Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Common sense?

I haven't written a "letter-to-the-editor" type of note to the media in a very long time, but today I wrote one to the "opinion page" of our local newspaper. It concerns the meteor seen in the sky over Alberta and Saskatchewan on November 20 of this year. Here's the gist of my (expanded for this blog) note:

On Tuesday, Dec.23, page B2 - "Metorite fall could yield scientific gold" - the article regarding the Nov. 20 meteor seen in Alberta/Saskatchewan (picture at left), I read with great interest, and a sense of sad dismay, that the more than 100 meteorites collected are all "...part of a 10-tonne, 10-kilometre-wide meteorite that broke up on impact with the atmosphere, spawning brilliant flashes of light that caught many eyes" (from the 9th paragraph in that article).

To begin with, a meteorite is defined as that part of a meteoroid which is found on the ground after travelling through the atmosphere. A meteoroid is the solid, original body before it encounters the atmosphere. The process by which this body disintegrates when it travels through atmosphere and which results in the 'brilliant flashes of light', and other associated phenomena (heat, ionization, occasionally sound) is called a meteor.

If the meteoroid (taken as a cube to make the basic calculations easy) had indeed been 10 km (about 6.2 miles) diagonally across, it would have had a mass of millions of tons (around 500 million - roughly equivalent to 1 trillion pounds); it would have struck the Earth almost totally intact, and caused a conflagration similar to what many scientists think happened on the Yucatan peninsula 64 million years ago, with the subsequent extinction of many species. If the 10-ton mass (about 20,000 pounds - i.e. about three GM Hummers) is taken as approximately correct, then the meteoroid that hit us, again taken as cube, would have been about 1.6 metres along each side. The meteorites shown in the newspaper's picture with Dr. Hildebrand appear to be of a "stony" nature - approximately 2.5 times the density of water. 10 tonnes of water is equal to 10 cubic metres of water, by definition - 1 cubic metre of water is equal to 1 ton. A 10-ton cube of water would measure about 2.15 metres along each edge. The "stony" equivalent cube of stone would therefore be 1/2.5th of 10 cubic metres, i.e. about 4 cubic metres. This would be a cube measuring about 1.6 metres on each side. How can one equate 500 million tons with 10 tons, or a cube of approximately 5.8 kilometers (5,800 meters) along one edge to 1.6 meters along the edge, or a trillion pounds to twenty thousand?

In reality, of course, the meteroid would not be a cube, but of some irregular shape. That makes calculations like these far more complex, but there is no getting away from the masses of material and the orders of magnitude involved.

What dismays me is the apparent incomprehension of and lack of innate feeling for the relationships between size, mass, weight and other physical characteristics and properties of the things that surround us, perhaps mixed in with lack of understanding regarding the metric system. It is as though common sense has left the authors and/or editors involved in the kind of published nonsense seen in the media far too often.

I gain little consolation from knowing that this kind of "innumeracy" is all too common. Not a month goes by in which I don't see such misrepresentation and misunderstanding in the newspapers or other media. Is this due to a lack of teaching in school?

This whole thing may be of no interest to anyone, but I had to vent my spleen here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas

This year, we used only the top two/thirds of our artificial Christmas tree (Derek opted for a natural tree this year). We think it looks just as nice this year, and we did not need to move a lot of furniture to accommodate it. The heirloom decorations (many handmade) make it beautiful.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Healthy New Year to all of you!

The "full" Christmas tree

The tree this year

A hand-made decoration. This one came from Erlyne's mother. Erlyne was a bridesmaid at our wedding, 44 years ago, and my wife and she are still in almost daily contact. She's family.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A quick year

It seems that each year goes by faster. It seems like last week that the previous winter was here. Right now, the snow is falling and I'll have to shovel some of it to clear the sidewalk. The grandchildren went off to school, taking along their snow slider board - they'll have a great time at school, where there is a small hill.

