Region: North America

The Future is Sunny

The Future is Sunny

The Lovely Misses and I have been together in Arizona for maybe a month now. While apart (I was living in Vancouver BC meeting the residency requirement for Canadian citizenship; she’s less keen on winter drizzle), we schemed about things we’d like to do with the Arizona house. One of those decisions was to get solar photovoltaics installed. This is quite popular in the southwest, because we have no shortage of sunshine, and electric bills can be quite high due to air conditioning needs.

As a result, there are lots of solar installers, even if you just choose from the cream of the crop, there are still lots of solar installers. There are tax credits from the state and federal governments that are currently scheduled to expire.

We’ve got the interest, we’ve got the funds, and we’ve got the sun.

It was straightforward to get companies to visit and give us quotes, and since we had already “separated the wheat from the chaff” in terms of reputable companies, they all provided quality quotes, most within a day or two. The quotes ranged from about $10,000 to about $15,000, which sounds like a ton of money (OK, it is) – but there are a number of benefits (not the least of which is free electricity):

  • The purchase is not subject to Arizona sales tax
  • There’s a 30% federal tax credit and a State of Arizona credit too (we don’t pay much in the way of AZ taxes, however).
  • The electric company (Tucson Electric Power or “TEP”) pays the consumer for power we generate. They don’t pay nearly what we pay them for that same kilowatt hour, but it’s better than nothing.
  • The resale value of the house increases by more than the cost of the equipment and installation.
  • While they’re doing the electrical work for the solar, they’ll install the outlet we’ll eventually need for a hybrid/electric car. Two birds, one stone.

Here’s the gory details with some translation for the non-technical:

We bought a 4.77Kwh* PV (photovoltaic) system, using Kyocera cells (18 panels) and a SolarEdge Inverter with its “power optimizers”. In contrast to the traditional “string inverters” which arrange panels in series with performance limited to the lowest performer in the string, this has localized devices that manage each panel. This makes the inverter simpler and gives us performance information via web for each panel . The cell performance is guaranteed to 93% of its original performance (265W/cell) for 25 years. The inverter is warranted for 12 years, which is considered its average lifespan.

*The kilowatt-hour … is a unit of energy equivalent to one kilowatt (1 kW) of power sustained for one hour.  — Wikipedia

The system is over-configured – our average use is only about 60% of an average customer, because we’re both in British Columbia during the summer when temps here are in the high 30s (Celsius) (near 100F). The payback for the initial system (3.6kwh) was about 8 years, but we decided to provision it for the possibility that we (or renters) would be cooling during the summers (we usually set out thermostat at it’s highest setting – about 90F / 32C).

So what happens now that we’ve written the check?

  1. The Installer sends out people to do a site survey
  2. They contact our HOA (Homeowner Association) for permission to do the installation (it’s a formality)
  3. They do the install probably toward the end of January 2016 (2 months from now)
  4. The town approves the work
  5. We pay the installer the balance of the cost
  6. The electric company hooks the system up to the electrical grid
  7. We start generating electricity and make the electric meter spin backwards!

Watch this space.

For the technically-inclined, here are the quote/configuration, and manufacturers’ information.

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Now, we Wait – Citizenship Watch

Now, we Wait – Citizenship Watch

Oh, Canada. After over 11 years living in Vancouver BC (on and off, with a significant “on” during the last 4 years), I’ve (Scott) finally met the residency requirements to apply for Canadian citizenship. It’s a proud moment. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the differences between Canadians and Americans – whether personalities, knowledge of events outside the country, politics – all are different than I would have expected.

Canada is not perfect; I don’t know any country that is – and I’ve been to over a hundred of ’em. But British Columbia has such charms that I miss it the day I step foot away.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada say 2 to 3 years (update: 12 months or less!) for processing. So with hope, I’ll get the call sometime before Summer 2016.

St Petersburg, FL to Orlando

St Petersburg, FL to Orlando

December 2014
2-1-2015 3-49-58 PMMy drive from Arizona to South Florida was an estimated 2583 miles (4156km) one way, and naturally some legs are going to be longer than others. A while back, I’d made arrangements to stay with a guy I worked for during my first job (I suppose technically it was my 2nd job – but with the same employer). We’ve been in touch over the years since we each left the company (Digital Equipment) and I knew he was somewhere in Florida. Unfortunately, while there was no error or ambiguity on his part, I had apparently mistaken one Florida town for another. Result? After a night on the town (read: “hangover”), I ended up at 7am and having to drive from New Orleans to St. Petersburg, Florida – almost 700 miles / 1125km. With traffic and a couple of stops it was over 11 hours in the car.

(photo by Bob)
(photo by Bob)

Well, it was worth it. Bob and I are both older by more than 3 decades; I’m mostly bald and while he’s got a full head of hair, it’s pretty much silver. I remember Bob as being thin going on gaunt; he isn’t any more but is an avid bicyclist and looks great. His wit and humor have survived the test of time – and the complete loss of his house to fire just a few weeks prior to my showing up. He’s got a great bunch of kids and entertaining pets too.

