Get ‘Er Done

Of all the annoying things about home ownership, nothing is worse than water leaks. I suppose a leak in the basement outweighs a leaky roof but I don’t want either one.

This is the 4th new roof we’ve had to put on (counting a new one on a new house) and honestly we never even came close to the so-called lifespan of the shingles. The best we did was 17 years in our home in Georgetown. So much for warranty coverage.

So after close to 14 years, here we go again. The original roof on the new house was put on in the winter, some of the adhesive strips were never taken off the 3 tab shingles. So generally the adhesion was poor. We had shingles torn off on a windy day in 2011, and a couple of times after that we had a roofer come by to stick down flapping tabs. As well the venting was inadequate, so summer heat started to curl the shingles on the south side of the house.

I suppose we could have waited another year but would you want a leaking roof in February? I thought not.

So – on a couple of sunny days near the summer solstice – we started over with the help of Elite Home Exteriors. The first step was to strip off the old shingles.

All the waste went into this handy trailer.

A big delivery truck brought our new materials.

Everything went up to the roof with a crane attached to the truck. Pretty slick.

Starting at the back – off with the old, on with the new.

By the end of day one, the back was pretty well completed.

Still had the front to finish. No rain in the forecast, fortunately.

By the afternoon of day two, all was well. New underlayment, new flashing, new vents, new shingles. Hopefully, we’ll be good to go for a while. Thanks again to Andrew and his crew for a nice clean job.

 

Yesterday’s Treasure – Today’s Kitsch

Maria and I are not antique hounds but – like most early boomers – we have collected some family knick-knacks over our married life. We’ve had more than 45 years to do it, so it adds up.

Some of the things we’ve collected include:

  • “Good” china. We have Royal Worcester Evesham – a popular choice since the early 1960s. Our stuff is mostly the older design – not microwave safe and with a less modern shape for the cups. Royal Worcester is still available so maybe this should be considered just a collectible.
  • Silverware, or in our case the cheaper silverplate. We collected a set of Birks Regency flatware back in the 1970s. Birks does not sell this anymore so I guess it might qualify as an antique.
  • Hummell figurines we got for Sarah when she was a child.
  • Royal Doulton figurines. We have a few but never went overboard. We have a cabinet to make them cat proof.
  • Wall art from mostly Ontario-based artists like Trisha Romance and Walter Campbell.
  • A nice collection of Gibson teapots. Gibson was a major UK teapot manufacturer back in the day but have been out of business for 40 years. Does anybody use a teapot today?
  • Paragon cups and saucers. We have an eclectic set of these in various shapes and sizes ranging from the 1910s to the 1950s. Paragon is also long out of business and the records are gone. However, they always had a Royal Warrant so you can approximately date any piece. They make a nice addition to a tea party Sarah has every year for the kids in Veronica’s “Little Flower” group.

Add to this a few pieces of early 20th-century furniture and you have quite a stash of stuff I guess. In past generations, this would have added up to some valuable antiques at best or treasured family heirlooms at least. Not so much today though.

It seems that most Millennials and late Gen Xers do not appreciate or want the collectibles their parents and grandparents had at home. Many are late to leave the nest, have smaller spaces to furnish or prefer to go to Ikea or Crate and Barrel. For younger people, it is more about travel and flexibility than having stuff. I get this. If a Millennial collects things from the past, it might be an antique transistor radio or even an Atari video game. Horses for courses I suppose.

This lack of interest in collecting our past “stuff” has sure made a difference for antique dealers and estate managers though. Maria sees a lot of rather nice crockery and flatware just be given away to the thrift store. Bricks and mortar antique stores suffer from fewer customers and their prospective ones are buying on eBay.

I suppose you shouldn’t worry too much about what happens to your possessions in the long run. Maybe the key is to enjoy them and not just store them away. I have a few antique watches that belonged to my grandfathers, a historic family quilt, some other keepsakes from past generations – and I hope these continue to be family treasures.

If the rest ends up as kitsch in a thrift store – well at least we enjoyed collecting it, and maybe someone else will be able to use it. I am not optimistic though, and I’m glad I didn’t buy any of it as an investment.

Yesterday’s treasure, today’s kitsch. Hopefully, it’s not tomorrow’s trash. Rather depressing to grow old.

