Sunday, August 28, 2011


My brother has posted a marvellous list of paraprosdokians (insert correct plural) on his blog The English Cowpath.  Our sister provided the collection which someone sent her.  Pass them on.  They are too funny.

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently used in a humorous situation."  "Where there's a will, there’s relatives," is an example.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Late summer gardening report

Tanya is digging again.  Moved flowers last week, dug up her gladiolas today.  Dig, dig, dig.  Getting ready to plant hundreds of little bulbs next week so we will have blooms in spring.  I got some pictures over the past few days.  Late summer flower garden showing the effects of August heat and little rain.

There are these 5' high flowers in several places and there will be twice as many next year

Tanya can grow flowers anywhere.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


By William L. Jessiman

Though I have just given birth to a heifer,
And of pride and of milk I am full,
It is sad to relate that my lacteal state
Was not brought about by a bull.

I have never been naughty, I swear it,
In spite of the calf I have borne.
By Farmer Brown’s tractor, I’m virga intacta.
I have not had the bull by the horn.

No bull has embraced me with passion;
I’ve not had the ghost of a binge;
I haven’t been loved, but ruthlessly shoved
With aseptic disposable syringe.

How cheerless the farmyard and meadows,
The cowshed seems gloomy and gray,
For the one bit of fun in the dreary year’s run
Has by science been taken away.

I know that farming’s a business
In which we must all pull our weight.
I’d pull and I’d pull for a nicely built bull,
Synthetic arrangements I hate.

It must not be thought that I’m jealous.
There are things a cow should not say.
But the Vets and Ag Reps who deprive us of sex
Still get it the old fashioned way.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Furnace

Our house is heated by hot water.  Registers under every window and pipes connecting all. Our little furnace (boiler?) in the back room had been giving trouble for the past couple of years, off and on, and finally packed it in late last spring.  Since it also heated the water for the downstairs bathroom and kitchen sink, it was a bit inconvenient but not fatal.

Tanya called our furnace repair man and made an appointment for him to come early this past week and inspect and estimate.  He laughed and wondered why we hadn't waited until there was snow on the ground.  Apparently it isn't just Canadians who do that.  Anyhow, he showed up and said maybe $300 or $400 for repairs and no guarantees.  The furnace was 8 years old anyhow and 10 years is sort of their limit.  We opted for a new furnace.  Installed about $1000.

In some counties, the (qualified and certified) furnace man would get any required permits, install the furnace and it would be inspected.  End of story. A bit more complicated here. As long as we replace the furnace with the same make and (more or less) model, no one cares.  If we want to change ANYTHING, like make or size or type of furnace, the (post-)Soviet gas bureaucracy kicks in. 

We have to go to P'yatikhatki (county seat) with all documents and start the process. They will send someone to take measurements and draw up a blueprint which must be approved by others.  Official looking stamps must be applied at all levels.  Once this is done, our furnace man (who is qualified and certified) can install the furnace which will then be inspected.  Cost is about $100 but time is anywhere up to 6 weeks.

We opted for simple.  Our furnace man went to Krivii Rih on Friday and installed our new Artiston on Saturday.  Our flexible metal stove pipe from the furnace to the chimney wasn't code so another man showed up, took the measurements and will make us a non-flexible set of stove pipes.  Once that is installed, the rep from the furnace shop in Krivii Rih will inspect and fire up our new furnace to make sure all is well and then our guarantee will kick in. 

New furnace sans stove pipe to chimney

Our chimney isn't exactly code either, being the part extending several meters above the brickwork is simply heavy metal stove pipe wrapped in insulation and duct-taped.  I would dearly love to put up a Selkirk chimney if they are available here in Ukraine.  Tanya was looking on the internet and said they are expensive.  Canadian price in Ukraine, no doubt.

Taken Dec 2009 showing the chimney extension and the insulation.  Works but...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? The Stanford Prison Experiment

BBC this morning ran an article on the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment

The idea was simple - take a group of volunteers, tell half of them they are prisoners, the other half prison wardens, place them in a makeshift jail and watch what happens.
The Stanford prison experiment was supposed to last two weeks but was ended abruptly just six days later, after a string of mental breakdowns, an outbreak of sadism and a hunger strike.

