Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Up until November, Corwin had been pretty sad with the expectation that for the third winter in a row, there would be no snow.

All this changed with the first major storm of the winter which happened at the end of November. Instead of melting, a lot of the snow remained.

The second major storm of the winter started with warm moist air in Texas. By Saturday December 15 the moisture laden air had reached us and had collided with an arctic air mass to produce whiteout blizzard conditions, lasting until Sunday. The storm brought near record snowfalls to Toronto.

As expected, the city ground to a halt. Fortunately, the current mayor is too smart to panic and call in the army like the last one did back in Jan 1999.

Starting Sunday morning, we were out shoveling the driveway.

We were out again in the mid afternoon, when the accumulated snowfall for the last few hours made it look like we had done nothing in the morning.

This photo of Corwin is very festive, with the red and green Christmas colours and the snow. He had to be convinced to stand still for the shot, and then minutes afterward, tried to bean me with a snowball. Snowballs and parental victims are why winters exist...

By early evening, the snow had mostly ended and there was only a centimeter or two of accumulation to shovel. To our great surprise, the snowplows came by before midnight -- under the previous mayor, it would have been days. But the passing of the plows also required a final trip out, to shovel off the comber of packed snow in front of the driveway.

All the snow had to go somewhere, since it is illegal to push it onto the road. In our case, we put it onto the lawn, onto an ever-growing snowbank. But the downside to having a snowbank taller than you are is that it becomes really hard to toss more snow on top of it.

As with all things, excessive snow is a relative concept. My sources in Northern B.C. tell me that there's a half metre of snow on the ground for a few weeks now, and nearly two and a half metres up in the mountains.

The same storm that dumped on us also did the same on our friends in the Ottawa Valley. Here is the view from Bob and Elaine's front door.

For the record, I am bored of shoveling snow. Make it stop.

Christmas Medley

From YouTube - I am a sucker for a capella groups. This one is called Straight No Chaser, and their version of The Twelve Days of Christmas caused me to rediscover Toto's Africa, a hit song of 1983. What can I say, I am a bit behind the times...

Updated Dec 16, 2008 because the youtube link kept failing.
Update Feb 18, 2009 - if the link above fails, search for "Straight No Chaser" on Youtube.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How Many Five Year Olds Could You Take In A Fight?

The last three months have been pretty busy so this is just lightweight stuff until I get some time to do a few updates.


Check your own ability to handle a swarm of rabid yard apes here.

(Original link provided by Mark via Facebook.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Comet Holmes Becomes Visible

An obscure periodic comet -- Comet Holmes, designated 17P, suddenly brightened by about a factor of one million starting on Wednesday morning, October 24. From about magnitude 18, so dim that only a large telescope at an observatory would be able to detect it, the comet brightened within hours to magnitude 3, visible with the naked eye, even in the skyglow of a major city like Yokohama -- or Toronto, if the cloud cover would just go away.

A constellation schematic of Perseus and a telescopic finder chart are avilable for observers.

P17/Holmes currently has the appearance of a bright yellow star in the constellation Perseus, comparable in apparent brightness to the other major stars in that grouping. The unusual brightening was probably due to material outgassed from the comet nucleus -- very strange given that perihelion passage (closest approach to the sun) happened a few months ago, and the comet is heading back outwards. The comet itself is part of the Jupiter family of comets -- its perihelion falls outside the Earth's orbit, 2.2 AU from the sun. Its aphelion point is way out around the orbit of Jupiter.

In three of my most favourite places -- northern BC, Lake Herridge in northern Ontario, or rural Newfoundland -- the comet should be quite visible under near ideal conditions -- at least if the sky were cloud free. Clouds in fall/winter are definitely a problem. The advent of Comet McNaught back in January was a complete non-starter for us here -- every night that McNaught would have been visible was a night where it was cloudy in Toronto. But hopefully, we will have better luck with P17/Holmes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Space Update - Chinese Moon Mission and a Historic First for Women in Space

Today, China launched a lunar probe, an orbiter called Chang'E 1 which is designed to orbit the Moon and gather data. The spacecraft is named after the moon goddess.

