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 @". 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 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...