I have a theory why the years appear to go faster as you get older: each minute that goes by is a larger percentage of the rest of your life. So, enjoy what you can, you may not have the chance again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

the "meme"

Derek's post of yesterday asks to show a "meme", a picture on the 6th page of my flickr photostream, on this blog. Here is mine. I have no idea what the name means, or why it's called that. The closest word I can think of is the French word for "same" - même. So, perhaps it means something like "copied", but why the 6th picture on the 6th page?
This picture was taken during the "Symphonie of Fire" from the apartment balcony of our close, and longtime friend (she's part of the family) in West Vancouver, looking over English Bay, towards the False Creek area.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Winter again

At this time of year here, you take the nice days when you can get them. Today was such a day; my wife and I took the opportunity and went for a long walk (usually, we walk about half an hour per day, if weather permits). Our city has many nice parks, and there are a couple within reasonable walking distance. We chose Central Park (not the one of New York fame).

After we got home, the view out of our front window showed that our local mountains had been dusted with snow - the first signs of the coming winter. Time sure goes fast. You've seen similar pictures of the scenery on this blog before, but we never get tired of the view, even though we've lived in this house for 37 years. So, here is what attracted my attention today:

The pictures were taken through our front window with a Canon Rebel XT, set to an exposure time of 1/500th of a second, at ISO 800 "film" sensitivity, 75-300mm Canon zoom lens set to 255mm, at f 8.0 focal ratio. For those of you who want to know more about what these various settings represent, I recommend that you read Derek's ongoing dissertation about camera settings.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Interested ?

Many of you know that I've had an interest in Astronomy since I was eight years old. I seem to recall that the impetus for that came from a book my father was reading while in hospital - a couple of months before he died (that hospital visit then is one of the few concrete memories I have of him. He was also interested in astronomy - so, in a way, I believe that I'm honoring his memory). The book ("The Moon" - Nasmyth and Carpenter) was describing the theories of the cause of the huge mountain ranges and the thousands of craters which cover the Moon.

At that time it was unclear that the cause for their existence is the constant collisions of the Moon with the "space debris" still present in our solar system (ranging from minor planets, through asteroids and meteors, to the "shooting stars" which can be seen on any clear night when away from the light-polluted night sky of our cities). The book contained a picture of an artificial little crater, created by dropping little pebbles into half-dried mud - or some such method. What amazes me is that I remember the book (it was the German translation) so well, after more than 60 years - and that, when entering the English title and names of the authors into Google, the first hit was a direct link to some information about that book.

For some reason, the "crater" picture triggered my interest - and I'm still interested. Nowadays, I own several telescopes and binoculars, and can look at these craters at any time the Moon is in the sky. In those early days, the thought of owning a telescope did not even enter my mind; it was way beyond what we could afford financially. None-the-less, as soon as I could, I joined our local astronomy club, and I've been a member of one ever since.

My current affiliation is with the Vancouver Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. We welcome everyone to our monthly meetings, member or not, because one of our mandates is the promotion of an interest in astronomy and related sciences. Feel free to visit our meetings and participate in the public displays and use of telescopes to explore our place in the Universe. Here's a link to get further information:


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

There is hope.

I don't often make comments on political events, especially if they relate to another country, but yesterday's US election results give me some hope. The people of the US have chosen to return to the precepts which made the USA the beacon of freedom in the past, and which seemed to have been compromised lately.

There are unrealistic expectations of a "quick fix", of course, but the economic mess that the US financial system finds itself in was not created overnight, and won't be fixed in a day. What will be needed is perseverance and a return to saner principles of economics. In the past, those are what made the USA the great country it is - the people have chosen to return to those concepts; good for them, and, I think, for all of us.

The USA has shown much compassion in the past for people on the losing side. I am a beneficiary of that compassion - I grew up in Berlin during and after the war (think of the Berlin airlift), and was lucky enough to have lived in the "American sector" of the then divided city. That compassion has not changed, in my opinion. In addition, the American people are known to be great "adapters" of new ideas, wherever those ideas may have originated. Nowadays, due to the internet, televison, and other instant communications technologies (American inventions and adaptations, by and large), ideas are available from all over the world. It takes nothing more than an open mindset to consider that other people may have ideas which could be helpful.

Judging by the speeches given by both Barack Obama and John McCain (both of which I consider to be magnificent pieces of oratory), there seems to be a willingness to look for new ideas wherever they may be found.

For these reasons I think that the USA can again be a moral light that can guide us to a more tolerant world.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Beginnings and endings

Today, the weather turned very nice in the afternoon, and, looking out the front window, I was struck by the intensity of the cherry tree fall colours on our street. I recalled the nice spring colours and thought I'd post a couple of pictures. For good measure, the rainbow which appeared late in the day a few days ago is also shown. Nature's way of displaying the constant beginning and the ending of life.