Chang'E 1 is the second lunar mission launched from Asia this year, intensifying the Asian space race to send human explorers to the Moon. Earlier this month, Japan launched the SELENE mission, the largest and most ambitious lunar exploration spacecraft since the American Apollo and Soviet Luna programs. And next year, India is expected to send their Chandraayan probe.

Also today, the astronauts on the space shuttle Discovery, mission STS-120, spent their first full day in space. They launched yesterday from Cape Canaveral to deliver the Harmony module to the International Space Station.

Discovery, commanded by Pamela Melroy, is scheduled to dock at the International Space Station tomorrow. The current ISS crew, Expedition 16, is commanded by Peggy Whitson. And that is the historic first -- two female mission commanders in space at the same time.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Doctor Robert Bussard Passes Away

Dr. Robert W. Bussard -- physicist, nuclear fusion researcher, inventor of the Bussard ramjet -- passed away last Sunday morning, October 7. The Power and Control blog has further details.

Dr. Bussard invented the idea of the interstellar ramjet in 1960 -- a concept of using magnetic "scoop fields" to collect interstellar hydrogen, which would subsequently be compressed and burned in a nuclear fusion reaction to produce thrust. This idea worked its way into popular culture via novels such as Poul Anderson's Tau Zero (early 1970s), Carl Sagan's Cosmos TV series (1980s), and even on Star Trek (late 1980s to 1990s).

In the last years of his life, Dr. Bussard worked on prototype nuclear fusion reactors using inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC). This work was done for the US DoD and the US Navy. When his funding ran out, he gave a talk at Google which became famous over the internet. A copy of his Google talk may also be obtained via a peer to peer network with an application such as uTorrent.

I have watched Dr. Bussard's presentation a number of times over the last year. It is both compelling and inspiring -- a succinct synthesis of the science behind nuclear fusion, as well as Bussard's own research into the development of an IEC fusion reactor. Bussard acknowledges that IEC devices represent a completely different direction than the large, expensive, tokamak-based devices which are the mainstream of current international nuclear fusion research.

The IEC research is based on physics known since the early half of the twentieth century. If fully realized, Dr. Bussard's work promises to effectively end humanity's reliance on fossil fuels. More importantly, it would make possible space drives capable of moving a spacecraft from Earth to Mars in a week or Earth to Titan in 70 days. Such a drive could also be the first stage acceleration system to get a Bussard ramjet starship to the threshold speed where its scoop fields would be able to pull in enough hydrogen to achieve ignition.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Happy Sputnik Day!

Fifty years ago today, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik One, the first satellite. The launch was part of the scientific activity for the International Geophysical Year. Conducted using an R7 launcher, originally intended to carry nuclear warheads, the presence of Sputnik One in the sky sent the world a message, one possibly unintended by the Soviets.
Sputnik was a complete surprise in the West, and the failure of the first two Vanguard launch attempts by the United States created the so-called "Sputnik Crisis" and the idea of the "Missile Gap". The response to Sputnik in America included bringing science and technology education front and centre. For instance, Sputnik did what the Scopes Monkey Trial could not -- it caused all laws restricting the teaching of the Darwinian theory of evolution to be repealed.

Fifty years on, the Soviet Union is no more -- ironically, the same American response to being second best in the race to put the first satellite into space caused a massive economic, social, and technological shift. The shift contributed to the moon landings a decade later, laid the groundwork for the laser and the computer chip revolutions, and likely led to the economic collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. In other words, Sputnik, and the world reaction to it, is one of the root causes of the world we live in today.

Sputnik is no longer in orbit -- it re-entered the atmosphere and burned up within three months after its launch. But the world that resulted from the Sputnik launch is still here, and still moving forward.

Happy Fiftieth Birthday, Sputnik!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Avast! Jill Be Sellin' A Pirate Story!

Arrr Mateys! Just in time fer International Talk Like A Pirate Day! Which is today -- September 19!