Here are a few “creative commons” photos – I didn’t take any while I was there (arrived late, left relatively early)

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In the Clouds: Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park

In the Clouds: Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park

Aug 17 – 21 2014. It has been a less than stellar summer. For a number of reasons, the two of us have been apart for longer than usual (Scott’s mom was in a stead decline and ultimately passed away, in late July). So despite Scott having been in Canada since January, this was our first true “getaway” together this year. Fortunately, it was splendid. Restorative.

Along with our wonderful friends Blake & Libby (whom we first met in South India [no they’re not Indian, they’re Vancouver natives of Irish ancestry actually]), we set off to the Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park, about 4 hours drive from Vancouver. But that’s just the start of the trip.

We were staying at Cathedral Lakes Lodge at some 2000m/6800′ of elevation – and you have to get there. Well, you can hike up for free… but it’s not an easy climb. So most of the guests at Cathedral Lakes got there over a 14km/9 mile harrowing drive by a remarkably-skilled youngster (17?) who grew up on logging roads. A little math (about 6000′ over 9 miles) gives you a sense for the pitch of the road, but not its  quality. The quality, we’re told, was exceptionally good (until the day after we left, when there were torrential rains…). Luck us. The drive up takes an hour. That’s 9 miles/hr (14km/hr).

But… it’s worth it. Unspoiled stunning views. Great hiking, good food. Excellent company. Recommended. Have a look:

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Here’s the neighbourhood:

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Scott’s Mom

Scott’s Mom

Joyce Larko, circa 2003

Mom passed away in her sleep this morning, July 20, 2014, after a prolonged illness. She was under in-home hospice care, and was kept comfortable for her final days. She did not suffer, and family was by her side.

She was 84.

When she shall die,
Take her and cut her out in little stars,
And she will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

“Where we’re at”… in a couple of ways

“Where we’re at”… in a couple of ways

Geographically, we’re in Vancouver, BC for the Spring and Summer – and in Scott’s case, the Fall and a part of the Winter. Summer starts tomorrow, it’s been sunny and in the high teens/low 20s (that’s high 60s/low 70s in fahrenheit). Kathy has to manage her time in Canada this year (it’s complicated…) so she’s flitting back and forth between here and the US.

Blog-wise, we’ve been remiss in updating our content. We have a ton of material to move over from the decade-old site, and it’s tedious work and little of it automated. We haven’t been traveling much because I (Scott) am tied to Canada for some time in order to earn Canadian (dual) citizenship, about which I am honoured. But that’s another topic. Hang in there, check for new content from time to time. I’m going to write a bit about my recent volunteer experiences – they’ve given me a renewed sense of purpose and connection to the community. You can get new posts delivered by email; there’s a signup area on the home page.

Credit: consciousvision Flickr creative commons
Credit: consciousvision Flickr creative commons
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The Road Home – Canadian Rockies 7

The Road Home – Canadian Rockies 7

Canadian Rockies waterfall

After saying goodbye to our friends, we headed west to Kootenay National Park. The sun lasted long enough for us to explore Marble Canyon. It’s a deep, narrow canyon carved by a bright blue glacial stream. Quite the sight. The surrounding area was burned by a huge forest fire about a decade ago – you can just see the re-growth starting.

As we walked back to the car after visiting the Canyon, the heavens opened up with rain. So we gave up on the rest of our hiking plans for the day, pointed the car homewards, and arrived home before 6pm. Can’t wait for our next trip!

Alaska – Homeward Bound (Southern Inland Passage)

Alaska – Homeward Bound (Southern Inland Passage)

After a too-brief week in our luxury suite, it was time to head home, southward through the Inside Passage. As usual, the weather varied between sunny and foggy. Big islands, little islands, mountains – beautiful scenery, and very little civilization, other than some occasional timberless areas that have been recently logged. And we did see a whale (very briefly!) We celebrated our final evening on the back deck with a bottle of champagne.

Some reflections on the cruise: This really has been a fun trip. We’re a bit conflicted about the cruise line: on the plus side, it’s been run very efficiently, we had a fabulous suite at a sweet price and excellent service on board. On the down side, the cruise industry in Alaska is somewhere between oligopoly and monopoly, with Carnival Cruises owning themselves as well as Holland America, Princess and who knows who else. They also own many of the major shops (“we have all the diamonds and tanzanite we need, thanks”). The merchandising on board is endless with lectures on “the best tours in X” (tours are among the top 3 revenue sources for cruise ships), “the best shopping in port X” (where Carnival owns the shops), the special drink of the day (liquor sales are also in the top 3 revenue sources). And of course, shopping on board and the never-ending art sales… How many diamonds does one couple need? (hint: the ones in our wedding rings are more than sufficient).

