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Are you ready - Chapter 2 - emergency preparedness on an Island · 24 January 2016 by colin newell

Earthquake coming to Victoria - be prepared

Chances are, if you are a resident of Victoria on Vancouver Island, Vancouver, Seattle or one of many small or medium sized coastal communities in the Northwest, one of the worse things that is going to happen to you in your life likely hasn’t happened yet because it is brewing right now, underground, along the coast in a colossal clash of geology that is moving in slow motion towards an earth shattering climax.

Within the last month, on Southern Vancouver Island and amidst the Gulf Islands, we had a very mild earthquake that rattled as many nerves as dishes and caused virtually no damage. There was the typical rush to prepare as sales of emergency kits soared. Truth is, this race to get prepared has very few fully engaged participants.

So if you are among the small percentage of folks that rushed out and got your first aid kits together and took an inventory of your dry goods and water supply… well, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Truth be told, you are not really and truly prepared. Neither am I come to think of it. As I sit here right now gazing into my back yard, I cannot, for certain, tell you where my first aid kits are – and I know for a fact that I do not have adequate water. I do have enough white and red wine in my cellar to keep my entire street inebriated for an entire week but that is not entirely helpful.

Being ready is more than just having a weeks worth of bottled water stowed in a secure location or having a packed bag of first aid and outdoor survival gear packed in the back of your car or in your garage. These things are all critical (and sadly only 10% or less of area residents have given much thought towards the most basic of survival kits…) but one of the less obvious things that is missing from our plan has more to do with our individual or collective consciousness.

What do I mean by that? I mean that the average person is not having a regular dialog with themselves or their neighbours about what to do in the event of a catastrophe of this nature. The kind of earthquake we can expect in our life time will cut us off from our families and our public services and utilities. This separation from our daily reality could easily last days and weeks.

So, what to do? I am not going to drone on about this. But I will repeat my basic list of what most would agree that you need to hunker down and survive – and to help your neighbourhood survive.

a.) Water. Have at least 2 weeks worth in bottles – at least a litre a day per person in your house.
b.) Candles. Flashlight. Battery powered radio.
c.) Dried food/Emergency rations. Enough for a dozen or so neighbours for a week!
d.) First aid kit. Bandages. Antibiotic cream. Antiseptic.
e.) Shelter. Your house may be still standing but you are going to be sleeping outside for a few days.

The key thing here is: You can live for days without food. You cannot function without water. If you do anything, have water at the ready. Or beer or wine. Or nutritional drinks like “Rumble” – they are available locally and you could survive on those alone for weeks.

Another tip: Have a pair of thick socks and slippers by your bed always. When the “big one” hits, you are going to be walking on broken glass – so it will be good to have your feet covered.

I had an excellent question from Ken Gordon, well known Victoria area resident that works at Caffe Fantastico, “Hey Colin, if anyone would know the answer to this, you would… Where do I tune my radio to in the event of the Big One?”

Well, this may come as a surprise to our readers… but it will not be the CBC on Vancouver Island – and it will not likely be a networked FM radio station operating out of Victoria. It will be CFAX on 1070 khz. During our last great calamity, the snow storm of 1996, most of Victoria’s radio and TV networks never broke from their generic Toronto content feed to even acknowledge that anything untoward was happening here. It was CFAX 1070 alone that reported on the events as they unfolded. CBC Radio 1 on Vancouver Island is hopelessly tethered to the Mother Ship in Toronto and has no facility whatsoever to handle any form of live broadcasting or emergency message handling here in the city or on the Island.

To quote an earlier chapter on this subject…

“The local radio station will be running on emergency power. They will be your first and primary way of assessing what has happened on a broader scale. Your cell phone network will be a paper weight, overloaded by panicked 911 calls and toppled towers. As you divide your attention between the crackling radio and the downtown horizon in the distance, you will be overwhelmed by the immediately unfamiliar chaos, but hopefully you will also have a steady sense of resolve and, as a result of your personal planning, a plan of action.”

Colin Newell is a writer, technician and advocate for emergency preparedness – who is, more or less, prepared for anything nature can throw at him. Join us for a continuing dialog on this subject.


Michael Kaeshammer and his band in concert - Victoria B.C. · 28 November 2015 by colin newell

Michael Kaeshammer in Concert - Victoria - 2015

When Michael Kaeshammer sits down at a grand piano worthy of his dynamic range, the genuflection towards the likes of Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson (the Grand masters and caretakers of the Boogie Woogie music genre of the 30’s and 40’s…) is immediate, respectful and unmistakeable.

Born in Germany, but relocated to Canada as a young adult, Michael Kaeshammer has toured and recorded tirelessly and brings an energetic show to virtually every stage. His visit to the McPherson Playhouse on a crisp night on November 27th, 2015 was no exception. With 6 Juno nominations to his credit and numerous music awards, Michael is a veteran of several classic musical idioms including but not restricted to boogie-woogie, Fats Waller inspiring stride piano, Chicago blues, straight ahead Jazz and The Great American Song book.

This was my third time at a Michael Kaeshammer concert and if one thing is assured, it is a sudden release of musical energy that is off the charts. Michael Kaeshammer does not simply play the piano as much as he pushes it to the outer reaches of the instruments spectrum. A Michael Kaeshammer show is a tribute to 20th Century piano history and within the realm of Michael’s humility, he makes the 88 key piano the actual star of the show with his seemingly limitless mastery of the instrument taking the piano places it has never been.

Michael Kaeshammer also leaves his ego in the dressing room as band members, Nick La Riviere on trombone, Paul Pigat on Fender Telecaster guitar, Devon Henderson on acoustic and electric bass, a nuclear powered Roger Travassos on drums, a hirsute and Miles Davis inspired William Sperandei on trumpet, and an endlessly soulful Eli Bennett on tenor saxophone take turns raising us to the stratosphere.

In an almost 3 hour show, Michael Kaeshammer and his band seamlessly cross the boundaries of a more formal tribute to a classic American musical genre into the realm of a piano masterclass. What’s quite apparent early in the 1st set is that Michael is so giddy to be back home among friends that the audience is treated to a first class jam session where there is no play list or expectations – it’s just all fun from the word go. And the McPherson audience is the sole beneficiary at this house party. By the second set the band has settled into a groove somewhat reminiscent of a New Orleans Mardi Gras street party. At one point the horn section leaves the stage with Michael on tambourine to go “walk-about” ending up in the Upper Balcony entertaining a surprised and appreciative audience, the rhythm section below never missing a beat.

In another section of the 2nd set, Michael Kaeshammer and guitarist Paul Pigat are “cutting heads” duking it out between piano and Fender guitar. To his credit, Pigat takes the classic country-rock Telecaster guitar to places normally unexplored for this 6-string, squeezing out riffs generally more suited to a Gibson or Gretsch -and doing it with experience and aplomb.

Overall, this was the most spirited outing from Michael Kaeshammer that I have seen proving again that he is an exceptional performer, a true master of the piano and a great bandleader that brings out the very best in his musical team members. Bravo Michael Kaeshammer! Good show.

You can find out more about Michael Kaeshammer at his website Kaeshammer.Com


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!