The lesson learned was that ordinary decent people in different situations can and will react very differently from what they believe to be their ingrained moral values. 

Can the Holocaust happen again?  Yes. Can the mass murders of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot happen again?  Yes.  Can Abu Ghraib happen again. Yes.  Will the citizens of powerful countries continue to countenance and participate in horrific acts of violence against other countries which appear to "challenge to their authority"?  Yes.

Centuries of civilization, untold hours of religious activities and related social conditioning do not seem to change things that are hard wired into us.  A grim prognostication of our future.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Today's Tanya-ism

"Sometimes I could kill all men."
"Even me?"
"I just go where I can't see you. . . then I miss you and come back."

Did I ever mention I love my wife?

More Tanya-isms

Last night Tanya came to bed about mid-night and commented on the size and brilliance of the moon.  I said it would be so romantic if we could sit on the balcony and admire it. She said "And howl at it like your dogs have been doing all evening".

Monday was Tanya's birthday.  We were having the family for shashlik in early afternoon which Roman was to prepare and BBQ.  Tanya had told him she was going into town in the morning and would pick him up on her way home.  In the morning I could hear Tanya chewing him out about something.  He had called a taxi and was on his way, not waiting for her.  When she got off the phone, she stormed, "Why can't everyone just do what I tell them?  The whole world would be better if people just did what I told them and didn't argue". I am trying not to crack up and said "I am not saying anything".  "GOOD!"

Lena's last day of summer vacation was Monday. Andrei dropped Masha off at our place on his way to work and brought flowers for his mother and gave her a hug.  He came back in the evening for warmed over shashlik and whatever other food Tanya could hunt up.  Andrei is always hungry when he comes here.

Maxim and Ivan came over when they saw Masha was here.  They had some cake and then the three of them took off to play.  School is coming soon.  I could hear them racing around the yard, shrieking with laughter.  They had gone and sat on the hammock which was wet from the rain still and soaked through the seats of their jeans.  There is something wonderful about the sounds of kids' genuine laughter.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pictures of Wheat Farming in Kazakhstan

My friend and colleague Al Scholz (A Well Fed World) sent me these pictures and said I could share them with my blog readers.
1000 ha (2500 acre) fields

1980's hoe press drills and tractors are still common in Kazakhstan

Al in the tractor cab much to the dismay of farm Agronomists.  Agronomists don't drive tractors
The farm Al worked at had 16 combines, 6 Claas and 10 Russian built

Claas combines could thresh double the Russian built harvesters
Russian built combines hard at work fall 2010

These were built in Kostanai from the name on one of them

Al ran the combine too

They certainly look more modern than the old Don with the strawbuncher built onto the back

Al also wrote the following:

Russian Combines
I didn’t see any new or modern Russian combines close up, although there were some around. There are mostly old Russian combine types used by both large and smaller farmers – from the pre-1990 era – at least 4-5 different makes (and colours) from my recollection.

The large agri-holdings seemed to prefer European (Western) combines but that may be partly due to the marketing and in-field service offered by JD and Class (relatively good service). My opinion is that none of the current Russian equipment is up to par with the European (Western) farm equipment. And, the agri-holding companies have the money to buy expensive western equipment – and my recollection is that Russia was trying to sell Russian equipment at Western prices, which put them out of the picture.

 Russian Farm Equipment Manufacturers
I do not know how many Russian companies are producing combines or other large farm equipment. I could find out but it would take a couple of emails with reps in Europe and some Internet search time. My hunch is that there’s many more manufacturers coming on stream these days to capture the expanding wheat production – and catch up to the 20 years of NOT replacing farm equipment. Let me know what you need.

Number of Combines in a 800-1,000 ha field
The two largest fields on the farm I worked on were about 800 ha. (2,000 acres). The managers wanted even larger fields. The average was closer to 300 ha (750 ac) with some smaller and some larger fields. Usually there would be 4 or 5 combines on an average 300 ha (750 ac) field and 3-4 large trucks hauling the grain long distances. It would take about 2-3 days to complete a field, which is seemed to be about normal because there were cook/kitchen trailers with water tanks that followed the combine crews and seemed to “set-up” for about three days for each location.
There seemed to be groups or crews of 25-35 people on shifts to operate 4 or 5 combines and 3-4 trucks along with service people, etc., etc. That appears to be the number that the cook/kitchen trailers could easily serve. These people would move from field to field as a unit group or field crew.