Upgrading to a suite (the largest on the ship other than the Owner’s Suite) brought our cost up beyond what we’re normally willing to pay for cruising – but is really only the equivalent of a low-end inside cramped (no windows/portal) cabin at normal prices. And we got a ton of perqs – special Concierge and lounge services, free laundry and dry cleaning (which can cost a fortune), a wrap-around deck/veranda of about 33’ / 10m in length, at the stern of the ship and around the port side). We got invited to multiple parties (free drinks…) with the Captain on down, a complimentary bottle of wine… the list seemed endless. Did we mention the Jacuzzi tub?

Our advice for taking an Alaska cruise:

  • Find a way to escape the shopping streets. Some of the towns are worth exploring a bit. But a lot of the best experiences are outside of the towns, in the great outdoors
  • Ship excursions are generally high quality, but are very expensive and involve three or four dozen fellow passengers (ie big crowds)
  • To book non-ship excursions, check out for highly rated local vendors. Book as far in advance as you can – most of them were sold out by the time we contacted them two weeks ahead of our cruise
  • Another option is to use third-party shore excursion companies like or Plus, you can always find local vendors on the dock peddling a range of last-minute tours.
  • If you’re ever going to splurge on a balcony, Alaska would be the time to do it – because so much of the beauty is just cruising through the inside passage and  along the coast.
  • There are some great last-minute bargains, starting about six weeks out. We purchased at about three weeks out. Most of the bargains seemed to be out of Vancouver rather than Seattle. Factor in the additional flight costs if you book at the last minute. I use the 90 day ticker at  to search for the deals – they have the best cruise search engine in my opinion. You can make the actual booking elsewhere if you want.

Enjoy some pictures from the inside passage below, and stay tuned for our next adventure!

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Alaska Cruise – All Aboard!

Alaska Cruise – All Aboard!

Our Sweet Suite

This was our first time cruising out of Vancouver. We’ve cruised INTO Vancouver before – in 2002, the first time we saw the city (and fell in love with it instantly). Vancouver is a high-volume cruise port, with thousands of people leaving for Alaska every day of the week. The port is located downtown, which made it convenient for us to drop off the luggage, then drive the car home and walk back. There were 1000+ pax waiting for security and US customs – but only took about 40 minutes for both. Kathy’s passport got a “pregnant pause” from the Customs guy; like he was waiting for some expression of nervousness on her part or mine.

Having a suite comes with a variety of perqs, one of which was accelerated check-in. While 100 people waited in line for 5 or 6 check-in agents, we were whisked into a special line – no wait at all. The perqs continued thru the week.

Our room was huge by cruise cabin standards, with a wrap-around balcony and dual-sink “head” with both a shower and Jacuzzi tub. There’s more closet space than our stuff requires (which given the technology we travel with, says something) and the usual fawning Cabin Attendants – two of them, both from Indonesia. One of the suite (sweet?) perqs is that we get access to a private lounge, with a welcome champagne and dawn-to-dusk food – as if we needed more food.

So we got on board by about 1:10 in the afternoon, found the aforementioned lounge and had a glass of the aforementioned champagne. Then we headed off to lunch on the “Lido” deck. It’s the typical smorgasbord of cuisines; we settled on the Asian restaurant. I had simple seafood curry on white rice; kathy went for something with chicken it wasn’t brilliant, but it wasn’t unpleasant. And that sort of summed up the food for the entire trip.

We toured all the decks, checking out the various restaurants, bars, casino… the usual stuff on cruise ships. The Zuiderdam is modern and well appointed; neither drab nor tacky. I think they’ve struck a nice balance for their market.

Exhausted from the seeming miles of walking and hundreds of stairs, we settled onto our immense balcony at 5pm, as the ship blew its horn and sailed sedately out of Coal Harbor, under Lion’s Gate Bridge, and into the Inside Passage. W e took innumerable shots of Vancouver, North Vancouver and the north coast (and a few “selfies”), while quaffing wine we’d brought on board, and pinching in disbelief at ending up in such a great cabin.

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Ah, the social obligations of being in a suite: we were invited to a meeting with the Captain, Hotel Manager and host of other staff, along with, yes, more drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The staff were actually quite interesting to chat with – the cruise director was from Zimbabwe, which we’ve visited. The Food & Beverage manager’s previous job was running F&B for the world’s largest private yacht, owned by Paul Allen. Fellow suite passengers, not quite as interesting

We’d pre-booked the premium ($25/pax) “Pinnacle” restaurant for dinner. Caesar salad/surf & turf (fillet mignon and lobster tail) for Kathy, a raw seafood medley and porterhouse for me. All well-executed but not brilliant. Kathy managed to score us a free carafe of wine with dinner, officially just for new reservations that night but she charmed it out of ‘em.

We weren’t the last couple out of the restaurant – there was one other guy but we left late enough (and had had enough to drink in the course of the day) to pretty much end our Saturday adventure.