April's finery

October's dress

Can you see the rainbow's reflection on the raindrops?

A little outing

Yesterday evening, we invited Derek, Airdrie, Marina, and Lauren to dinner, keeping in mind that Derek has to watch what he eats. He decided that Earl's would be a good place; so we all went there. Derek enjoyed his "Alfredo" noodles, and each one of us had our own individual food choice; all chosen menu items were very well prepared. It's good to see that Derek is on the way to eating more normal food.

After dinner Derek and family went to see the "High School Musical III" movie, which Marina and Lauren were anxious to see. I'm sure they all had a good "quality time", something that Derek has had to largely forego while fighting his cancer. He's in the middle of making some very important decisions regarding what treatment direction to take. You may want to read about this on his blog at http://www.penmachine.com/2008/10/to-fight-or-to-live. As Derek's parents, we are very much concerned, of course; while we can, and have, provided family help, it hurts to be unable to directly contribute to his fight and to his hoped-for recovery. His cancer is always on our minds. We'll support him in whatever decisions he makes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Derek's resting today, and will post only a little. He is feeling somewhat tired, and will likely spend the next few days mostly sleeping, I would think.

It's great having him back home. We're all relieved that the surgery has not resulted in some complications, and we hope that will continue.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taking a rest

Derek is home now. Things have improved sufficiently for him to continue his recovery away from the hospital.

He was going to continue resting, but I think he'll be posting something on his blog in short order.

We're all glad to have him back among the family.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Coming home.

Derek had some more substantial food today - some pasta noodles and another one of his favorite scones from the hospital cafeteria. His pain is much diminished, and he's handling it with regular Tylenol. He's also managing his diabetes himself again - the nurses agree that he knows better than anyone regarding the timing and amount he needs.

His bowel movements are still minimal. With the more solid food today the expectation is that he'll be more active "down below". If all works out, he'll continue his convalescence at home, starting tomorrow. It'll probably take about 6 weeks before he'll be back on his regular diet. In the meantime he'll be on the same kind of diet as the one he was on when he got his ileostomy bag attached. Now that it's been removed, he's looking forward to a more normal life, without the restrictions that the bag imposed.

I expect he'll be posting soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's a gas

For those who've read this post before: check the update below.

Derek phoned, asking us to bring him some of his favorite broth from a delicatessen located on our way to the hospital. Apparently, the doctors have decided that some more substantial, though still liquid food is indicated. And the indication is? Well, there has been some activity at Derek's "lower end" - he's passed some gas. Who would have thought that "breaking wind" would ever be cause for celebration? In any case, we're happy to fulfill Derek's wish.

Mothers, being mothers, will always think of their children in need of motherly help, regardless of how old their children are. Our mothers were the same - I remember it with great fondness and a sense of nostalgia and a little sadness. That is why, in addition the requested broth, my wife is also preparing some clear beef broth and some clear chicken noodle broth here at home to take to Derek in thermos bottles. There is a chance that the delicatessen is closed today (Thanksgiving) - and she wants to cover all bases. Derek can always rewarm the broth in the microwave oven located in the "patient room" on his ward.

More later.

Update at 15:20 (3:20pm): We've just returned from our visit with Derek. He consumed, with obvious relish, the chicken soup broth we had picked up from the delicatessen. He also had the cream of potato soup which came with his dinner tray, along with some ice cream, and asked us to get him one of his favorite scones available in the hospital cafeteria (he's been in that hospital often enough to know what's available there). Liquid food is still the order of the day, but that scone apparently "melts in his mouth" (he really likes them). It's great to see him having a good appetite.

I expect that some more substantial motion will come soon "down below". His surgeon came by to check on him, as he has done every day (he has the best specialist gastro-intestinal surgeon - every doctor we talk to tells us so). The surgeon said: "you poop, you go...", meaning that Derek'll be discharged from hospital when things get to that stage. Derek thinks that it won't happen until Wednesday, and he won't leave prematurely, because when he did that before, he was back in the hospital a couple of days later .

