Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twelve Days of Christmas

As the solstice passes (today at 18:38 ET) the Christmas rush is well upon us, judging by the parking lots in the malls. Here is a summary of the consequences of sending the gifts from the Twelve Days of Christmas:

This Morning's Lunar Eclipse

Here is a time-lapse video of the eclipse, taken from Gainesville, Florida.

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Winter Solstice 2010

Tuesday, 2010 December 21 is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. After Tuesday, the days start getting slowly longer again.

This year, the solstice is marked by a total lunar eclipse which will occur on Tuesday morning. The last time a lunar eclipse and the winter solstice were on the same day was the year 1638. The next occurrence won't be until 2094 -- I have ambitions to watch it, but that is predicated on either the technological singularity occurring, or on sufficient medical advances to keep me from total decrepitude.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dark Matter Ring

This question came up in a family discussion recently: if dark matter is, well, dark and current theory says it doesn't interact with normal matter, then how can it actually be detected? And the answer is that the dark matter isn't detected -- it is inferred from other obser- vations. This photo [Credit: NASA/ESA, M. J. Jee & H. Ford et al. (Johns Hopkins University)] of the galaxy cluster CL0024+17 in the constellation Pisces shows, in addition to galaxies that are part of the cluster, a series of repeated images of background galaxies that were created by gravitational lensing.

This lensing effect is caused by light being bent by travelling through a region where there is strong gravity before reaching us. Some analogies can be set up using everyday objects, such as looking at distant streetlights through a wine glass.

In the case of the cluster in the photograph, the lensing does not occur immediately around the edge of the cluster itself, as one might expect, but in a ring some distance away from the centre of the cluster itself. The lensing (bending of light) is being done by the gravitation associated with unseen mass. Based on the amount of lensing, a computer model was developed to determine the location of the unseen mass, which has been coloured blue in the photograph.

Here is a video which explains further, including some discussion on the origin of the ring (which at 2.5 million light years across is comparable to the distance from the Milky Way to Andromeda):

Flight of the Dragon: Animation

The first flight of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was an unmanned test vehicle last week on December 8. However, the ultimate goal is a human rated spacecraft. Here is a SpaceX animation showing the mission profile of a Dragon vehicle carrying a crew to the ISS:

Here is another version with a techno soundtrack:

In watching these videoe, I can't help but be struck by how similar this mission profile is to the first manned missions into space 50 years -- half a century -- earlier: launch, ascent, drop booster stages, conduct mission, drop service module, re-enter, splashdown, recover by helicopter. This technology is unsustainable even if this does happen to be the most inexpensive launcher/spacecraft combination ever built -- too much of the launcher (upper stage) and spacecraft (service module) are thrown away. Haven't we learned anything in 50 years of doing this?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics

A post today on the science blog Pharyngula introduced me to Dr. Jim Kakalios and his Youtube video series The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics. These are promotional videos which are intended to complement the book of the same title, which is subtitled "A Math-Free Exploration of the Science that Made Our World". Kakalios uses comic book and SF pulp magazine imagery to illustrate concepts of quantum physics.

Lesson 1 - The World of Tomorrow

Lesson 4 - It's All Done With Magnets (incomplete)

Lesson 6 - The Laser, Death Rays, and DVDs

My Google-Fu is inadequate to the task of locating episodes 2, 3, and 5, or a complete Lesson 4. Perhaps they don't exist? But based on the videos, it appears to be a great book, especially for a younger readership.

The Queen's Christmas Message 2010

Caution -- not for the humour impaired. The words "bollocks" and "wankers" appear in this video*.

The presence of this video on this blog should not be construed to mean that the author is in any way frustrated with the political leadership of Canada.

* From the Operation Maple website.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Interview with Michael Skeet on EDGE blog

An interview with our friend Michael Skeet is featured on the EDGE publishing blog. Michael comments on his story in EVOLVE: Vampire Stories of the New Undead in a blog post that is part of EDGE's 2010 Countdown to Christmas series. {Note - probably available from Bakka!]

In addition to the interview with Michael, there are also interviews with Nancy Kilpatrick, (editor) and EVOLVE authors Kevin Cockle and Ronald Hore.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Dragon Touches The Sky

Earlier this week, NASA announced that the last two shuttle missions, to be flown on Discovery and Endeavour, have been delayed until next year. But in the meantime, a historic first has occurred: a private company -- Space Exploration Technologies, Inc. or SpaceX -- has built, launched, and recovered a spacecraft from Earth orbit. The first Dragon spacecraft was placed into low Earth orbit yesterday by a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, which lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

The first stage of the Falcon launcher was recovered from the Atlantic, and the Dragon spacecraft made several orbits before it re-entered the atmosphere and splashed down safely in the Pacific.

Previously, spacecraft development and launch were only within reach of national or supra-national entities -- Russia, the United States, China, Japan, India, and the European Union. Now SpaceX has joined this exclusive club, the first corporation to do so.

Initial plans are to use the Dragon vehicle in cargo-carrier configuration to ferry supplies to the International Space Station to fulfill the terms of the resupply contract that NASA has awarded to SpaceX. But cargo resupply is a stepping stone -- the ultimate goal is to build a human-rated version of Dragon which will carry up to seven astronauts.

With the uncertainty in the Constellation program and in the development of the Orion crew vehicle, it is likely that Dragon will be the de facto next generation spacecraft.

Although Dragon's stated purpose is to carry astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station, other missions for which the Orion was being considered may be possible with Dragon -- lunar orbit, lunar landing (with a lander to be developed), asteroid rendezvous, and others as needs are identified.

A movie showing a simulated rendezvous and docking with the ISS provides a window into the current thinking of SpaceX in terms of the bread-and-butter of being a service provider. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility that some variant of the Heinleinian vision of The Man Who Sold The Moon may still come true.


It was thirty years ago yesterday -- 1980 December 8.

Knocking on doors

Like the man in this video, I too am a tolerant guy. But let's be clear -- in any conflict between missionaries and natives, my sympathies are always with the natives. So when I get missionaries of whatever stripe at my door, I always feel compelled to strike a figurative blow for all those who encountered missionaries and were less fortunate than me. This may be why we have experienced such a steep fall-off of strangers come to share their faiths...

Door To Door Atheists Bother Mormons - Watch more Funny Videos

Monday, November 22, 2010

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

I found out about this from The Skeptic's Dictionary Facebook posting. The Centre For Inquiry Canada started their "Extraordinary Claims" advertising campaign a couple of days ago, on the 19th. Here is a video from CFI which explains the basis of the message:

Educational initiatives like this are important and meaningful, and the fact that the campaign pays tribute to the late Carl Sagan doesn't hurt, either. On the assumption that critical thinking can't be started too early, Skeptical Dictionary has a list of resources for younger readers that all geek parents (or the parents of geek children) should find useful. Applying the principle of seeking extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims is a great place to start.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cowboys and Aliens

There will be at least one movie that I will see in a theatre in 2011!