Jill sold a story ("The Sweet Realm") to Shimmer Magazine, for their special upcoming Pirate Issue. The Shimmery folks in charge at Shimmer have made it known that the issue will be out on November 1, but may be available at the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October for those of you who are going.

Jill's story can be downloaded from the Shimmer Magazine website. Please show your support by buying a copy of the magazine when it comes out! Shimmer's pre-order page is here.

Arrr Mateys! Jill hopes you enjoy the story. Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How do you describe...

..Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens when they are traveling by airplane?

This question and its answer brought to you courtesy of my wife. Let me be absolutely clear that I take no responsibility or credit for this one.

The answer? Why, Ghost Writers in the Sky, of course...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Blog Valuation - Taken With A Grain of Salt

Dane Carlson's Business Opportunities Weblog has a tool on it which allows you to submit a URL for a blog, and to determine the value of the blog, based on the same link to dollars ratio as the deal between AOL and Weblogs Inc.

Using this measure, Luminosis is worth around $560.

My blog is worth $564.54.
How much is your blog worth?

However, Designated Import is worth $2,260, and fandrogyny is worth nearly $12,000. John Scalzi's Whatever is worth just shy of $664,000. Unhappily, Karl Schroeder and Mutatron are worth zero. I didn't check any others.

I don't think I take these valuation numbers very seriously, but still and all, these are good for entertainment value. Were I a self-promoting kind of guy, it would now be possible for me to say, truthfully, that my blog, Luminosis, had a higher valuation, according to an independent source, than the blog of one of the finest science fiction writers of this decade.

Yeah, right.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Confirmed -- Cats are the harbinger of death

I have made no secret of my feeling for cats, although I have nothing but concern and pity for those who are Afflicted with the inability to resist the mental domination of the Evil Ones.

Here, for example, courtesy of the fine work done by the proprietor of the XKCD website, is an analysis of the relationship between the intelligence of one of the Afflicted, as a function of their proximity to one of the Evil Ones. Note that the drop as illustrated is probably incorrect -- the true shape of the curve is exponential, and observational evidence suggests that the inflection point occurs at an average of around one meter, although for extreme cases may be manifested at ten meters.

Here is additional documentary evidence that the Evil Ones have been interfering in human affairs.

But the most significant information comes to us courtesy of Reuters:

Nursing home cat can sense death
Thu Jul 26, 2007 9:47AM EDT

By Julie Steenhuysen
(Additional reporting by Gene Emery in Boston)

CHICAGO (Reuters) - When Oscar the Cat visits residents of the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, the staff jumps into action -- Oscar can sense within hours when someone is about to die.

In his two years living in Steere's end-stage dementia unit, Oscar has been at the bedside of more than 25 residents shortly before they died, according to Dr. David Dosa of Brown University in Providence.

He wrote about Oscar in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"It's not that the cat is consistently there first," Dr. Joan Teno, a professor of community health at Brown University, who sees patients in the unit. "But the cat always does manage to make an appearance, and it always seems to be in the last two hours."

Raised at the nursing home since he was a kitten, Oscar often checks in on residents, but when he curls up for a visit, physicians and nursing home staff know it's time to call the family.

"I don't think this is a psychic cat," said Teno. "I think there's probably a biochemical explanation," she said in a telephone interview.

While pets are often used to bring comfort to the elderly in nursing home settings, Oscar's talent is special, though not unexpected.

"That is such a cat thing to do," said Thomas Graves, a feline expert and chief of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

Graves said there is no evidence to suggest cats can sense death, but he doesn't discount it for a minute.

The mind distortion field generated by the collective of Evil Ones on this planet has likely blinded this researcher to the more obvious relationship -- one of cause and effect, rather than the utterly foolish notion that the cat "senses" death and is there to ease suffering.

What is more likely is that these monstrosities feed on human souls. Have you never seen a cat, watching and waiting at a mouse hole? There is a clear analogy between that behaviour and that of waiting at the deathbed of some helpless human. I beg you who read this -- throw off your chains and take up arms against these creatures...