Airdrie and the girls are going to visit Derek this evening. I think that it's possible that Derek might feel well enough to get the hospital's computer room; in which case he'll likely post a bit himself.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More today

Derek is making good progress. He's off the intravenous line and has had some vegetable broth. His portacath has been reactivated, in case he needs some intravenous treatment. No motion yet below; it usually takes a few days for any activity, after operations like this.

We had (decaf) coffee together this afternoon, and took a walk around his ward floor. He's doing this several times a day now, it's considered to be good physiotherapy. Any pain is now controlled by Tylenol three alone.

It is a measure of his good spirits that we discussed the various political parties competing in our elections on Tuesday. If he were in pain, he'd not be interested. He was also happy to receive copies of the latest news magazines (MacLeans)- we subscribe to it. He also keeps up with current events by watching television.

We hope his recovery continues on like this. More news tomorrow.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


We had another visit with Derek at the hospital today. He's doing fine. Although he cannot take solid food at this time, he's had some Jello, tea, and was offered some "chicken soup" which he declined (he described the taste as hot, salty water - "contracted" patient food is the source of many complaints in our hospitals here). He is also on an intravenous saline drip, for electrolyte balance.

Derek had a slight fever today, but his temperature had returned to normal by the time we saw him. This is apprently a normal reaction in cases like his. It's early for any activity at "the other end", but some rumbling in his gut indicates that there is progress. He says that isn't in any distress, and his mood confirms that. Judicious use of Tylenol 3 and an occasional administration of oral morphine keep him comfortable, but not dazed. Derek also sends his thanks to all who sent their best wishes via the blog comments, by telephone, or other means.

More tomorrow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hospital Report

We had our grandchildren stay with us overnight yesterday, had breakfast together, and saw them off to school this morning. This afternoon, we picked them up from school, and they, my wife, and I visited Derek in the hospital. He is in very good shape, taking some painkillers, but otherwise fine. An intravenous tube keeps his electrolytes balanced, and he won't be having any food for a couple of days at least. So he'll be losing some weight, but he was back to slightly above his normal weight before, so it should be relatively little. The operation itself took about half an hour.

Because we were looking after the kids, our daughter-in-law stayed with Derek since he went to the hospital to have the operation this morning. All of us (except Derek, of course) went to dinner at Earl's after our visit - Derek was getting tired, and we didn't want to make it hard on him. My wife and I got back about 45 minutes ago - the kids went home with mom, after going back to his hospital room to say "goodnight".

All of us hope to have him back home within a week.

They grow up, too

We have two nieces (my wife's sister's daughters), whom we've known since they were born. When they were babies, we baby-sat them many times, with all the attendant "activities" which looking after babies entails. The older one now has a daughter of her own. The younger one just graduated from Simon Fraser University. We congratulate her for this wonderful achievement.

She studied hard over several years, including on-line courses, which I think requires extra motivation. Myself, I've always done better with my studies in class. The exposure to other students' perception of course content always was a help in my own understanding of it. So, for her to do at least part of her studies "on her own" really elicits my admiration.

Our niece's graduation is a "high point" in our family history. We're all very proud of her.


Derek just phoned to tell us that he came through the "reconnect" operation just fine - he's already sitting up, and feeling quite well. The operation was done through the existing hole where his ileostomy bag used to be - no new incision was necessary. No doubt, Derek is happy about that. We all hope that his recovery is uneventful, and that he'll be back on regular food soon. It'll be a great improvement in Derek's quality of life - he's been vocal about what hindrance the ileostomy bag has been and how it restricted many of his activities. On the other hand, of course, it was a necessity. There was always the hope that he'd be able to get rid of it - that has now happened. If all goes well, it'll be one less hurdle in Derek's fight with cancer.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The hazards of living on this planet

Below, I have reproduced the content of a NASA news release, about a very small asteroid crashing into the atmosphere. In my opinion, this illustrates the impotence we would have, should this asteroid have been larger, a mile across, say. We would have likely detected this object earlier, because of its larger size, but we could have done nothing, in that case or now, to prevent this object from hitting the Earth. The larger object would not burn up, and, if it came at a time slightly different time from the one predicted, could hit a heavily populated area, with loss of life, and lots of other damage.

What is astounding is the fact that this very small object has been detected at all. Asteroids and meteorites intersect the Earth's orbit at an average speed of about 30 km/sec (20miles/sec), which translates into 108,000 km/hr (72,000 miles/hr). Nothing we can do to stop, or even to deflect an object like that from its pre-determined path. In the past, larger asteroids hitting the Earth have resulted in a wholesale extinction of species.