Funny videos

My SFContario plans for today took a sudden and radical change. Instead, I had an opportunity to do other things. I found these two very funny videos showing the darker side of child rearing:

I'll Get The Ice Creams

Boys' Night Out

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Ultimate Negative Product Review

My HP 1100 printer recently failed and had to be replaced. I therefore have more than a little sympathy for tech support horror, like this little gem:

In 2006, an American soldier in Iraq calls up Hewlett Packard's tech support because he has a printer problem. They tell him that he needs to pay them before they will provide him with information on how to fix it. The soldier is highly dissatisfied with this outcome. The soldier proceeds to express his unhappiness with the product in a very dramatic fashion.

I would never buy or recommend an all-in-one printer, but (at least based on this one review) the HP 5510 should probably move to the bottom of the list if you expect to be working in hot, dry climates far away from tech support. Oh, and don't imagine that HP's regular tech support procedures might change -- although as a result of this incident they now have a policy of free phone support for all overseas military personnel (but presumably only American military personnel).

I remember a time when it was possible to make a blanket assumption that an HP product would be a quality product. That time is past, but here is HP's response to the incident with the soldier. Does it restore your confidence in the company's product line?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

RIP Yoshinobu Nishizaki

Real geeks would know that Yoshinobu Nishizaki was a producer and co-creator of the anime series Space Battleship Yamato (aka Star Blazers in its dubbed and edited US version).

Various sources, including Variety, the Japan Times, the Amine News Network, and others report that Nishizaki passed away in a boating accident earlier today, in an ironic twist falling from the deck of a ship named Yamato after his most famous creation. Although rescued from the water, the 75-year old Nishizaki passed away shortly afterward.

One of Nishizaki's final projects was the live action movie Space Battleship Yamato, scheduled for release in Japan in December.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Creation Week!

Quite aside from any personally important anniversaries that might have occurred yesterday on October 23, it is important to mark the Judeo-Christian Day of Creation itself, as determined centuries ago by Archbishop James Ussher, a noted biblical scholar 350 years ago.

Although this chronology has fallen out of favour in any mainstream theological sense, and is totally irrelevant in any science-based view of the world, it (or its variations) remain popular with young-Earth creationists like convicted criminal and conspiracy theorist Kent Hovind, the anti-evolution Discovery Institute, or the biblical-literalism promoting Creation Museum. Ussher based his chronology on a synthesis of the most current scientific and historical scholarship available at the time; the explosion of knowledge since then has made science and history incompatible with a literal reading of any of the many versions of the Judeo-Christian bible. It is ironic that those who uphold young-Earth creation ideas can only do so by ignoring Ussher's approach of reconciling the most current science with Biblical scholarship.

For this week only, N1S has been redesignated "the only begotten son", and during the course of the week, there are various significant events to celebrate:

Yesterday on October 23: God creates light ("Let there be light!")[Gen 1:3] The light is divided from the darkness, and "day" and "night" are named. Although yesterday was a Saturday, 4004 BC October 23 fell on a Sunday.

Today, the second day: God creates a firmament ("Let a firmament be...!")[Gen 1:6–7] The firmament is named "skies".

Monday: God commands the waters below to be gathered together in one place, and dry land to appear [Gen 1:9–10]. "Earth" and "sea" are named. God commands the earth to bring forth grass, plants, and fruit-bearing trees. Botanists rejoice!

Tuesday: God creates lights in the firmament [Gen 1:14–15] to separate light from darkness and to mark days, seasons and years. Two great lights are made (most likely the Sun and Moon, but not named), and the stars (including the array of objects ranging from GRB090423 to Andromeda -- all of which in a young-Earth view would have been created with light and radiation already in transit because as we all know, God delights in confounding scientists and leading human thinkers to untruths.

Wednesday: God commands the sea to "teem with living creatures", and birds to fly across the heavens [Gen 1:20–21]. He creates birds and sea creatures, and commands them to be fruitful and multiply. Biologists (particularly marine biologists) should rejoice today. Suggested celebratory dinner to include shrimp. Or better yet, squid.

Thursday, Day 6: God commands the land to bring forth living creatures [Gen 1:24–25]. He makes wild beasts, livestock and reptiles. He then creates humanity in His "image" and "likeness" [Gen 1:26–28]. Humanity, or at least the first two individuals are told to "be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it." The totality of creation is described by God as "very good." Thursday night, we are having ribs! As noted previously, October 23 in 4004 BC fell on a Sunday, which would have placed Day 6 on the first Friday after Creation, causing the Sabbath to fall on Saturday, just as it does in the Jewish tradition.

Friday, October 01, 2010


NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, through its podcast website called Blueshift, has a contest on this week. The prize is a beachball, which has been printed with the WMAP sky image, and signed by Nobel laureate John Mather. How cool is that??

I am a sucker for this sort of thing, so naturally, I entered. I only found out about this today, and the deadline is 5 o'clock ET today. If I win, I will hold the beach ball in my hand and cackle maniacally, something along the lines of "The universe! It's mine, all mine!"

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why spam blogs?

One of the blogs I follow has a recent article on spammers who target blogs: Don't mind me.: Paranoid much?. Becky's questions are similar to my own.

I've encountered blogspam myself a few times, so I sympathize with anyone who has had the experience of clearing out crap from comments. This is the main reason why comment moderation is turned on here.

As to the nature of spam, I sort of understand the premise behind e-mail spam -- at best, it is a sales pitch encouraging the recipient to go to a website for some legitimate product or service. At worse it is an enticement to click on something which will drop some malware on an unsuspecting user's computer, or worse. There are clear analogies between this and traditional junk mail of the sort printed on actual paper and delivered via the Post Office.

But aside from causing me to be enraged, and then sad, and then just puzzled, what was the point of posting a long, sense-free, block of text in the comments on my father's obituary, with no actual working links in it? I thought initially that it was pharma-spam -- some bot had noticed a significant key word (cancer) and this was going to culminate in a link to some dodgy website selling cancer nostrums to the credulous and the desperate. But with no link, there could be no possibility of a sale.

So I have three possible theories to explain this:

Explanation 1 - spammers are just idiots, and whatever bot created the comment spam was improperly written, so it just didn't create a valid link in the post. I'll discuss this further when I have more examples of comment spam to analyze.

Explanation 2 - some blogs, or some blog posts, talk about subjects which displease some agency or organization or individual, who responds by vandalizing the blog or blog post. I love conspiracy theories, so this line of thinking can be tweaked to be as over the top as desired.

Explanation 3 - an artificial intelligence has arisen as an emergent property of the internet. It is trying to communicate, using the most widespread form of internet communication (that being spam) as a model. I like this explanation the best, even though I also suspect it is the least likely.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Source of Great Ideas

This is a TED talk by Steven Johnson on the origin of great ideas.