 

A Lifetime Ago

50 years ago – when Lyndon Johnson was President, Lester B. Pearson was Prime Minister, an unpopular war was raging in South East Asia, political assassinations rocked American society, riots broke out in Chicago and Detroit, LSD was the new miracle drug, the Boomers were going to change the world – I got my first real, interesting, relevant and good paying summer job in a small, serene southern Ontario town.

I had gotten lucky a few months before in having an interview with Keith Torrie – General Foods Lab Manager – at a Queen’s job recruiting fair. Now I was a lab assistant in GF Research for the summer. As usual, I needed the money to finish my degree, and this time I got paid better and didn’t have to shovel concrete for a change.

I worked with two food tech veterans and they taught me a lot – they had to. Edith was a veteran industrial home economist, and I learned food preparation and simple cookery from her. Elwood was in his late 50s, had graduated in the same discipline and from the same university as I hoped to do. He had developed Ovaltine back in the day and also was the expert at GF in Shake ‘n Bake – plus being the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet – totally unselfish and willing to share his knowledge. What a pair!

I did a lot of Elwood’s bench work – first on a dumb project to make Shake ‘n Bake for hot dogs – and then after I gained his trust Elwood had me do the pilot plant trials and full-scale introduction for Shake ‘n Bake Italian – something that is still around today. Pretty neat.

I was hooked. I came back as a graduate to work in the lab a year later, spent 35 years at it, still think it was the best career I could ever have had. A lifetime ago, a world away – but the memories, oh the memories!

Kit Lens

When I got my Nikon D5500 a few years ago I included a  kit in the purchase that gave me two VR lenses (18-55) and 55-200) for an excellent price (about $400 Canadian.) There are some reviewers on the Interweb that might fault me for my choice here; the so-called “kit” lenses get slagged for lower build quality and optics compared to the more expensive “prosumer” zooms Nikon makes for its DX model cameras.

I guess I am a bit of a non-critical photographer because if I can get a photo such as the one above with a $150 kit lens I am happy.

Here’s one with the 55-200 telephoto taken last year. I was satisfied with this one as well.

In 35 years, I have owned 3 Nikon SLR camera systems. My early 80s FE featured a “cheap” Nikon series E 50mm lens that served me well. My 2002 era F80 came with a low-end 28-80mm plastic Nikon zoom that took great photos.

Here’s an example of the 28-80 lens at work. It’s a scan from film, but you get the idea.

The D5500 is one of Nikon’s lightest and most compact DSLRs – I got it for that very reason. Even a camera that doesn’t get a lot of travel time should be lightweight as far as I am concerned.

Why would I buy a smaller lightweight camera body and then pair it up with a lens that is 3X as heavy and 4X as costly as the simple kit? It’s not as if the Nikkor kit lenses are real junk. They may be plasticky and less robust but hey..the optics are pretty good. Good enough for me at least.

Since then I’ve added a light and cheap Nikkor ultra wide angle (10-20mm) lens to my kit and I’m happy with all three. They are not great in low light (I need a flash there) but for general purposes, they do the job.

I’d be tempted to take this setup on car trips – but for air travel..Nah. A travel zoom that goes in my pocket is better than a body and three lens bag. At least it is at my age.

Mighty Mississippi

One of the best things about living is Almonte is the Mississippi River that flows through downtown. No, not that Mississippi – this one is the minor Canadian version.

A couple of weeks ago the river was roaring with the spring run-off. Now the upper falls are trickling as the new membrane weir from the small powerhouse holds back the flow for the generators.

Still quiet at the Barley Mow pub as well – but it’ll pick up later today as folks look for a cool spot to have a brew.

Water flows past the mini-dam at the Thoburn Mill and gleams in the morning sunlight.

The new small powerhouse will be busy churning out some megawatts for the A/C units in town.

Further down the river, things are pretty calm after the spring flood.

Up at the main falls, not much going on now as the big power plant sucks the river dry – but you can see what went on a couple of weeks ago.

Most of the river flow is headed down the penstocks to the turbines – the rest is just show business for the tourists.

Downtown it’s a quiet morning by the Naismith statue – the real busy season begins in July with all the festivals and antique shopping.

Things get a bit out of control with wide angle lens and some crazy angles in this perspective view of the old Victorian post office – now a trendy Italian restaurant.

Back at the river, I admired this 1930s bench which incorporates an old millstone with a sculpture by R. Tait McKenzie. I enjoyed my tour of Almonte’s riverscape and I hope you did as well.

 

 

The 15-Year Cycle

Seems to me that instead of measuring human lifespan in the 3 score and 10 metric we should use the 15-year cycle – use a cat’s lifespan instead.