College Republicans

An instant classic -- and wouldn't it be instructive to have the same chat with the equivalently minded group in Canada?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Super Librarian!

TPL needs to do something like this!

Indispensable Free Software Tools

The techdo.com tech blog website has a portable toolkit available as a 36 Mb zip file download. This is small enough to unzip and fit onto a USB flash drive.

The list of tools is as follows:

7-Zip -- a file archiver (compression) utility for Windows.
Autoruns -- Displays autostart programs in Windows.
Eraser Portable -- secure data removal tool.
Mozilla Firefox®, Portable Edition -- portable version of the web browser
KeePass Portable -- a Password safe.
Notepad++ Portable -- text editor
Process Explorer -- shows system memory usage by processes.
Recuva File Recovery -- restore deleted files
Sumatra PDF Portable -- lightweight PDF reader
Torpark -- anonymous web surfing browser (based on Mozilla Firefox)

This looks like a worthwhile download, especially for KeePass and Torpark.

Sweet or Maniacal?

From Canada Day -- two of my favorite people!

These pictures make me happy!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Welcome, cousin Leo!

One of the hot topics of conversation at the family gathering to celebrate the birth of David and Linda's son Matthew was the impending birth of the second child of my cousin Anne (Linda's older sister) and her husband Frankie in Mauritius.

Earlier this week, the buzz on Facebook was that Anne had given birth to a boy, and yesterday I received the following e-mail:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Anne
Date: Jul 20, 2007 10:16 AM
Subject: he came with a big ROAR!!!!
To: ... do.ming.lum@gmail.com ...

hi everyone!

... here's a very brief scoop cuz i don't have much time... I GAVE BIRTH!!!! Leo Yun Sing was born on July 17, 2007 at 7:50pm weighing a total of 4.015kgs (8.833lbs) and measuring 55cms!!! i gave birth naturally with the epidural of course! i will go into details of that later and will try to find time to download some pics to send you all!

in the meantime, frankie, nina, leo and i are trying to adjust to a new life together - take care!

anne ;)

Mauritius is in time zone UTC+4, so with Toronto being in UTC-5 (+1 adjustment for Daylight Savings), this means that Mauritius is currently 8 hours ahead -- so if I am correct, baby Leo joined us at 10 minutes to noon Toronto time on the 17th.

Anne, Frankie and Nina (Nina is about two and a half):

Celebration for cousin Matthew

On Saturday July 16, my cousin Linda and her husband David held a celebration dinner for their son Matthew who was born March 26. In the following photo set, you can also see Matthew's big sister Nicole who is almost two and a half years old. The restaurant was the Dragon Dynasty at Huntingwood and Brimley.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Happy Neilsday! July 20, 2007

It's been 38 years, but the images are still magic.

At 10:56 PM EDT on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped from the Lunar Module Eagle onto the Moon's surface with the words "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind".

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I have succumbed to the dark side...

...and created a Facebook account. And just for good measure, Myspace as well.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Newfoundland Icebergs

When we were in Newfoundland last summer, we were there well into summer, and therefore too late for the iceberg season, which begins in early spring and generally ends by late June/early July.

It was a collision with an iceberg southeast of Newfoundland on April 14, 1912 that caused the sinking of the Titanic.

This is a video found on YouTube of icebergs off Cape Spear. The two icebergs in this video appear to be stuck on the rocks off the coast. Had their path been only a little further to the east, they would have passed Newfoundland going south, heading into the same general area where the Titanic was sunk.

This is a second video to which I was referred by my friend Kevin, showing the spectacular collapse of an iceberg off Battle Harbour, Labrador -- well north of L'Anse Aux Meadows and the Strait of Belle Isle, where we were travelling.

Bri Leaves and We Are Sad

Bri's scheduled departure time on Sunday July 8 was 6:30 so there was lots of time in the morning to sleep in, have breakfast, finish packing, and then go to the movies.