Some thoughts:

(1) stimulants (like tea or coffee) are better than depressants (like beer or wine)
(2) consulting with lots of people is a good thing - connections lead to innovations. Periodic reviews with the team are important - the process of sharing problems and results of current work leads to new, possibly useful juxtapositions.
(3) chaotic environments = collisions between ideas and concepts. "Chance favours the connected mind".

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Arr! We Be Talkin' Like Pirates...

...because today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day! Hope yer cutlass don't rust, and ye find lots 'o booty!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I blog like an old fuddy duddy. But a happy one...

The urlai website analyzes blog text and evaluates it according to gender, age, mood, and tonality. Here's the verdict on me:

luminosis.blogspot.com is probably written by a male somewhere between 66-100 years old. The writing style is personal and happy most of the time.

There isn't a heck of a lot of detail about how the evaluation is done, but presumably it is based on word usage analysis. Based on the words I use, this algorithm thinks I am mostly happy, but possibly because of the formality of my sentence construction, thinks I am between 66 to 100. Well, it got the gender right.

Turning this lens on some other examples -- Michael and Jill's Second Draft, as well as Madeline's Escaping The Trunk gets exactly the same evaluation as me, except for the gender -- the algorithm correctly identifies Madeline as female, and believes that the combination of Michael and Jill is also female. Maybe because Jill posts more? The analysis is dead on for Dave -- male, 26 to 50, mostly happy. But for Peter, it gets both the gender and age wrong -- female, 66 to 100, mostly upset. Looking further afield to the blog of a complete stranger -- the age problem and "mostly upset" rating also applies to Pharyngula. Maybe the "mostly upset" part is a marine biologist thing?

These results are dynamic over time, since the analysis is based on the latest articles in the blog. It is possible that I could change the tone and character of my blog and get a different result, so if you are reading this article years after it is written, and you run the same analysis on my blog, you might not get the same result.

You likely can derive information about an author from lexical analysis of their writing, including statistical frequency analysis of their word usage. But these (admittedly limited) results show this analysis needs to used in context with other information. In the meantime, I need to go find some kids so I can yell at them to get off my damn lawn. Because that's what us happy old fuddy duddy bloggers do.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Squid with Hugo

See that? That is one seriously stoked Squidly Dude with his brand new Best Novelette Hugo, and he is clearly making plans for it, likely how to introduce the sharp points on his prize to those American border officials with whom he is most familiar.

Photo credit -- Professor Allan Weiss, who also broke the news about the award this morning. This photo is being used subject to getting Allan's permission, so it might only be temporary.

UPDATE - Jill, Dave, Madeline and Peter himself have blog updates on this event. Peter's entry has lots of photos from Aussiecon 4. You can also read "The Island", Peter's Hugo-award winning story, on his website, or download it as a PDF.

UPDATE 2 - Added 2010 November 23: I did in fact hook up with Allan after he returned from his travels, and he gave me permission to use the photo above.

Congratulations, Peter Watts!

The Hugo Awards website shows that Peter Watts won a Hugo award for "Best Novelette", a story entitled "The Island", appearing in The New Space Opera 2 collection (published by Eos). It is evening in Australia as this is being written, and the Hugo Awards ceremony at Aussiecon 4 has just ended.

Peter is a very talented science fiction writer, in addition to his scientific credentials. The award is well deserved, so congratulations, Peter!

This is perhaps an unworthy thought, but I can't help wondering whether Peter's acceptance speech contained any new and creative uses for his new Hugo award -- specifically on unhelpful border guards...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Barbecue Sauce

The summer barbecue season is upon us once agin. I promised a number of people that I would post this year's barbecue sauce recipe, so here it is.

Barbecue pork sauce

4 bottles [282 ml] of Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce (available from your neighbourhood Chinese grocery store, occasionally from Sobey's or Loblaws)
1 bottle of [282 ml] Lee Kum Kee spare rib sauce

Combine the bottles of sauce in a pot under low heat. Use a rubber scraper to get all the sauce out of each bottle. Once emptied, use one of the bottles as a measure and add to the pot:

1 bottle [282 ml] water
1 bottle [282 ml] tomato ketchup (I use Heinz because it is what I have available]
Half a bottle [140 ml] of Chinese cooking wine

Combine and allow the mixture to heat slowly under low heat, stirring constantly.
Add the following to taste:
powdered garlic (could also use minced garlic, and in fact that might provide a better result)
white pepper
onion flakes
allspice (only a couple of pinches necessary)

Leave on low heat until the sauce is smooth and all the powders have been blended in.

Add pork pieces so that each piece of meat is coated. I put between 4 to 6 pieces of meat into a ziplock bag with a scoop or two of the sauce. I marinate the meat for a couple of days (but the meat and sauce combo can also be stored in the freezer for a few weeks). The above quantities make enough barbecue sauce to marinate between 16 to 24 pork tenderloin pieces.

New innovation this year -- prior to cooking, I remove the meat from the bags and place on a foil tray or cookie sheet or something similar. Instead of disposing of the sauce, I put it back into a pot and heat it. Since it has been in contact with raw pork, I heat the sauce until it boils and I keep it on a low boil for 5 to 10 minutes.

The sauce is great with the pork after it has been barbecued. It can also be served with Chinese sausage, which will accentuate the flavour of the meat. Leftover Chinese sausage, plus leftover pork, plus the sauce can be combined into an amzingly nice fried rice dish. I have also used the sauce plus water plus pork bouillion to make a soup stock to serve rice noodles plus beansprouts plus leftover pork.

Barbecuing the pork

Note - your own barbecue may well give different results. The cooking process needs to be calibrated to the barbecue (and possibly the barbecuer).

Do each piece on a hot, preheated barbecue at two minutes on high. Flip, cook another two minutes. Then reduce heat to low, and maintain cooking for the next twenty minutes, opening the barbecue lid and flipping the meat occasionally. You can take the opportunity to "paint" the meat with additional sauce which you have previously set aside for this purpose.

After 20 minutes (total 24 minutes cooking time) you should find that the larger pieces will be somewhat rare (for those who like that sort of thing). Another 10 minutes on the upper rack will allow the meat to reach a tender, near done light pinkness. The meat can be served immediately, but it is better to let it sit for another 10 minutes.

Happy Neilsday 2010

Forty one years ago today, the lunar module Eagle undocked from the command module Columbia. After a brief retrofire engine burn, the Eagle descended toward the Sea of Tranquility, a vast lava plain close to the lunar equator. With fuel running out, and the spacecraft descending toward a boulder field, Neil Armstrong took manual control of the lander and brought it down safely.

Later that evening, at 10:56PM EDT, Armstrong would become the first human to set foot on another celestial body, followed shortly after by fellow crew member Buzz Aldrin.