Note that same crews operated the 4-5 Russian seeding units for same fields. It required about the same number of service people to bring seed and fertilizer out to the fields as the harvest scenario’s.

Note that in any given field using Russian seeders or combines, it was rare to see them all moving at the same time. Usually one unit was down for repairs. Part of the reason is the age of the equpment – part was the speed of the repair staff as there were usually no tools and no spare parts – but they were masters at manufacturing their own spare parts – but it was slow and time consuming.

Note that the European/Western combines harvested roughly twice as quickly (twice the capacity) as the older Russian combines. The farm I was on had six Claas combines and only once did I see all six on a single field. It was a flax field. Normally the Claas worked in two groups of three machines – often with a couple of Russian combines with three Claas.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wheat Farming in Kazakhstan

While in Kazakhstan, I visited the President of Grain Union, an organization of 15 farms totaling 3 million ha. (7.5 million acres) out of 16 million ha (40 million acres) of land currently under cultivation in Kazakhstan.  The president's own farm had harvested 1 million ha (2.5 million acres) of wheat, the previous fall. My colleague, Al Scholz, had worked the previous summer for one of the members on their 5000 ha (of 300,000) research farm. The president assured us that no one in Grain Union needed the services of a dry land farming agronomist from Canada specializing in minimum tillage technology transfer.

Farm machinery dealers love these guys because they buy in unheard of volumes - dozens of combines or tractors at a time, each worth $250,000 to $350,000. One dealer said to me last year rather scornfully that the really nice couple we had just had lunch with, who ONLY farmed 25,000 ha (63000 acres) really weren't worth his time.  They were just too small to bother with.

Yields on these big farms run about 1.5 tonnes/ha (22 bu.) under conditions which in Saskatchewan on smaller farms (1000 to 10,000 ha; 2500 to 25,000 acres) are producing average yields between 2.0 tonnes per ha or 30 bu/acre to 2.3 t/ha or 35 bu per acre on average.  The difference isn't technology; it is management.  Pure and simple, it is impossible to coordinate people well enough to do the right things at the right times on a local enough scale to get more grain out of the ground with the same inputs. 

Land is leased from the state for 50 years at $0.67 per ha. or essentially free.  Since there is no land security, banks don't loan money to farms.  Their initial cash flow must come from somewhere else such as government business connections.  The 15 big owners are all Kazakhs, certainly part of  President Nazurbaey's power structure.  My guess would be that the next tier down are all Russians or Ukrainians or Germans.

Oh, and the sole purpose of Grain Union organization? To lobby government.

Pictures from Masha's Birthday Party

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Masha's Birthday and Computer Mysteries

Today was Masha's 8th birthday. Tanya picked a bouquet of lilies and of asters (??), we picked up Lena and headed to Andrei and Tanya's for ice cream and cake.  We gave Masha money for school clothes.  She is "growing like a weed" and needs new uniforms; girls wear dark dresses with white blouses, boys wear dark suits.  She used to be such an annoying, picky eater, you wanted to smack her.  the last three times at our place she has inhaled a big plate of real food - including meat potatoes and vegetables.  Suddenly she is hungry.  Which is good.  She can still tire out her Babushka in one day but she is maturing into a young lady, slowly but surely.

Monday is Tanya's birthday.  I will write different things about her than I wrote about Masha.

Internet problems again.  My People.Net contract costs $35 per month for "unlimited" use or 27 GB per month which ever comes first. Tanya's is $25 for 10 GB which is more than she would ever use.  Except last month over 2 days, one of which she was not home, her computer burned up 16 GB of internet.  Which cost her $75 as it gets expensive if you go over quota.  We took her computer into the shop to see if it had a bot virus or whatever it is called. They didn't find anything.  The People.Net rep took all the details and will contact HQ to get them to trace the sources and destination of the high traffic. Something fishy going on.