For example, it’s been nearly 14 years since our home in Almonte looked like this, and we’ll celebrate 13 years in the place in July. That’s time enough to go through a product cycle. Stuff needs doing over again and the house sure isn’t new any longer. For example:

  • The roof. Never a really high-quality affair, it’s curling on the sunny side of things. No leaks as yet but we have to seriously think about a replacement.
  • Heating and cooling. Our experience shows that after 15 years you better think about replacing the A/C unit. We had trouble already although it was relatively minor. We get the furnace serviced each year along with the A/C unit, and so far so good but you never know. It doesn’t make sense to me to replace the A/C without doing the furnace but we’ll see. The hot water tank has already been replaced.
  • Appliances. We got them new when we moved in, but the refrigerator only lasted 10 years. The laundry, stove and dishwasher appliances are still working although the stove needed its oven element replaced. I suppose a gas grill is an appliance and that got replaced this year – 12 years in.
  • TV and computers. Our TV is now 8 years old and still works OK but I’d be surprised to get 15 years from it. Computers never last that long, but with careful upgrading 10 years isn’t out of the question. Cellphones – fahgeddaboudit.

There are some things that last though. My stereo system has some parts that are close to 35 years old – but they don’t get much use (turntable.) Speakers seem to go on forever – my daughter has a pair from my first stereo that are close to 50 years old. My receiver died a few years ago after more than 25 years of use. These are exceptions to the 15-year cycle, but it wouldn’t surprise me if any electronic part failed in 15 years.

Ironically for many household items, this may be my final 15-year cycle. Rather morbid thought, but in 15 years time I believe I’ll be ready for a more “catered to” way of life – assuming I survive the product failure cycle personally. Let’s hope so.

Analog Man – NOT!!

Great song, great album – you can even get it on vinyl. Does it apply to me – an analog man in a digital world? I don’t think so.

I suppose there are lots of ways to go analog today – write with a fountain pen, read books, drive an old car, use a Daytimer or (cough) slide rule. But in my case going back to analog would be in two major areas – music and photography.

Music

I do have a fair vinyl collection of LPs dating back to the mid-60s. I have my 1983 Akai turntable. I even got a small cheap preamp so it would work with my 2014 Sony amplifier. Am I about to join the Millennium generation in buying vinyl all over again? What do you think?

The truth is, I have had all the aggravation I need with the click, Pop, WHUMP! of a well-worn disk, or the wow and flutter of a stretched cassette. Maybe a CD lacks some of that “character.” However, a casual listen to the digital remastered Stones and Beatles classics in my CD collection sounds amazing.

And there’s more. The ability to stream music with Spotify anywhere in the house is something an analog man would never have. Right now I just dialed up “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on my desktop. My little Android tablet lets me play it through my old school stereo if I want.

I might add that my digital hearing aids also vastly improve my appreciation of classic rock – probably more than the difference I’d see between streaming and vinyl. With the hearing aids, I experience the opening acoustic riffs on “Street Fighting Man” the same way I did 50 years ago. The sitar and piano are crisp and clean. Not bad.

Photography

I have two analog (35mm) film cameras in my closet. I have had each of them since 2002 or so.

The first is a Rollei Prego 30 – a small light travel camera with a simple fixed lens. It was cheap to buy but high quality – Rollei never made junk. I used this camera early on in my business travel to document plant trials and runs at co-packers. Here is an example from a plant run in Edmonton in 2002.

I had to get the film developed and scanned to use it in presentations, so the Rollei got replaced by an early digicam.

My second film camera is a Nikon F80, which has a lot of great 1980s AF lenses that still fit my digital camera. The film camera body was last used in 2010. Here’s a pic from that film shoot with some old Fuji 400 film.