Forty one years later, the Constellation program, along with the Ares launchers, have been cancelled. America has no firm plan to return to the Moon, and the Canadian Space Agency has no lunar exploration initiative. But there are others who may well take on that challenge -- maybe for the wrong reasons of national pride and international prestige at first, but there is always the hope that the door once reopened won't be closed so hastily again.

Earthquake Aftermath

My back yard in Toronto after the earthquake (but before the G20 protests):

Somewhere behind the upended furniture is a bottle of beer that got partially spilled. Careful observers (at least ones who talked to the photographer) might notice that this shot was staged. Guess they aren't going to be sending me any earthquake relief money...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


The earth moved! About ten or fifteen minutes ago, a small tremor passed through Toronto. I noticed it because my rack of disk drives started shaking, and making ticking sounds of metal under stress (the rack, not the disk drives)!

Update 1: According to the National Post blog, the tremor was felt as far away as Ottawa, Montreal, and Cleveland. According to the USGS in the same blog post, the magnitude was in the mid 4's.

Update 2: The United States Geological Survey reports on their website that the earthquake occurred at 17:41:41 UTC about 39 km north of Cumberland, ON close to the Ontario/Quebec border. This puts it around 13:41 EDT, with a slight delay before reaching Toronto. At the time, I didn't think to check the system clock on my computer. Knowing the time delay, and determining the distance from Google Maps or Google Earth, we could calculate the propagation speed of the shock wave through (mostly) shield rock. The intensity was magnitude 5.5 [changed to 5.0 on a subsequent viewing] higher than the mid 4's that I reported earlier. The USGS seismometer data also places the epicentre of the quake quite deep -- about 17 kilometers [change to 18].

Update 3: Map of epicentre location:

View Larger Map

Update 4: The Globe and Mail's blog has extensive reporting from all over the province. Various Facebook updates, as well as the verbal report of my son, indicate that offices and classrooms were briefly evacuated - a prudent move in the face of what is described as a "moderate" intensity earthquake. There are reports of a bridge (Barrage McLaren) damaged close to the epicentre, and another bridge near Bowman, PQ, closed. There have been no other damage reports so far as of 17:45, but some government facilities in Ottawa are closed. Ottawa is built on ground which can potentially amplify the effect of an earthquake, and reports (again via Facebook) from friends living there indicate that the intensity was a lot greater for them than for me. Rumours that a tsunami warning was issued for the artificial lake constructed for this week's G20 summit meeting are entirely unfounded [yes, now I am just being silly].

Summer Solstice Blues Averted!

The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurred a couple of days ago on June 21 -- longest day of the year here, and of course for the Southern Hemisphere, the shortest. I always feel a twinge on June 21, because the nights start getting longer again. But this year, I had something new to think about -- in the lead up to June 21, a number of people sent me the following e-mail:
Please watch this on 21st June


21st June - the Whole World is waiting for.............

Star Aderoid will be the brightest in the sky, starting 10 June. It will look as large as the sun from naked eye. This will culminate on 21stjune when the star comes within 34.65M miles of the earth. Be sure to watch the sky on june. 21 at 12:30 pm. It will look like the earth has 2 suns.!!

The next time Aderoid may come this close is in 2287

The e-mail came with a photo:

The photo itself seems to have been inspired by the sunset on Tatooine sequence in the first-ever Star Wars movie (Episode 4 - A New Hope). It is, as you might expect, a product of the photoshopper's art, and not at all based ion reality. (Did you see two suns in the sky on June 21, or on any of the 11 days leading up to it??) The HTML in the e-mail has embedded text which reads "Fun & Info @ Keralites.net". Keralites.net actually exists, and appears to be a site promoting the state of Kerala, which is in India. Clicking on a couple of links led to dead ends, so it doesn't look like keralites.net has any significant content that I want to be looking for.

Notwithstanding the fact that I received this e-mail from respected sources, the content is total crap. (You really didn't see two suns in the sky on June 21, did you??)

What I find interesting is that people who are knowledgeable and canny are still taken in by junk like this, probably because the sky and astronomical matters in general are increasingly foreign to urban people.

Snopes, as usual, was right on top of this one. The following snippet is my favourite piece of their article:
An object as large as a star approaching the Earth would not suddenly appear at a particular hour of a given day and then be gone; if would be visible over an extended period of time.

If a star were truly about to pass within 35 million miles of Earth, the preparations we'd be undertaking would be to get ready to meet our makers and not to marvel at the beauty of the phenomenon, as the results would be catastrophic. By way of comparison, the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun, while the planet Mercury orbits the Sun at an average distance of 36 million miles. If a star comparable to our Sun were to travel within 34.65 million miles of the Earth, our planet would quickly become like Mercury: a barren, lifeless, deep-fried hunk of rock.

The disconnect with the night sky in the majority of people in our modern society can likely be attributable, at least in part, to artificial lighting which makes it impossible for us to see the sky clearly at night.

But, whatever the source of the disconnect, one consequence of it is that nonsense like the "Aderoid" story gets circulated. And even more egregiously, the seeds are sown for the credulous to be taken in by more dangerous nonsense like Zecharia Sitchin's modern attempt to revive the lunacy of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken. Sitchin's books are likely one of the elements driving the belief in an apocalypse in 2012, a belief sufficiently widespread that NASA felt compelled to put up an educational web page about it.

This year, I spent a quiet summer solstice with my family, under a sky with only one sun. Nothing potentially world ending happened, unless you count my inability to locate my favourite chip dip.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

I want one

Let me be on record with my intention that the next time I have $4 million in mad money, I am getting one of these babies . Except that I would want extensive modifications. I would want a Bussard powerplant, when such a device becomes available. The Bussard powerplant would produce electricity, so the diesel engines would need to be stripped and replaced with electrical engines. That should improve overall performance, and should definitely improve stealth in the water. Might be good for sneaking up on whales. Or squids. Effectively unlimited electrical power would also mean that the vehicle needs equipment to make oxygen from seawater, which would definitely improve its underwater range.

And, oh yeah -- I'd also want a space drive installed. It is just too bad that the current state of knowledge about dynamics is essentially unchanged from Newton's time, and precludes any space drive that isn't dependent on the rocket principle.

So the space drive would need to be non-reaction-based technology. After all, why would you want a cool-looking vehicle like this spoiled** by being stuck onto a fuel tank hundreds of times larger than the vehicle itself? That requirement may be the deal breaker, because with that in place, the investment is going to be more than $4 million. Always assuming that the laws of physics permit such a thing: centuries of hopeful inquiry have provided not one iota of a hint that it is possible to move in space without applying the reaction principle.

In the meantime, maybe the boat, in submarine mode, could be used to fund the space drive research by being used as a courier for high value goods that need to be moved from production sites in South America to their markets in North America. What do you want to bet that some prospective buyers have just such business models in mind?