People.Net is a Russian/Ukrainian ISP. 3g wireless. I have two email addresses, one with a Saskatchewan carrier and one with a consulting company with which I am "Associated".  A Saskatchewan company with which I do some business uses something called Barracuda to sort spam.  Barracuda uses something called IP reputation, rather than examining the contents of the message for key words.  Apparently People.Net is in their bad books as it refused both my email addresses starting last month.  The email message telling you that you were bounced gives a link to solve the problem.  Right.  You write  nice explanation to accompany your request but it is all machine read so the message is actually ignored.  They pumped out a machine email to me the first time, indicating that they would get back to me.  Right.  It also said that you could reply to the message.  Right.

Fortunately the company's IT people were able to white list my email so communication was restored.  No thanks to Barracuda, who apparently could care less whose emails are blocked - they claim 95% accuracy.  Right.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kazakhstan rebuilds its beef industry

Kazakhstan's beef cattle numbers halved in the first 10 years after independence as the big state farms got used to the idea of no subsidies from Moscow and frantically sold off cattle as the only liquidity they had.  The villagers kept their cattle as they were a means to survive and today 85% of the cattle in Kazakhstan are in herds of one, two or three animals; past of subsistence agriculture.

The government of Kazakhstan has an ambitious plan to eventually double beef cattle numbers again by rebuilding herds on the big corporate farms.  To that end there has been a great deal of planning and program development (Yes, Virginia, central planning is alive and well in the FSU).  One part of the plan is to import 70,000 purebred cattle from Canada, USA and Australia, establishing herds of 1000 to 3000 cows on a number of qualifying farms.  Needless to say, every genetics sales rep from the three countries mentioned is there salivating at the thought of huge sales.

So far, a North Dakota group has the jump, having sold some 1300 head (half of them Hereford, half of them Angus) into a joint venture with the Kazakh government.  The cattle are located on a ranch about 3 hours NE from Astana.  Sort of a giant demonstration farm. They have survived the first winter, calved out and when I was there, were being bred by AI using estrus synchronization to simplify and speed up the process.

Soviet production systems kept all cattle in barns in winter.  Created employment but at huge costs. These cattle are kept outside as we do in North America, with sheds to take shelter in against the wind.  A number of people including other North Dakota cattlemen I spoke with felt that the pens were too open and there should have been shelter fences around the perimeter of each pen.
Winter pens and open front sheds
Calving barn, I am guessing

Angus cows and calves, penning made from pipe

The Hereford and Angus cattle will be crossed with Kazakh cattle of which there are three main "breeds".  Kazakh Red which is the native beef animal; Kazakh White Head which is a "new" breed developed in 1953 from Hereford and local cattle and another "new" breed Auliekolskaya developed in 1993 based on Charolais.  These three breeds are not bad cattle to start a crossbreeding program from, being survivors of  terrible management.  They are small, rugged and hardy.  Getting the villagers to cooperate and breed their cattle to Hereford and Angus and then sell the offspring to big farms will be a challenge.  Akin to herding cats.

Kazakh White Head cow, with ND Hereford bulls in the pen behind her
Auliekolsaya Cow from Kostanai Oblast

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Remains of the Day

Worked most of today getting my notes all caught up from my Kazakhstan trip so we can prioritize our follow ups.  Not as easy as it sounds though most of it is already in email form, keeping my team informed.  Yesterday was catching up on expenses accounting, making sure everything was tallied and tabbed.  Cannot for the life of me remember what I did on Saturday.  Catch up on emails and napped most likely.

Took time out to make chili con carne or at least my version of it. Usually make it with a pound of beef and two cans of kidney beans at about $1.25 per can.  We were in Metro a while back and saw a big can (2 or 3 liters??) for $4 so Tanya said I could make a big batch, freeze it and save money.  Five lbs of lean ground, 6 onions and this can of kidney beans filled out biggest cooking pot.  Two 500 ml jars of tomato paste and a dozen fresh tomatoes went in too.  And two heaping soup spoons of all the hot stuff in the house.  Chili powder, chipotle (sp?) powder, cumin, etc etc.  Simmered it for a couple hours and it was awesome. Had a huge bowl of it for lunch. The rest is now boxed in plastic happiness and will go in the freezer tonight.

This was after I had eaten a bowl of it for lunch.  The pot was FULL.
Tanya had a couple of spoons full and inhaled a glass of water.  She figured I would be cleaning the toilet quite a few times before the chili was gone.

