office at work and in your car of you have one. I may be a bit more cautious, paranoid or prepared than most people but I have a liter of water in a steel jug with me at all times – not just at my desk but on my person – when I am at work or when I am doing my weekend hike around town.

Food – The number two most important item. You are not going to last very long or stay well in a crisis with zero food intake – and the good news is that there are lots of dry alternatives that you keep you out of trouble; energy bars, dried fruit, nuts and canned foods – you need to replace most of this annually, so you can consume as you go, day to day, but try and maintain a stock of protein and carbohydrate rich snacks. And keep in mind that many energy bars require a ready supply of water – do not consume them without water.
And once again, you can keep stuff like this in your car, your office and your home.

Tool and Health kit – Being a technician at a local University I always have a tool bag slung over my shoulders – I call it my “Jack” bag – after Jack Bauer of 24 – It has basic tools, tech gadgets, water bottle, wires, soldering iron and a leatherman utility knife, bottle opener and/or a cork screw – My wife often winces when we hit the road for a trip over the Malahat – but it is in the trunk and out of site and has enough “McGyver” bits and pieces to find a solution to any problem that comes along.
What you should have is: a knife, bandages, antibiotic cream, aspirin and any medications that you might be on, a flashlight (even if its daytime!), extra batteries, waterproof matches and yes, candles. Hey, it cannot hurt! A palm sized transistor radio is a must have even if you have a radio in your car. Under no circumstances should people rely on cell phones to get them out of a bind after an Earthquake or major weather crisis. This technology is way too dependent on other technology and electricity to be reliable during a crisis.

I call my preceding Tool and Health bag a “1 day solution” – settling in for a 3 day state of isolation requires an investment in some more stuff…

The 3 Day Kit – in addition to what we have covered so far, you need to think about the following items:

Shelter – nothing makes your temporary stay out of doors more challenging than no cover – and if you are lucky enough to find yourself at the mercy of a conflagration generated by mother nature during summer time, count your blessings – chances are, it is going to be in January. So you need to have warm clothing handy. And you need to have a method of staying warm outside and being able to sleep on the ground or somewhere with no heat. Items that come to mind are sleeping bags (that come at all prices and levels of sophistication down to basic foil survival blankets – 1 per family whichever you pick.
The 3-day kit should also include garbage bags (for personal hygiene, disposal of clothing and waste…), Toilet paper X 4 rolls which should serve a family of 4 for a few days, rubber or vinyl gloves – several pairs per day per person, a few heavier tools that the ones listed in the kit bag above; hammer, big screwdriver or a universal screw driver, a pair of variable pliers or a pair of locking vise grips – super duper useful!
And now, really important: More water! 2 additional liters of water per person per day! For cooking and cleaning. Yup, we use water like this in real life! Makes you think twice when you are letting the water run when you are brushing your teeth!
Some optional goodies could include a good quality camp stove – and be careful, the fuel cells for these are highly flammable – storage might be a challenge – a method of boiling water and cooking is very handy, particularly among us coffee drinkers.
And it that regard, think about having pouches of ground coffee or a bottle of instant coffee – it has caffeine in it and trust me, you are going to need your caffeine in a crisis!

I will stop there for now – in the next chapter, more on the other skills and things you might need during and after an earthquake or crisis here on the west coast.


Testing odd looking antennas in the Victoria area · 9 October 2012 by colin newell

What has 50 surplus Russian made ferrite rods (ferrite rods are crushed iron and resin – and little more? They look like licorice cigars and are used in AM radios… no really!)

Sections of PVC pipe?
A dozen turns of exotic insulated wire? (known in geek world as “Litz” wire…)
and a variable capacitor? (Not a flux capacitor by any stretch of the imagination.)

If you have ever taken apart a transistor radio you have likely seen some of these innards — on a much smaller scale.

But what does it do?

Surplus Russian Ferrite Rod Antenna - made in America!Well. Most of you folks know that long distance radio reception is possible on your little AM radio at night? You did not know that? Well it is.
For instance, a station in San Francisco on 810khz on the radio dial is audible from Mexico to Alaska. It is called “KGO” and it is part of the ABC radio network. You can hear it on your car radio or anything that tunes AM – no, really you can.