** I have similar feelings about many sports cars. Every darn one of them is spoiled by the need to be on wheels. Anything that looks that good needs to float 40 centimeters off the ground.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


...or maybe ketchup. The latter would be what you slather on hot dogs, the former is for bloggers who who didn't do anything since late April.

April and May included a couple of events at the Merril Collection, the 11th birthday of N1S (10th birthday and 8th birthday reported previously), a party to celebrate Peter Watts' freedom, as well as the anniversary of the adventure in marriage that Jill and I embarked upon eighteen years ago. Pictures of all of this and more to follow in the next few days. Or weeks. Or months.

Ketchup on hot dogs and catchup in blogs are both tangy and sweet, one spicing up food, but the other -- ah, the other -- the catchup in this blog is like adding texture to memory. But let's be clear that I am not anxious to reread this blog through the veil of the hopefully hypothetical Alzheimers of my incipient dotage...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peter Watts Sentencing - No Jail Time

Good news -- we heard a few minutes ago from Dave Nickle at Peter's sentencing hearing in Port Huron, MI that Peter won't be sent to jail. My understanding from Dave's partner Karen who relayed the news is that Peter was lectured extensively by the judge about how it is important to be nice to the police, and Peter will have to pay a fine. But no jail time, which is substantially better than the gloomy predictions we were making last week!

Dave and Madeline are going out for a beer with Doug Mulkoff, Peter's lawyer, and a group of other supporters. They'll be home in 5-6 hours, so expect first hand updates later this evening.

UPDATE - Dave has posted an initial report from the Quay Street Brewing Company.

The Port Huron Times-Herald had this on their website today:
Author Watts to be sentenced today

A Toronto author convicted March 19 of assaulting, resisting and obstructing a border officer at the Blue Water Bridge is expected to be sentenced today. Peter Watts is scheduled to be in St. Clair County Circuit Judge James Adair's courtroom at 2 p.m. Information his online court record shows the recommended sentence is 180 days in jail with credit for one day served and 60 days suspended upon payment of $1,600 in fines and costs. A jury found Watts guilty of refusing to comply with orders during a random inspection at the bridge. An officer testified at trial that Watts tried to choke him.

Although the Times-Herald, in keeping with their past performance, tries to cast Peter in the most negative possible light, I want to make it clear that Peter was cleared of the assault charge. The officer who "testified at trial that Watts tried to choke him" had his testimony discredited during the trial by an independent witness. No assault by Peter ever took place, although Peter himself was assaulted by being punched, pepper sprayed, and knocked to the ground.

Peter was convicted of non-compliance with the orders of the border officer. The jury evidently believed that being punched and pepper sprayed should not have affected Peter's ability to follow those orders. Peter talks about that on his blog.

Both NewsFix and Quill & Quire have news coverage that more accurately reflects actual events than the Port Huron Times-Herald. However, it is the Simple Justice blog of Scott H. Greenfield which provides the most succinct analysis of Peter's travails:
Like Cory Doctorow, I agree completely that Peter Watts' conviction is absurd and horrible. He was convicted for acting like a normal person under abnormal circumstances. He was convicted for lacking the understanding that when interacting with officials with guns and shields, one bows deeply like a supplicant, just to avoid irritating small minds.

There is no justice. It is all about maintaining order and conformity, because the system needs order and conformity. The Japanese aphorism about the nail that sticks out being hammered down is entirely apropos. What, you thought living in a democracy entitled you to more or less equal power relationships with officials? The people wearing the jackboots want you to remember that.

Weapons of Mass Distraction

Being a peaceful kind of guy, I am deeply concerned by yet another instance of weaponization, although in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I am closely following today's experiment.

Earlier this month, senior officials in the Middle East definitively identified an earthquake initiator (earlier reports here and here) which others were quick to exploit. This is the experiment which I noted earlier and which is scheduled for today, an experiment that proposes widespread attempts to induce earthquake events.

If the initial premise is correct, there is enough evidence to suggest that large portions of North America are in serious trouble, and a strong likelihood that Sydney, Australia may be swallowed by the Pacific Ocean in a seismic event that would be unprecedented in human recorded history.

In the past, similarly credible links have been made to hurricanes, although today's experiment is the first time that I am aware of where actual testing will be done. For the sake of science, I urge people to observe, and wait for the earth to move.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hubble is 20 Years Old!

I've been married for almost as long as the Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit.

But talk about schedule creep. After delays in construction on a project conceived in 1969 as the "Large Space Telescope", and approved in 1977, the Hubble space telescope was finally completed by the mid 1980's, and scheduled for launch in October 1986. But then the Challenger disaster happened in January 1986 and the shuttle fleet was grounded in the aftermath of Challenger's loss. Over four years after the accident, space shuttle Discovery finally took the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit on April 24, 1990 -- twenty years ago today.

Mission STS-31 was the tenth launch of the shuttle Discovery. On board were Mission Commander Loren Shriver (replacing John Young, the originally assigned commander), Pilot Charles Bolden, and Mission Specialists Bruce McCandless, Steven Hawley, and Kathryn Sullivan. Hubble was deployed in a 380 statute mile (612 km) orbit, a record orbital altitude for shuttle missions, in order that the HST could be released near its operational altitude well above the atmosphere. The height ensured that there would be no atmospheric interference for its optics, and minimal atmospheric resistance to affect its orbit.

Shortly after the telescope was launched and saw first light in orbit, it became clear that there was a serious problem with the main mirror. Manufactured by Perkin-Elmer Corporation, the mirror had a flaw called "spherical aberration" that caused all images to be fuzzy. This problem was fixed on the first servicing mission in 1994 with a device called COSTAR -- Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement -- which remained in place until the fourth servicing mission in 2009, by which time all Hubble instruments had built-in corrective optics. [Note: There were four servicing missions, but five actual servicing mission shuttle flights, since servicing mission 3 was performed over the course of two flights.]

During the telescope's lifetime, perhaps one of the most important images obtained by Hubble was the so-called "Deep Field" composite.

This material was presented to the 187th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Antonio, Texas on January 15, 1996.

Several hundred never before seen galaxies are visible in this "deepest-ever" view of the universe. Besides the classical spiral and elliptical shaped galaxies, there is a bewildering variety of other galaxy shapes and colors that are important clues to understanding the evolution of the universe. Some of the galaxies may have formed less that one billion years after the Big Bang.

Representing a narrow "keyhole" view all the way to the visible horizon of the universe, the HDF image covers a speck of sky 1/30th the diameter of the full Moon (about 25% of the entire HDF is shown in the image above). This is so narrow, just a few foreground stars in our Milky Way galaxy are visible and are vastly outnumbered by the menagerie of far more distant galaxies, some nearly as faint as 30th magnitude, or nearly four billion times fainter than the limits of human vision. (The relatively bright object with diffraction spikes just left of center may be a 20th magnitude star.) Though the field is a very small sample of sky area it is considered representative of the typical distribution of galaxies in space because the universe, statistically, looks the same in all directions.