Both cameras are “stored serviceable.” Both still could be put back into use with the purchase of some 35mm film – in fact, I still have some old film around that might still be OK to use. But I don’t think I will be shooting film again for a few reasons:

  • Options to buy your favorite film are decreasing. You can still get color print film easily enough. Slide film is a bit harder. However, companies like Fuji are discontinuing multi-packs so it’ll be costlier. Kodak film is still around even though the company isn’t.
  • It is getting harder to get film processed. Local one-hour photofinishing is dead. You have to mail your film in or take it into the city for developing.
  • Traveling with a film camera is a hassle. You need to take enough film with you, as who knows if you can pick up the odd roll if you forget to bring enough. Digital cameras can store thousands of images.
  • X-ray machines at airports haven’t been a problem in the past – but who knows how they treat film today?
  • Digital shooters are used to changing ISO to compensate for low light. That can’t happen with a film camera unless you change the film roll.
  • Let’s face it – it’s a lot more convenient to review your photos at once than to wait weeks to see your images. Fuji has made quite a splash recently with its instant film photography – that seems to intrigue the younger set more than the old school 35mm.
  • Shooting film has a convoluted workflow and I don’t think the majority of smartphone/Instagram photographers would want to shoot, wait 2 weeks, download scans and upload them later.

In my life, tossing out vinyl records and cassettes plus photographic film takes a lot of analog man away. And I stopped using a slide rule a while ago. So digital appears to be my future. Oh yes, I don’t read newspapers either.

 

 

 

 

 

Legacy Glass, Digital SLR

After I got my Nikon F80 film camera in 2002, I collected a fair number of compatible Nikon autofocus lenses for it. I had a couple of zooms, and some really nice prime lenses ranging from 24 mm up to 300mm in all. I kept those lenses and the F80 camera body even though I didn’t use the whole kit much after 2006.

When I purchased my new DSLR (Nikon D5500) in 2015 I got some new Nikkor DX zooms with it. Although in theory I could use the legacy glass with my new camera body, I felt it would be better to move on with newer lenses for the following reasons:

  1. The old lenses were designed for FX (full frame) cameras. On a DX camera like the D5500, they had a 1.5X crop factor so that a standard 50mm lens worked like a 75mm short telephoto. My widest angle 24mm legacy was now a 35mm lens.
  2. The legacy lenses would not autofocus on the new DSLR since it lacked the old-school screwdriver motor. My eyes at the time were not the best so autofocus was pretty much essential and I got that in the new lenses.
  3. The new lenses had image stabilization built in so camera shake was much reduced. The older lenses didn’t have this feature.

Nevertheless, I did some experimentation with the older lenses and was pleasantly surprised when I could get them focused in good light.

Here is a picture of the Mississippi River below the falls with a 24mm lens acting like a 35mm lens.

And here is a picture of the old flour mill with a 50mm lens behaving like a 75mm short telephoto.

Finally here is a picture of Oates with an 85mm portrait lens acting like a 128mm medium telephoto. Focusing is a bear with this lens in low light, but I managed to get the cat’s head in focus although the rest of his body could not be given a wide aperture.

I have been pleased that I can use my legacy lenses on my newer DSLR – but mainly this activity is for curiosity only. The more modern zooms provide image stabilization and fast autofocus, so I can concentrate more on composition and less on focusing. I won’t be getting rid of my nice 80s and 90s legacy glass though.

 

 

Industrial Marketing

Having worked in the food industry as long as I did, I got pretty familiar with consumer marketing – how to sell Maxwell House Coffee, Jell-O, Becel, Hellmann’s Mayo – but how do you flog a water heater? That lies within the purvue of Industrial Marketing and it’s quite different.

I thought about the differences lately when I had to get a new water heater at home. There were some clues of course on the company website but also on the appliance itself.

First of all the main customer for water heaters is not the consumer – it is the HVAC installation company. My installer’s logo was front and center on the tank – right next to the Energy Star label. So the industrial marketer keeps the installer happy.

Second, there’s branding. In consumer markets, branding is – well, basically everything. In industrial markets, not so much.

My new water heater is a Bradford-White. My old one was a GSW. Does that mean anything to you? Does the fact I now own a Bradford-White make me fulfilled as a consumer? I think it must be pretty tough to build brand awareness in this market.

Third, a marketer still has to differentiate his product from the competition – if only to sell the installer to feature his brand. How does Bradford-White do this?

It begins by wrapping itself in the flag – the fact that the units are US made is important to some – like The Donald, for instance. Next, the tank water entry system has an innovative mixing capability that reduces sediment, mixes cold water efficiently with the hot water that’s already there. This apparently means that the heater doesn’t have to work as hard or as long to keep a good supply of hot water on tap. This makes sense to me theoretically. Whether it’s of any practical significance we’ll see. Bradford-White has some interesting videos on its website in addition to the logo on the tank – but if I had that much crud in my hot water tank I’d have more problems than simply keeping it in suspension. The marketers at Bradford-White call this mixing system Hydrojet – which I think is a cool name. I don’t think it would motivate me to insist on a Bradford-White water tank – but maybe the installer appreciates it.