And unless you do not already have an AM-FM battery powered radio in your emergency kit, you should have one handy. Oh yea, internet radio is all sexy and everything but after an earthquake, the only thing you will be hearing (apart from the screams for help) is going to be low power AM and FM stations locally – running on back-up power. Forget your cell phones, cable TV and internet. None of that stuff is going to work. Be prepared.

I digress.

Surplus Russian Ferrite Rod Antenna - made in America!I am testing this gizmo (seen in the photo) It is one of about 10 ever made – and there are 9 other ones in use in North America.
What does it do? It pulls weak radio signals out of the air and boosts them for virtually any AM radio.

Believe it or not, when you are driving to work in the morning (on or about sunrise) in Victoria (or anywhere on Vancouver Island or on the West Coast) you are picking up signals that have traveled the entire distance across the Pacific ocean… from Japan, China, Korea, Australia, Hawaii, etc. Yup, they are there – but they are pretty weak most of the time. Sometimes (right around sunrise) they will be enhanced and you may hear Japanese or Korean… it happens. No cause for alarm.

The gizmo above gives them a huge boost so they become readily audible on virtually any small radio. I will produce a you-tube video in the next few days (conditions permitting) to better demonstrate what this thing can do.
But why build one? Well, it takes basic antenna principles to a bit of an extreme – for the purpose of receiving radio signals over vast distances, but also enhancing signals within a 100 mile circle… so when you absolutely positively must be able to receive a radio signal under stressful conditions. Yup, that is pretty much it.

I will be testing this gadget around the Victoria area for the next while. You may see it on top of my blue 2012 import along Dallas Rd. or in the Gonzales – King George Terrace look-out. Do not be alarmed. It is a passive receiving antenna. I am not transmitting any signals. And yes, the device looks odd and potentially scary. But not to worry. Stop. Come by. Ask for a demo.

It is all about making radio and retro electronics fun and staying safe during an Earthquake or civil defense emergency!


The August Report Chapter Two - Whistler and beyond - food · 10 August 2012 by colin newell

In previous trips to Whistler, British Columbia, I distinctly remember there being a surfeit of places to get pints or jugs of beer, burgers and fries, deep fried fatty foods, pizza and stuff that would appeal to folks who have spent the previous 7 hours of their day skiing or plummeting downhill on a back breaking mountain bike trail.

And nary a decent cup of good strong coffee to be found.

And a giant gap between salt laden junk food fry ups and the super fancy gourmet stuff you find at some of the high end hotels… and places like Araxia
(which by the way gets some pretty mixed reviews…)

Some exceptions include La Bocca which we did breakfast at one morning – and it was wonderful. The La Bocca patio was always hopping into the evening on their spacious patio area.

And 21-Steps which was very family friendly, upscale, affordable and tasty. And (please note) if you are not child friendly, come by 21 steps after 8 PM or so – because it can get loud- it becomes more of an adult date place later in the evening. Nice to have both options.

Whistler 2012 - the visit, food and drink

Our group had a wonderful meal for 270 at the Whistler Roundhouse Great food, really, really good coffee (!) and desserts – super professional and well presented staff and at 6000+ feet above sea level and 3500+ feet above Whistler village… very dramatic!

Pubs: Honestly, if it can be deep fried in Whistler, it is being done – I was surprised they did not figure out a way to deep dry coffee and serve it on a stick. There was a place that was better than expected: Blacks Pub in the Sundial Boutique Hotel had better than expected pizzas and great staff and service. In a past visit we went to the Dubh Linn Gate (at the Pan Pacific) and that was a hoot – no surprise there.

Back in the village of Whistler there is one thing that has not changed much – the coffee. “The Lift” coffee shop across the entrance to our hotel served tasty and competent JJ Bean drip and espresso based beverages and really, really good baked goodies. I think if someone could find a decent space that was affordable (that is the thing – the rents in Whistler must be unreal) there could be an incredible cafe. Truth be told, such an entity would not likely survive just selling coffee.

There are several Starbucks in Whistler and all of them had regular long line-ups.

Truth be told, my coffee experience was improved by bringing my own Aeropress and a Hario manual burr grinder and a supply of Drumroaster Coffee from Vancouver Island’s best coffee roasting joint.