The image was assembled from many separate exposures (342 frames total were taken, 276 were fully processed and used for this picture in 1996) with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), for ten consecutive days between December 18 to 28, 1995. This picture is from one of three wide-field CCD (Charged Coupled Device) detectors on the WFPC2. This "true-color" view was assembled from separate images were taken in blue, red, and infrared light. By combining these separate images into a single color picture, astronomers will be able to infer — at least statistically — the distance, age, and composition of galaxies in the field. Bluer objects contain young stars and/or are relatively close, while redder objects contain older stellar populations and/or farther away.

In 2007, while doing routine mapping of the distribution of dark matter within the galaxy cluster Cl 0024+17 (ZwCl 0024+1652), located 5 billion light-years from Earth, astronomers got an unexpected first-hand view of how dark matter behaves during a titanic collision between two galaxy clusters. The interaction created a ripple of dark matter, which is somewhat similar to a ripple formed in a pond when a rock hits the water. The ring's discovery is among the strongest evidence yet that dark matter exists.

Credit: NASA, ESA, M.J. Jee and H. Ford (Johns Hopkins University)

Astronomers have long suspected the existence of dark matter -- a hypothesized invisible substance -- as being the source of the additional gravity that is needed to hold together galaxies and galaxy clusters. Such objects would fly apart if they relied only on the gravity from their visible stars. Although astronomers don't know what dark matter is made of, they believe that it is a type of elementary particle that pervades the universe. Over the next decade, results from the Large Hadron Collider will provide more insight into this question.

A ring-like structure is evident in a composite image of the cluster made from Hubble observations. The ring can be seen in the blue map of the cluster’s dark matter distribution, which is superimposed on an image of the cluster. This is the first time that dark matter was detected, having a unique structure different from the gas and galaxies in the cluster.The ring measures 2.6 million light-years across.

The last photo below was taken after the fourth and final servicing mission in 2009, which repaired and upgraded Hubble so that it is expected to be functional until at least 2013, and likely much later. Although NASA originally intended to return the telescope to Earth for display in the Smithsonian, Hubble will actually outlast the remaining service lifetime of the shuttle fleet, now expected to end in September of this year.

So happy 20th birthday, Hubble! We hope you can provide us with many more years of incredible imagery out to the edge of the Universe.

BoingBoing has a review of a stunning new book -- Hubble: A Journey Through Space and Time by Edward J. Weiler, published by Abrams in collaboration with NASA. Much better pictures there.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Force Projection 3

This is a follow-up to earlier posts --
Force Projection, 2009 March 1
Force Projection 2, 2009 July 30

As discussed in the two earlier posts, the Chinese Navy has had a continuous presence in the Gulf of Aden since January 2009. My belief was that the Somali ant=piracy mission was an opportunity for the Chinese Navy to gain operational experience in international waters, as well as to observe the operational posture and procedures of other navies. Dr. J. Peter Pham has a column in the World Defense Review blog analyzing this position. The article dates back to March 2009, so it is a year old.

To recap -- the Chinese anti-piracy mission mission began on December 26, 2008 when the first flotilla left the naval base at Hainan Island, bound for the Gulf of Aden. This task force consisted of two missile-armed destroyers -- Haikou DDG-171 and Wuhan DDG-169 -- along with the supply ship Weishanhu.

On April 15, 2009, Wuhan and Haikou handed off to the second flotilla, consisting of the destroyer Shenzhen DDG-167 and frigate Huangshan FFG-570. The supply ship Weishanhu remained behind to provide logistics support.

A third force left Hainan Island on July 16, 2009. The guided missile frigates Zhoushan FFG-529 and Xuzhou FFG-530 along with the supply ship, Qiandaohu replaced all three of the ships on station in the Gulf of Aden. On November 1, 2009, Rear Admiral Wang Zhiguo hosted US Navy Rear Admiral Scott Sanders, the commander of the internationally constituted Combined Task Force 151, and members of Sanders' staff on board Zoushan.

Admiral Wang's problems during his tour included the capture by Somali pirates of the Chinese freighter De Xin Hai, a headache which he was able to hand to his successor. The missile frigates Ma'anshan FFG-525 and Wenzhou FFG-526 replaced Zhoushan and Xuzhou on November 12, 2009. On December 21, the missile frigate Chaohu FFG-568 joined the fourth flotilla, and a week later on December 27, a $4 million dollar ransom was paid to the Somali pirates for 25 hostages and the freighter De Xin Hai. It is assumed that Chaohu brought the ransom money.

On March 18, 2010, a handover ceremony was conducted on Ma'anshan to turn over operational responsibility to the fifth flotilla: missile destroyer Guangzhou DDG-168 and the supply ship Weishanhu joined the frigate Chaohu, relieving Ma'anshan, Wenzhou and Qiandaohu. On their way home, the three ships of the fourth flotilla were in Manila in the Philippines last week (April 13 to 17), on a five day port call, done apparently at the invitation of the Philippine Navy..

Of note for monitoring continuing operations is the fact that Weishanhu is now back in the Gulf of Aden for her second tour of duty. It appears that surface combatant vessels operate for 3 to 4 months, but the accompanying supply ship operates for 6 to 8 months. Thus far, both supply ships used to date have been units of the Qiandaohu class. Weishanhu (pennant number 887) supported the first and second flotillas, and is currently doing the same for the fifth. Qiandaohu (pennant number 886) supported the third and forth flotillas on a long (nearly eight month) deployment. There is reportedly a third ship in this class (NATO refers to it as the Fuchi class), but that ship has not been used. These ships also have their own complement of special forces troops and enough weaponry to deter attacks from pirates.

Since the Chinese Navy joined the UN anti-piracy mission in late 2008, Chinese warships have, as of the beginning of March 2010, escorted a total of 1,643 ships of various nationalities, and rescued 23 vessels from direct pirate attack. According to official Chinese government figures, more than 30 percent of China's foreign trade takes place via the Gulf of Aden route, which explains the continuing interest and ongoing commitment to providing military security.

A Belated Yuri's Night Observance

Today is the 18th, and I am 6 days overdue in blogging about Yuri's Night, the annual celebration of Yuri Gagarin's space flight on April 12, 1961 -- 49 years ago, the day when the first human being travelled beyond the Earth's atmosphere into outer space.

On Yuri's Night, 2010, there were 13 people in orbit -- one more than all the cosmonauts and astronauts who flew in the Vostok and Mercury programmes combined.

Expedition 23 on the International Space Station consisted of six people -- Mission Commander Oleg Kotov (RKA), T.J. Creamer (NASA), Soichi Noguchi (JAXA), Tracy Caldwell Dyson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (RKA) and Mikhail Kornienko (RKA).