We went to the noon showing of Ratatouille. Michael and Lorna accompanied us. After the movie, we went to a Greek restaurant called Arkadia on Eglinton and by mid-afternoon, we were done.

Traffic was not bad, despite road construction. We made it to the airport by 4:00 and got into the American Airlines check-in line-up.

It took an hour to get to the front of the line-up where we found that Bri's flight had been rescheduled from 6:30 to 9:00. They needed us to come back at 7:30. With some time to kill, we left the airport and found a Swiss Chalet restaurant along the airport strip.

The restaurant was across the street from the Doubletree Hotel, where Polaris, formerly known as the Toronto Trek science fiction convention, was just winding up. Jill and I jokingly kicked around the idea of going in and finding the Dead Dog Party, but in the end we decided not to.

This was the same weekend last year where we had actually attended Toronto Trek, and the Swiss Chalet was the same restaurant where we had lunch with Sherry and Mark. It was while walking to lunch there from Toronto Trek in July of 2006 that I received the first telephone call from my cousin Tak.

We had had lunch recently, so we only had dessert and a snack and drinks at Swiss Chalet. We had a much better time than we would have had stuck in Terminal Three at Pearson.

Bri was a good sport about the wait. We went back to Terminal Three, and were told by American Airlines that there had been a further delay to 9:30, and that they needed Bri to be back at the counter at 8:30, when they would process her baggage and take her through security. We found a bar (unfortunately just closed as we walked up) with a table and waited. There was time to play a game of Clue.

We went back to the American Airlines counter and said goodbye to Bri at 8:30, after getting her luggage tagged. Bri was the last passenger of the day. They closed the counter after they took her through. Jill and I went back to the bar with Corwin, where, following the rules for the designated guardians of an unaccompanied minor, we waited in the airport until her plane took off. This necessitated a visit to a news stand to get an issue of The Economist, a PC Gamer, and a Ratatouille storybook for the kid.

The flight delay had been due to bad weather in the southern US at Bri's destination point. We were unaware of this at the time, but the same day, there had been an incident at Pearson involving a couple of passengers with undeclared knives getting onto an Air India flight. This bit of drama had not affected Bri's flight in any noticeable way.

Terminal Three, busy and crowded at 4:00, was by comparison almost deserted six hours later. Between frequent checking of the departure screen and a chance encounter with an American Airlines staffer who returned to the check-in counter, we learned that Bri's flight had been delayed until around 10:15. With Bri's flight in the air, we headed home.

It had been a long day, and when we got home, Corwin became very sad that Bri had gone. Jill and I felt much the same way.

The next day, we learned via e-mail from Bri's nanny that Bri had made it home safely, but her luggage had been lost, yet again, by American Airlines.


Sunday July 8 was Bri's last day with us before returning home. We got her all packed up and her stuff loaded into the car, then went off to see Ratatouille -- the new movie from Pixar.

Although Pixar had faltered a bit with their last release -- Cars -- they got it all back and more with this one. It should be noted that Ratatouille was written and directed by Brad Bird -- who previously did The Incredibles and Iron Giant.

This is the promotional trailer:

This is a longer extract:

We loved the movie. The family consensus is that this movie will be a keeper when it comes out on DVD.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Heinlein Centennial

Saturday July 7 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Anson Heinlein, the science fiction author whose work I read (and was occasionally troubled by) through my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

I discovered Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo on the shelves of the school in Wonowon when I was in Grade 4, and by the time I finished Grade 8 in Fort St. John, I had read all of his juveniles -- the books that he had written for a teen audience. I was thirteen years old when I first read Stranger in A Strange Land -- a book that I would often return to in my teens and early adulthood.

The Heinlein Centennial convention over the weekend in Kansas City would have been a great event to have attended, but to my everlasting regret, it became clear by about May that I wouldn't be able to to go.

The Space Review website has a recent article about a memo which Heinlein wrote in his final days at the Naval Air Materials Center, where he worked during World War Two. This memo, much of which in hindsight is wrong, is still nonetheless inspiring. And it is interesting to consider that 60 years later, private enterprises like SpaceX or Bigelow Aerospace are starting to do some of the things that Heinlein thought should be starting immediately after World War Two.