Here's NASA's press release:

DC Agle 818-393-9011Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Ca.agle@jpl.nasa.gov
Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726NASA Headquarters, Washington dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov
NEWS RELEASE: 2008-186 Oct. 6, 2008
Small Asteroid to Light Up Sky Over Africa
WASHINGTON -- An asteroid measuring several feet in diameter is expected to enter the atmosphere over northern Sudan before dawn Tuesday, setting off a potentially brilliant natural fireworks display.
It is unlikely any sizable fragments will survive the fiery passage through Earth's atmosphere. The event is expected to occur at 5:46 a.m. local time (10:46 p.m. EDT Monday).
"We estimate objects this size enter Earth's atmosphere once every few months," said Don Yeomans of the Near-Earth Object Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The unique aspect of this event is that it is the first time we have observed an impacting object during its final approach."
The small space rock, designated 2008 TC3, will be traveling on an eastward trajectory that will carry it toward the Red Sea.
"Observers in the region could be in for quite a show," Yeomans said. "When the object enters the atmosphere, it could become an extremely bright fireball."
The small space rock first was observed by the Mount Lemmon telescope of the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey early Monday and reported to the Minor Planet Center for initial orbit determination. The Minor Planet Center alerted NASA and JPL of the impact potential. NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth. The Near Earth Object Observation Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," plots the orbits of these objects to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.
For more information, visit: http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/


Sunday, October 5, 2008


Yesterday, our family gathered at our house to have our annual Thanksgiving dinner. There were 17 of us to celebrate; unfortunately our older niece could not come, because of a bad cold and sore throat. Our meeting was a week early, because on the actual thanksgiving weekend Derek is scheduled to be in hospital for the removal of his ileostomy. So we did it this week, while Derek is still able to enjoy his food. Next week he'll be on a liquid diet, and it'll likely be some time before he can take regular food again.

We had wonderful news at our get-together as well. Our younger niece announced the she and her boyfriend are engaged to be married - no date set yet. The two of them are wonderful young people; we're all very happy for them.

We had a great family gathering; the youngest member present is 4 years old, and the oldest is 82. We believe that the children should be part of such an occasion - we hope that they'll grow up to continue the tradition.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Earth in its full glory

A couple of days ago, Derek posted a link to an image of the Moon's south pole. That picture was derived from data generated by a European spacecraft called SMART-1. The picture reminded me of another space achievement.

In 1994, a space probe called Clementine was launched. Its mission was to space-test on-board electronics, gather more information about the Moon, and then continue on to a minor planet called Geographos, to do similar things.

During the maneuvre to reorient and propel Clementine to the final target, an attitude control thruster malfunctioned, which made the gathering of data at Geographos almost impossible (the spacecraft was put into a rapid spin). Instead, Clementine was put into a geostationary orbit to explore the effects of the Earth's van Allen radiation belt on spacecraft electronics.

Before all this, though, Clementine generated specialized maps of the Moon, and in the process, took some impressive images. One that strikes me particularly is this one of the Earth as seen over the Moon's north pole (at left - source: USGS). It shows the continent of Africa, almost totally clear of clouds. Click on the image to enlarge it.

What a contrast with the gray and desolate surface of the Moon.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I've not posted anything in more than a week - this is due to my being very busy in my (home-based) business. Reading Derek's blog, though, has prompted me to make a couple of comments.

Derek's theme in that post relates to depression and the effects it has on the person and families and friends. My comment is: I've been there. In 1970, after the treatments for the cancer I was fighting at the time were finished, I went into a very deep, clinical depression; the cause - the surgery, radiation, or the thought that everything that could be done had been done, and that now only time would tell - I don't know. The medications prescribed to me at that time did not improve the situation; the depression went on for months. The final treatment, resulting in an absolutely miraculous cure from my point of view, was electroshock treatment. I went through four sessions, and after the last one, I had my life back. I know that my wife went through hell when I was depressed, and, as Derek said, when you marry for better or for worse, it is the "worse" that strengthens a marriage.