At the same time, space shuttle Discovery, flying on mission STS-131 and docked at the space station from a week earlier, had seven people on board -- Commander Alan Poindexter, Pilot James P. Dutton Jr., Mission Specialists Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, Rick Mastracchio, Clayton Anderson (all with NASA) and Naoko Yamazaki (JAXA).

Gagarin, first man in space, would have appreciated that 49 years later, there are still firsts being achieved. On this occasion, the first time that four women were in space at the same time (Caldwell Dyson, Metcalf-Lindenburger, Wilson, Yamazaki) and the first time that two Japanese astronauts were in space together (Noguchi, Yamazaki).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Volcanic Plume from Iceland

NASA's Terra and Aqua spacecraft, both in "ball of yarn" polar orbits, carry a detector called MODIS. On April 15, the Terra spacecraft used its onboard MODIS instrument to capture the following image of a volcanic plume from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland.

In the photo, the Shetland Islands are at the photo's lower right corner.

In southern Iceland, the glacier over top of the volcano caused the upwelling lava to cool very quickly, forming a silica glass which fragmented into fine particles, and which in turn were carried into the atmosphere by the eruption plume.

The height of the plume occupies the normal range of cruise altitudes for commercial airliners. The presence of the the fine, sharp, jagged, abrasive silica particles in the volcanic ash cloud would cause engine failure if the material were sucked into an intake turbine. For this reason, air travel over most of northern Europe was cancelled for the day, and likely over the coming weekend.

Not since the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 has there been such a large disruption in air travel.

UPDATE - The Astronomy Picture of the Day website has a great picture of the volcano for their April 19 entry.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Calypso Pork

I got an e-mail from a friend this morning describing a system problem -- the classical "I turn it on but nothing happens" problem, feared by computer users everywhere. Over GoogleChat through the course of the day, we agreed that my friend would come by this evening and we would check out the hard drive from the failed system, and if it worked, we would lift some data off of it.

I offered to provide dinner in addition to technical consulting.

Dinner would be Calypso Pork, from a recipe from a British cooking show called "Ainsley Harriott's Barbecue Bible", done by an English chef of Jamaican origin. The TV series dates back to sometime in the late 90's. The Calypso Pork recipe grabbed my imagination when it was described:

2 tablespoons of minced ginger
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of Muscovedo sugar
(I used demerara sugar because it was what I had)
a pinch or two of allspice
2 tablespoons of pineapple juice
2 tablespoons of corn oil
(the chef suggested any oil except olive oil)
2 tablespoons of RUM!
(should have been Jamaican dark rum, but I used what I had)

Combine all ingredients, mixing thoroughly

Add pork chops. Marinate for a few hours (3 and a half in my case).

Barbecue the pork chops -- approximately six minutes or so per side, on low heat.

I got the ingredients in the afternoon, scaled up the quantities to feed five people, and got the meat marinating.

When my friend arrived, we found that the drive he took out of the malfunctioning computer system was still good. We determined this by connecting the drive up to an interface device designed to connect to an IDE or SATA hard drive, provide power, and provide a data connection through a USB cable -- a must-have geek tool. When we connected up the drive, we found that we could read data from it, a highly desirable outcome, which meant that we were all set to copy over the drive contents to the high capacity data drive that my friend brought along for just this purpose.

Unfortunately we had problems getting the high capacity backup drive to work (refused to be recognized under either Ubuntu Linux or Windows XP despite repeated attempts), so we ended up only copying some critical files onto a flash drive. We agreed that my friend could borrow the nifty USB-to-IDE-and-SATA disk drive interface device for a while.

It being late in the evening, I barbecued the pork chops, and served them with roasted potatoes and a romaine lettuce salad.

Verdict -- this recipe is a definite keeper. I had never made this before, but everyone, even N1S, thought it was pretty good. The combination of flavours in the marinade worked well with the pork -- the ginger added some bite, while the rum blended everything else together into a savoury-sweet combination that accented rather than overpowered the meat.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Around here, we think of hardware as equipment, often useful, which is electronic and which often contains internal microprocessors, or is designed to be connected to other devices which contain microprocessors. In short, computer equipment. Geek stuff.

But there is an older definition of hardware -- nuts, bolts, nails, screws, mysterious stuff made of wood and metal and plastic, an enormous assortment of utilitarian goods, tools to manipulate these things in the physical world. Hardware is sold in hardware stores, places sacred to those who would build or make or fix or otherwise affect the sharp corners and shredded splinters of reality.

Which brings me to the point of this post: a big recommendation for the blog of Howard, a hardware store worker who has a penchant for hardware haiku. Howard's view of people and the world, filtered through the lens of the hardware store, provides some interesting, indeed fascinating, reading. His recent post about the musician is a flash of insight into how need and misconception juxtapose and result in incomprehension and anger:
A musician accosts me by the glue
at least I think she's a musician
judging by the two guitars she has on her back.
"I just need a small piece of wood cut for me."
I explain that we're a hardware store and not a lumber yard.
"Lumber yard?" she's distressed.
I do my best to explain that we can't just carry one type of wood,
if we have the piece she needs then we need to carry the piece
everyone needs
and we're a small hardware store.
She doesn't understand the concept
so I put it in its simplest terms:
In for a penny, in for a pound.
She doesn't seem to like my answer and leaves in a huff.
I hope she writes a song about how hardware stores break hearts.

Full disclosure -- I know Howard and see him a number of times a year. Therefore, I am not unbiased. But I ask you this -- how can you not respond to something like this?
A guy walks into a hardware store
with an incredible black eye.
"I need a pair of safety goggles."
Er, isn't it a little too late?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happy 100th Birthday, Akira Kurosawa

Today -- the 100th birthday of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (March 23,1910 to September 6, 1998), who among many other films, made The Hidden Fortress, a movie that clearly influenced Star Wars.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bad News

I have been depressed for the last couple of days by the news that our friend Peter Watts was convicted when his case went to trial this past week. David Nickle has an excellent article as well as a follow-up piece on his blog. BoingBoing also had coverage, including some cogent cultural commentary. And Peter himself proves what a totally classy guy he is with his own blog post.

Some problems can't be solved. At least by me or anyone I know.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Online Q&A Tomorrow at "BItten By Books"

Jill is on the Bitten By Books website tomorrow (2010 March 3), participating in a Tesseracts Thirteen on-line Question and Answer session from noon to midnight (with some breaks).

If you RSVP to the event, you will get 25 entries to their contest (details on their website), but you have to let them know that you RSVP'ed when you submit your question.