Through the years, many authors have been hyped by their publishers as being the successor to Robert A. Heinlein. None of these assertions have been true -- even for authors whose talent I respect. More often than not, such a statement on a cover blurb or a review has just been hype, and the author in question has demonstrated very little substance in ideas or writing to justify such a comparison to the Master.

Heinlein remains one of a kind, the quirky, visionary genius and storyteller whose work defined the field of English language science fiction for much of the twentieth century.

Return To Niagara Falls

On Saturday the 7th, we took Bri to Niagara Falls.

For the last few years, Jill and I have travelled in Niagara Region with the Usual Suspects on the annual Fall Wine Tour. One of the places we would sometimes stop at was a restaurant -- a greasy spoon -- called Butterball's. A perfectly wonderful place, whose address we located with a bit of Googling.

We got there by early afternoon, in time to have lunch. Some of us had pie :-)

This place is west and south of Toronto -- to get there, you have to circle around the western tip of Lake Ontario.

There is parking across the road from the restaurant. Even though it was a Saturday afternoon, it wasn't busy.

We had to cope with heavy traffic (due to road construction) along the Queen Elizabeth Way, so we took a detour off the main highway. It was a well marked detour, so we didn't get lost. We got to Niagara Falls by mid afternoon, and surprisingly, found a place to park above the falls.

We rode the lift down to the falls and spent some time soaking it in.

This was not the first time we had been here -- just after Christmas last year, we came with our friend Annalee when she came up from California to experience real Canadian winter. We overnighted in Niagara Falls in a hotel with a spectacular view of the falls. Corwin had been hoping to do the same thing again, but we didn't have enough time.

Six months earlier, Niagara Falls had been spectacular as well -- but also cold, wet, and miserable. On this visit, it was hot and sunny.

The wind direction even kept the mist more or less away from us. We went up the rail to look down and across at the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Across the river, we could see Niagara Falls, New York. And of course, on the other side of the island, the American Falls (seen in the distance behind Bri, above and below).

The combination of sun and mist produced some amazing rainbows.

We had dinner in a German restaurant in downtown Niagara Falls, just down the road from the hotel where we stayed six months earlier. It was the same place that we had gone to with Annalee. (Note - I like wiener schnitzel).

I had some bad luck -- my tooth implant fell out during dinner which resulted in some discomfort (entirely psychological) over the weekend until my dentist could repair it (basically by gluing the tooth prosthetic back onto the post) the following Tuesday.

The kids had a good time. During the course of the afternoon, Bri got some souvenirs for her family back home, and of course she cinched the bragging rights for herself as far as having been to see the Falls.

Jill and I went away with some ideas for what to do the next time (and there will be a next time) that we come here.

Transformers -- More than meets the eye!

I took Tuesday July 3rd off and went with Corwin and Bri to see the Transformers movie. This was not a good movie, but it was lots of fun. I liked it.

Older Transformers trailer (6 months ago):

Newer Transformers trailer (one month ago):

Corwin is still a bit afraid in theatres - he has a hard time with the combination of overwhelming sound and giant visuals. But once he got past the trailers and into the actual movie, he was fine.

All Barbecue All The Time

Monday July 2 wss again a perfect day -- warm in the day, cooling to to a definite chill after sunset. As has often been the case among the Usual Suspects, we made the Canada Day long weekend an "All Barbecue All The Time" affair.

Dave and Karen hosted this one. It was memorable for delicous tandoori chicken as well as various odds and ends that kept me close to the food table in Dave and Karen's back yard.

I fell asleep in the sun for a while.

Karen was a perfect hostess.

Dave leaks small change through the year from his pockets, and the annual money hunt was a high point of previous barbecues. This year there was less enthusiasm. Dave had Bri had their annual Scrabble competition while Corwin observed.

A good time was had by all. Half the year was now over.