Check the links in Derek's blog. Our daughter-in-law is also dealing with this. I want to repeat what she says in her comments and re-emphasize that depression can be successfully treated - do not hesitate to get professional help.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Last weekend, Derek organized a Bar-B-Que in the house and garden for Airdrie and my wife, who are turning 40 and 70 respectively. Derek and I are both lucky to have these intelligent and attractive women share our lives. And it looks like the line of women like them will continue on in our family. Both our granddaughters (Derek and Airdrie's daughters) look like they are already well on their way to that admirable state.

This party was a potluck dinner, so there was lots of food. Derek and Airdrie invited all their friends and gave us a free hand to invite ours, too. Our rec room saw an unaccustomed party as well. Derek's friends obviously had read my previous blog, and gave the old sound system a good workout. A good time was had by all, Derek's cousin Tarya had organized a fire dance performance, and the party, which started at 2pm, finished around midnight. Most of the food went - we finished eating leftovers yesterday.

Thank you, Airdrie and Derek for organizing everything, and thanks to all our friends for making it such a big success.

More pictures here:

Sunday, August 31, 2008


I haven't been blogging much lately, because with the schools and universities starting up again, I've been busy. But today, I read Gary Mason's article in the Globe and Mail regarding the increasing popularity of the old vinyl records (33 1/3 and 45 rpm records) and it prompted me to make some comments. "Vinyl" was the leading technology for recorded music (the word "record" was used for individual vinyl disks - as in: did you listen to Elvis' latest "record"?) at an earlier time.

I've stayed true to my roots in that regard. I still own a fine Dual 33 rpm record player with a Shure M93E dynamic cartridge mounted in the "tonearm", and from my days in the coin music and vending business I still have two "jukeboxes", one designed for 33 rpm records and the other for 45 rpm. The jukeboxes and ancillary loudspeakers were built by a company named Seeburg (there were other companies in that business, too, for instance Wurlitzer).

This is all "stereophonic" technology of about 40 years ago (the electronics are transistorized). Here are some pictures:

The 33rpm jukebox. It was built as a "home unit" - you can see how it looks like furniture. Each of the 'slanted' sides contains a 12" woofer and cone tweeters - and crossover networks. You can play records, or listen to am/fm radio.

The 33rpm "record rack". It holds 50 33rpm records (LP - "long playing" about 15-20 minutes per side with about 6 or 7 "records" or "cuts" on each side).

Each 33rpm record side is selected by a rotary dial - just like the old telephones. You can select one, several, or all records in the machine. There are about 700 cuts available (it all depends on the number of cuts per side). And here's a mix of old and new: the system sounds great still, at least to my aging ears - so I play my little mp3 player through one of the auxiliary audio inputs.

An afterthought (added Sep 1): Looking at the mp3 player, it has more functionality than the home unit. At 2GB, it can hold about the same number of music selections. It also has radio, and can store videos (impossible with the home unit). It does this in a space volume which is many hundreds of times smaller than what technology needed 40 years ago.

The two twin 15" bass reflex woofer with exponential horn tweeter loudspeakers with internal crossover networks. These will rattle the house if I turn up the volume too much.

The prototype of the colour organs I used to build is still running - it responds to the bass beat of the music being played in the "home unit".

The 45rpm jukebox. It holds fifty 45rpm records - one cut per side, usually. Again, you could choose one, several, or all of a hundred possible selections.

The 45 rpm record playing mechanism - the 33rpm juke box has a large scale version of this, too.

The 45 rpm record rack behind the playing mechanism.
These are the toys my wife I enjoyed in our young years - when we had many parties in the "rec room". Our granddaughters, who live next door often play the music on them, too; maybe the equipment will enjoy a "renaissance" as they grow up.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Playtime continued

Yesterday, the forecast was for reasonable weather (it turned out to be a really nice day). While Derek and Airdrie are attending Gnomedex in Seattle, we're taking care of the granddaughters; it was their wish to go to the PNE again.