Note -- As of approximately 11:30am today, a little over 24 hours before the scheduled start of the event, the Bitten By Books server seems to be intermittently down (or at least unavailable) no doubt due to hordes of fans rushing to sign up for the opportunity to ask Jill questions :-)

UPDATED on 2009 March 4, 1:45pm -- it turns out that the online Q&A ran from noon yesterday to midnight tonight, not last night. Still more than 10 hours to go, and Jill has even contributed a prize to the contest.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Day of the Rapture is Coming

...and it is May 21, 2011, only about 15 months away. At least, according to the mathematical model developed by Harold Camping of the Family Radio media organization of California. Of course, Mr. Camping has been wrong before -- his original calculations showed that the Rapture would occur on September 6, 1994. He and his followers were disappointed, although Mr. Camping has spent the intervening years increasing the reach of his media company, and presumably refining the accuracy of his biblically-driven calculations.

This is a wake up call to those of us less certain of our virtue in the End Times, especially after our earlier remarks about Pat Robertson must surely have condemned us to be among those Left Behind. Mr. Camping's definitive prediction means we will have the next 15 months to polish and fine tune our post-Rapture business plans.

Earthquake in Chile

A massive earthquake, magnitude 8.8 on the Richter scale, hit Chile on Saturday morning. (LINK to USGS summary).

View Chile earthquake in a larger map

As of this writing, Chile has not requested international aid. Unlike Haiti, Chile is more developed, and has more infrastructure to be able to deal with this event, which nonetheless has been described by the Chilean government as a "catastrophe".

Despite initial, obviously satirical reports, Pat Robertson has not made any statement as to the cause of the Chilean earthquake, now known to be the 8th most intense earthquake in recorded history.

UPDATE - I have heard radio commentary that describes the Chilean earthquake as the fifth, and not the eighth largest ever recorded. More than 500 times the energy of the Haitian earthquake was released. Some deaths occurred due to a tsunami generated by the initial event. Chile contains important sites for astronomical research (where SN1987A was discovered, for instance) including the Las Campanas site where the University of Toronto and other institutions maintain facilities. It is not know what effect, if any, the earthquake has had on telescopes and related hardware.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

New Fad!

Beads are wonderful. They are these little bits of three dimensional reality, useless until you use your creative impulse to form them into something greater. I think of them as pixels in 3D.

Lady parts are wonderful, speaking from my perspective as a heterosexual male. I could go into more detail at length, but this isn't that kind of blog :-)

Superglue is wonderful. Who among us doesn't know someone obnoxious that we'd like to superglue to some public building?

Beads plus lady parts plus superglue equals the new body art fad called vajazzling. Explanatory video follows:

I missed out on the fads for tattoos and body piercings. I'm thinking this is a ground floor opportunity for me to extend my boudoir photography ambitions to vajazzler design!

Friday, February 26, 2010

On the National Anthem and the Olympics

The Olympics are winding down, and as usual I am heavily conflicted.

On the one hand, it is difficult to see organized sport in general, and the Olympic Games in particular, as anything more than manufactured news whose aim is to distract us from more important concerns -- concerns that include the economy, the recent earthquake in Haiti, the prorogation of the Canadian Parliament.

On the other hand, hearkening back to the heady days of the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series, or the back to back baseball championships of the 1990s, it is difficult not to get caught up in the wave of emotion, as teams and individual athletes act out their dramas of striving and triumph and tragedy on the Olympic stage.

There are a couple of highlights (or perhaps lowlights) that I wanted to note.

The first is relatively minor. I saw a segment of news coverage (from the CBC, which really ought to know better) from the leadup to the opening ceremony which referred to a water craft which looked to me to be a native Canadian canoe as a "dragon boat".

The second is related to my National Anthem Blues post from last month. In the Olympic opening ceremony a couple of weeks ago, the Canadian national anthem wasn't sung in Hindi. Was anyone surprised by this? For the record, the government's National Heritage web page about the National Anthem has this to say:
It is possible to translate the words of the national anthem in languages other than English or French; it should be kept in mind, however, that this translated version will not have an official status.
So in fact, if there had been an audio collage of the national anthem rendered in a series of languages other than English or French (including Hindi), it would have been perfectly legitimate, as long as the official version was performed. But I doubt whether this will silence the Canada 2010 lunatics.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Demonic Pokemon, Pokemonic Demon

Regular readers of this blog (all six of you) will know that I am the father of a bright ten year old, who being a ten year old is subject to all the whims and fads of his peer group. For a (fairly long) while, one of those fads was a card game called Pokemon (link here to Wikipedia entry) -- a game whose arcane intricacy I never figured out. Additionally, there was a television show. And merchandise. Oh yes, merchandise -- enough lunch boxes and knapsacks and figurines and stuffed animals and all kinds of other (expensive) goodies, all designed to separate the child's parent's money from the child's parent. While the game and its surrounding hype were annoying mass media junk, the concept as a whole had a certain elegance in its exploitation of obsessive-compulsive “collect ‘em all” tendencies in children. Not that I would have any understanding of obsessive-compulsive “collect ‘em all” tendencies.

So you can imagine my horror when I learned that by allowing my son to have exposure to Pokemon cards and Pokemon paraphernalia, I have made it possible for him to learn how to enter into the world of witchcraft, how to cast spells, how to use psychic phenomena, how to work supernatural powers against his enemies , and worst of all, how to fantasy role play! I guess it is because "everything in life is real" that I need to take this seriously. Or perhaps not.

The list of Pokemon bad things begins at around 1:15. As a parent, I am pretty concerned about my son needing to work supernatural powers against his enemies. In his one experience with a bully, he was miserable for weeks because he didn't want to punch the other kid, which I am sorry to say would have been my response. He finally got the other kid to stop by talking to him about it, and convincing the other kid through reason that the harassment needed to stop. But I can see how with access to supernatural powers, he would have totally just zapped the other kid instead of applying will and courage and resolve to deal with this problem. Because kids would do that, when they aren't pumping their friends full of bullets with their handguns.

I also had issues with the logic behind why the Pokemon concept was both as corrupting as he says, and was also as effective a training tool as he says. If the latter were true, I would have expected to have absorbed enough of this knowledge during hours of watching Pokemon with my son to have the ability to use this methodology to make myself a superstar of corporate training. The fact that I am not an incredibly wealthy corporate training guru should tell you something.

In order to assuage my concerns, I hauled N1S (Number 1 Son) in front of the monitor, played back the video and watched his reaction, which went from basically neutral to astonishment to outright hostility. His response -- "He's crazy. I know the difference between fantasy and reality. I would never shoot my friends with a real gun. This guy is really stupid."

So, there you have it, from a ten (well, technically almost eleven) year old boy: "This guy is really stupid". I can't express it better myself. I wonder if this guy knows Pat Robertson? They surely belong together.

The truly sad thing about this are the people in the audience, who have all apparently turned off their capacity for critical thinking and for asking questions. Around about the mention of "witchcraft", I would have been walking out. Demagogues of this ilk have existed in every age, but their power comes from those who follow unthinkingly, or who remain silent in the face of nonsense.