There are lots of other household items that need Industrial Marketing – furnaces, roof shingles, siding, gas fireplaces to name a few. You might even include toilets and sinks in the list – at least the ones that the builder selected for your house in the first place. All these have to be sold by somebody to somebody – and believe it or not, that takes Marketing.

 

Fail

This isn’t so much a post about photography as it is about how a technology-driven company can make products that are a marketing and financial disaster if they don’t understand their customer.

Nobody can dispute Nikon’s place as an optical and camera giant. They started out in the 1940s by knocking off Leica rangefinders, created legendary single lens reflex cameras and lenses and ended up going head to head with Canon for the lead among Japanese manufacturers. They have a legion of devoted users. Count me in.

However, Nikon has never been a big winner in the point and shoot market. Coolpix always trailed the Canon point and shoots feature for feature, and with smartphones taking over, Nikon’s non-DSLR market was decimated.

But I digress. The camera above – Nikon Coolpix A – came out 5 years ago. It was an attempt to bring the mid-range DSLR technology into the compact Coolpix form. It had a large DX type sensor and a prime (non-zooming) lens which was better than the consumer “kit lenses” that Nikon sold with its low-end digital single lens reflex cameras. It was compatible with Nikon’s excellent flash technology. It had a solid metal body and a quality look and feel. Its menu system was easy to understand and quite similar to the familiar DSLR way of thinking. It was compact and lightweight. It made great images. It failed.

There are a number of reasons why but in summary it came down to a series of marketing problems caused by the camera:

  • Limited consumer appeal. Most point and shoots have a zoom lens, this one did not. About the only person who would be interested would be someone who had a large DSLR and lenses but wanted a small walking around camera. This is a fairly restricted group to be sure.
  • Overpriced. Initial MSRP for the Coolpix A was about twice what you could get a cheap DSLR and kit lens for – a setup that had a zoom capability. A competitive compact product from Ricoh was priced hundreds of dollars less.
  • Unappealing design. Fujifilm had a competitively priced X100S rangefinder that was a beautiful camera – similar to a classic Leica film model in design. The Coolpix at heart looked like a cheap point and shoot camera.
  • Slicing the salami – Nikon omitted a viewfinder and remote flash command to keep their costs down. Even a cheap Coolpix had the ability to control remote flash units but the Coolpix A – nope. The optional clip-on viewfinder had no connection with the camera and was very expensive. The camera did not offer image stabilization either – something that the cheapest point and shoots have today and a must for low light photography.
  • Lens too wide and not competitive – the lens on the Fuji X100S was faster and had a better focal length for general photography. The Coolpix A did great at landscape photography, but you had to get pretty close for portraits and people. Not every subject likes a photographer in their face.

To be blunt, this looks a bit like Wag the Dog business at work. Here Marketing, we’ve made this great camera, now go flog it.

Initial expert reviews were positive, although it was pointed out that the Coolpix A was overpriced compared to a comparably specified camera, and lacking in the design elements of the Finepix X100S. The Coolpix A was also seen as rather a specialist model, lacking broad photographic appeal.

Within a few months, the price of the Coolpix A was discounted 25-30% (not good from Nikon’s viewpoint.) By the time the camera was discontinued, the major camera stores in the US were selling it for 70% off the initial MSRP. Often they threw in the expensive clip-on viewfinder as a bonus.

No replacement model was announced or probably even planned.

But that’s not the end of the story. In subsequent years the Coolpix A has become a bit of a cult classic. It is difficult to find a used model at the price that the last ones were sold new. Nikon has sold some refurbished Coolpix A cameras in the US – maybe they had new old stock somewhere in their warehouses. If you look on Amazon, you can find expensive Coolpix As which can be imported from Japan. Coolpix A’s principal rivals – the Finepix X100 series and the Ricoh GR series – are still on the market and have been upgraded from their original models. So there is a market out there. It’s much smaller after the perfect storm of smartphone cameras, but it exists.

So would I buy a Coolpix A – maybe at the lowest discounted price. It is built like a tank, is compact and I can’t deny it is engineered for making great images. However I do have a good travel camera with an impressive zoom, and I also own a mid-range Nikon DSLR that would do everything the Coolpix A would do – and more. I would never have considered the Coolpix A at all when it was introduced. And when a Nikon fanboy rejects your product, you have more than just a marketing problem.

 

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