Well, we (the gandparents) walked a lot and supplied the necessary food and drink, and they (the granddaughters) took in the rides non-stop (except to take time out for the food and drink). A great time was had by all.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Playdough Olympics

Sometimes we wonder whether the advent of video games and other screen-based entertainment has today's kids unaware of the rewards and enjoyment of real personal and physical effort. Our granddaughter Marina disproved that notion with her creation of some of the Olympic disciplines by the use of playdough. She was obviously watching the TV coverage, and it has left an impression.
At left: rowing

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Another poison day

Today is a another scheduled day for Derek's chemotherapy treatments. As a result, he'll likely feel sick for the next couple of days and may not be blogging. We hope that this won't be the case, but past experience tells us to expect it.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Really cool

When the days get really hot, trust the kids to come up with a neat solution to cool off. Here's our granddaughters so cool idea:

Hooray for the nice days of summer, and... no school!

(Click on picture for large view)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Light pollution

As most of you know from my previous post, one of my hobbies is astronomy. Every now and then, I take a some photos, too.

Last night, seeing that there wasn't a cloud in the sky, I decided to set up scope, and attach my DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera to it. The reason is that that telescope follows the rotation of the sky (caused by the turning of the Earth); astronomical photos normally require several seconds to many hours of exposure time, because we're dealing with very faint light here. Therefore, the camera has to follow the night sky, otherwise the images get "smeared" by the sky rotation.

As it turned out, after only about 3 seconds, the stray light in this city - in my neighbourhood caused by a large shopping centre nearby - and the myriad of unshielded streetlights which throw so much wasted light into the city sky caused the picture to "wash out". Some of this can be overcome by using the current graphics programs (i.e. Photoshop) to overcome some of these problems. Here's an example:

"Orange" light pollution, mostly from sodium vapor lamps

"processed" image.

Click on each image for more detail.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Long weekend

With the long weekend coming up, we're looking forward to better weather (it's been cloudy and rainy for the last several days). Sunshine is in the weather forecast, but let's take that with a grain of salt. I put weather forecasters into the same group as economists, and their track records aren't exactly stellar, as far as I'm concerned.

Derek just went through his second chemotherapy and monoclonal antibody session, and hasn't been blogging - the chemo is having some fairly pronounced side effects. He's beginning to feel better, so I expect that he'll be blogging soon.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Today was Derek's scheduled chemotherapy day - and he's not feeling so hot right now. To give both him and Airdrie some rest tonight, we have our granddaughters here for a sleepover. We haven't seen them very often in the last three weeks. They spent almost a week with their "other" grandparents in Maple Ridge (where the granddaughters have many friends) and then almost another week with Derek and Airdrie in Whistler. Fortunately they all came back a couple of days before the large landslide, which is currently blocking the highway to Whistler came down.

Last night we were invited by our friend in West Vancouver and sat on her balcony to watch the Celebration of Light fireworks. This time, it was China's turn. Here are some pictures, taken with my general purpose 18-200mm Tamron zoom lens:

For more images, click here:


The music which was part of this presentation was transmitted by one of our local FM stations. I did not get a sense that this music was well co-ordinated with the visual display - the display was very nice, though. Now, to be fair, our location had us watch the show "sideways". I'm sure that the fireworks were "optimized" for those people who looked at them more directly and were much closer. We were about 5 km (3 miles) from the fireworks barge anchored in English Bay, but there was of course no delay in hearing the music, since it came from the radio next to us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Derek's on vacation

For those of you who wonder why Derek's last blog update was a couple of days ago: Derek and family are taking a well-deserved break at Whistler this week. I expect that he may be blogging occasionally from there. We're holding the fort here - i.e. watering the flowers, making sure their house is ok, etc. Since we share a duplex, this is an easy task.

I also uploaded a couple more pictures to the "casual" folder - they are "sunset" pictures taken from the living room window a few days ago.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

mp3 player comments

Derek has had a frustrating time installing the Zune software. I bought a Samsung mp3 player some months ago, but didn't have anywhere near those problems. The software installed without major bumps along the way, although I seem to recall that a couple of things had to be repeated before things worked correctly (I've never installed a Windows program that didn't have a hitch somewhere during installation). None-the-less, the mp3 player works well - it has most of the options Derek is talking about regarding the Zune player. By the way, the Samsung software runs on the same computer which Derek used to install the Zune player a second time.

The main purpose for which I use this player is through the radio in my van (my radio does not have native mp3 capability), and I listen to it when I'm using the excercise bike on miserable days when the weather makes walking for exercise a challenge.