Masha has been here the past two days (home at night).  Maxim is next door for the summer and they get on so well.  Water colour painting has taken much of their time as both enjoy it.  Tanya says they will be friends for life but doubts there will even be romance.  (As SOMEONE who shall remain nameless once remarked "It would be like marrying my brother".  OK, so I am a lousy matchmaker.)

Tanya and Lena are out in the garden, which is pretty much finished.  Peas and beans long finished. Tomatoes and cucs still coming in.  Beets and carrots all processed.  Corn came and went while I was away.  Tanya didn't freeze any this year.  Onions are dug, dried and boxed; not sure about the garlic.  Purslain is a terrible weed.  My mother fought it all her life in one of her gardens and it has totally infested our garden.  You can't kill it.  It will set seed hanging on the fence.

There is a family of five kids that we act as food bank for about once a month or so.  Father is in and out of hospital all the time, too sick to work, maybe diabetes which is a real curse as it is not controlled very well - no one can afford the test strips and the free insulin is terrible quality.  Not sure about the mother's problem, could be alcohol. The oldest girl about 15 and a boy about 10 were here today.  Usually it is a 12 year old boy. The mother, in her early 40's, is in hospital.  She is pregnant and having difficulty so the doctor stuck her in hospital. Tanya was furious when she heard the woman was pregnant again.  She wonders if the kids even go to school as they have no money for clothes or books or anything.  Not sure where the state sits on not attending school but expect it is illegal - so what are they going to do about it?  Well, if it costs the state money, nothing.  And another generation falls through the cracks.

When we were filling a bag of food, Tanya suggested some of my chili but I said no, they would not thank us for that.  It is a learned taste.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Astana, new capital of Kazakhstan

Astana (formerly Tselinograd, then Akmola) has been the capital of Kazakhstan only for the past 13 years.  When I was there 20 years ago, a few months before independence, it was a sleepy dusty little city on the southern edge of the great wheat belt of Kazakhstan.

Under the Russian and Soviet Empires, Alma Ati (now Almaty) was the capital of Kazakhstan.  Located near the southern border, nestled at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains, it is a lovely city of a million people and still the business centre of the country.

In 1953, under Khrushchev, the USSR undertook a massive creation of new cultivated land, the Virgin Land program, breaking some 60 million hectares (150 million acres) over a 4 year period in Kazakhstan and Siberia.  25 million of these hectares were in northern Kazakhstan.  New state farms were constructed much of them by prison labour, as millions of soldiers and civilians were sentenced to 10 years in prison for being prisoners of war or for being caught on the wrong side of the line and sitting out the war.  These state farms were populated with peoples whom Stalin had transported to Siberia and Kazakhstan before, during or after the war as well as with volunteers, looking for a better life than what they had in European Russia.

At independence in Dec 1991, Kazakhstan seemed doomed to nationalistic struggles between certain Russians in the north who would cheerfully have taken northern Kazakhstan into Russia and certain Kazakhs in the south who wanted nothing more than to see ALL Russians out of their country. President Nazarbayev appeared to be walking a tightrope and moving the capital to the north central part of the country was intended to help keep the country together.

Kazakhstan is rich with oil and gas money which Nazarbayev used to build his modern new capital almost instantly.  Billions have been spent in construction of highways, lavish apartment blocks, business skyscrapers, parks and bridges.  The city is planned for 1 million people though only 750,000 currently live there and there are a lot of empty spaces.  And as you drive through the outskirts of the city you can see the poverty ridden communities where prosperity has passed them by.  There has not been a lot of "trickle down" to the distant villages, either.

The Kazakhs have a great sense of humour about these sometimes garish new buildings that have appeared in their midst, all architectural designs approved by the president himself, I have no doubt.  Whatever the official names are does not matter, the buildings are known universally by their colloquial names.

Golf ball on a Tee
The Cigarette Lighter.  Below is a round park area known as the Ash Tray
The Clothes Pin
The Sailor's T-shirt
The Syringe
The Three Drunken Kazakhs

Friday, August 5, 2011

I'm back (where I belong)

Home and tired.  Will continue blogging tomorrow.  Past midnight and am in danger of turning into a pumpkin...too late!