Overall, Whistler has a lot on the ball – and a little tip here: If you are staying at one of many “affordable” hotels or lodges – prepare to be nickel and dimed. Our room rate for a suite was around $170/night but the parking was almost $40/day – which is absurd. We had a loyalty card which eliminated the $15/day charge for the most basic WiFi connectivity. The secret is: There is lots and lots of free 72 hour parking in Whistler – in the “big lots” – just ask anyone – they are easy to find. And over the course of your stay, you can save hundreds of dollars on parking.

So. Summary: Whistler is definitely not a winter only destination – if you love the outdoors during nice warm weather, then this could be your place.


The August Report Chapter One - Whistler and beyond · 9 August 2012 by colin newell

OK so the blog has been running a little dry lately. Alright, the oil pan is completely dry and the engine has seized. It happens.

Heck, I imagine that Stephen King freezes up for a moment or two now and again.
I am back.

Let’s see if we can kick start things a bit by talking about a recent visit to Whistler, British Columbia a few weeks ago.

Whistler 2012 - the visit, food and drinkWhistler: 96 km North/North East of Vancouver on a pretty cerebral piece of 2 to 4 lane highway called the Sea to Sky.

It is an improvement over the wish-for-death falling rock scar encrusted piece of tarmac that it used to be less than 10 years ago. A successful bid for the Olympics and an infusion of around 1 billion dollars tidied it up some.

And on our most recent visit to this pricey get-away for rich folks, I did not even recognize the drive.

I have been up to Whistler a few times starting in the early 90’s and the twists and turns alone give you a gripping sense of your mortality.

And of all the trips I have made to Whistler have been in the spring or summer. I do not ski. Never have. Likely never will. Not that I do not like the cold or enjoy a festive mosaic of white. Not at all. I just fear injury to my hands, arms or legs… which I value dearly the way they are right now – thank you very much.

Anyway – Andrea and I went up to Whistler so she could attend a conference/summit. And I got to play for 3 or 4 days.
This time of the year, Whistler is known for legendary hiking, biking, climbing, walking and even a little late season skiing.

I did a fair bit of hiking around Lost Lake – Lost Lake is part of an very impressive system of shared biking and hiking trails that are as easy as they are challenging. With names like “Tin Pants”, “Vimy Ridge” and “Shit Happens”, you know that there are trails and obstacle strewn pathways that could hurdle a grown man into a life of paraplegia in a heartbeats worth of inattention.

Which exactly why I stayed on trails named “Girly Man” and “Nancy Drew”…
Ain’t to proud to weep at the first oak twig that falls across my pristine hard pan trail folks.

Anyway, once I figured out the trail system and the signage (only used my GPS once in 3 days!) I spent several hours every day making my way through cougar and black bear infested bush trails. In reality, I was generally more in danger of colliding with any number of mountain bikers sailing passed me every few minutes. I walked with determination, generally off to one side of the trail – wore colorful shirts and was often engaged in a conversation of my VHF Ham Radio (more on that later…)

Clearly there is lots to do in Whistler for the outdoorsy type person. Especially this time of the year. Whistler-Blackcomb is a fabulous facility for downhill cycling – likely World class I imagine. At any given moment there were 50 to 70 mountain bikers (all ages and genders) queued up for the T-bar lifts and a continuous stream of bikers flying down the trails coming out of the trail end chutes only to queue up again for the 15 minute ride to the trail head area some 2700 feet higher!

In the next chapter we will talk about the food and drink of Whistler – some surprises and a few disappointments.


Growing it for Men's Health - Movember · 20 November 2011 by colin newell

Colin Newell - senior writer and editor/creator coffeecrew.comHey! If you enjoy this blog, are male or have a male in your life – please consider supporting Men’s health in November!

It is Movember and I have tossed my razor for the month of November 2011.

Please consider a small donation to my Movember team at the University of Victoria.

If you are a dude or there is a dude in your life, please remind him to take care of himself and get “checked” at least once a year.

Prostate cancer is a battle that you can win – if you stay on top of it. So say “I love you” to the ones you love by looking after yourself.

Feel free to click here for a small donation to my Movember team.

Thanks everyone!