All-in-all, I haven't had the problems Derek ran into with the Zune software.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A few random photos

The nice thing about digital cameras is the instant gratification of seeing your pictures right after they've been taken. With the proper equipment, you can also have almost instantaneous colour prints (no wonder that the Polaroid Company went out of business). Derek has lately acquired the top model of Nikon's 35mm film cameras (the F4); he's going to experiment with film/digital techniques.

I don't often print of my digital pictures myself. If I want colour prints, I submit the appropriate files to a photo service - the costs per print are much less than using my own colour printer. If you're in a hurry, you can have your prints in about an hour.

So most of the time, I download the digital pictures from my camera to my laptop, and enjoy viewing them that way. I also back them up to various other computers and drives, as well as to an offline service.

For quick viewing by all, I also post them to Flickr. So here are a four random shots I've taken lately


Sunday, July 6, 2008


A few days ago, some members of our local astronomy centre of the RASC and I set up telescopes for teenagers with cancer at Camp Goodtimes in the UBC research forest. We did this in an open field next to Loon Lake.

We set up starting at the beginning of dusk. It seems that we had been eagerly awaited - not only by the people, but even more by the resident mosquitos. These little pests must have internet access, because they must have known that we were coming. They had organized themselves into a veritable airforce, complete with attack squadrons.
The squadron leader (from Wikipedia):

Of course we had prepared ourselves too. I had slathered copious amounts of "Off" on my exposed skin, and was wearing a heavy, long-sleeved shirt (it was about 28 Celsius at the time, not exactly cool). None-the-less, these dive bombers got to me through that shirt (no "Off" under there) and had a veritable orgy. Even now, my back is covered with mosquito bites. It looks like I have the chicken pox (which I had as a kid).

The things I do for Astronomy....

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A busy time

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted anything. This is due to my having been surprisingly busy in my business. Normally the summer months are slow in my line of business, but this year it seems to be different. For instance, I have made five day trips to Whistler and Pemberton during this period, all related to business.

The drive there and back is normally beautiful. Right now, it is complicated by the ongoing construction related the 2010 Winter Olympics. There are numerous temporary lanes (different from one day to the next), low speed limits, and one-lane alternating traffic sections, so the trip time is lengthened considerably, and you've got to keep your eyes "glued" to the road.

The widening and straightening of this "Sea-to-Sky" highway is progressing well. When finished, a drive that has been spectacular in the past will be magnificent. The reconstruction should also help with the reduction of the accidents caused by those hostshot drivers on their way to Whistler, who seem to think that they are skiing already, even though they are just driving.

None-the-less, this highway will still require full attention to the road. Since the wonderful scenery tends to be somewhat distracting, I hope that there will be lots of "sightseeing" areas, where one can stop the car and enjoy the views.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tickled pink about blue

As is the custom around our house, when the sun shines, as yesterday and today, the little chores which owning a house entails are addressed (one at a time, of course). One of the repetitive chores is repainting those areas in which the last paint job has deteriorated. Accordingly, on the instructions of the boss, the last couple of nice weekends have been dedicated to power wash the back yard (mostly concrete slabs) and to power wash and thereby strip the old flaking paint off the front stairs.

I did a bit of that "stair stripping" yesterday - in preparation for painting today. Our daughter-in-law (who really likes the colour blue and who painted the stairs three or four years ago in that colour) and our son, who live in the other half of the duplex, volunteered to do the painting again. After painting our stairs, our daughter-in-law used our power washer to basically eradicate whatever paint remained on the stairs on their side. She finished our side today - I consider that a wonderful fathers' day present. I also had a very nice card from our granddaughters - what a beautiful feeling to have a loving family. Thank you, Aidrie, Derek, Marina, and Lauren.
An update: Derek, Airdrie, Marina and Lauren took both my wife and me out for Fathers' Day dinner at the local Keg Restaurant. We all had a wonderful dinner. Thank you again.
Here's what our stairs look like, newly painted:

(photo by Derek)

The paint stripping is the time-consuming part of this effort. Here's how that looked:

(photo by Derek)

Just as an aside, looking at the stripped paint more closely, I'm reminded of the images which one can create to illustrate the underlying effects of chaos theory:
The flaked paint on the stairs.

(photo by Derek)

A closeup.

Chaos-theory computer-generated image.
(from "Chaos" making a new science - James Gleick, Penguin Books, 1987)

This makes me think that deterioration is a chaotic process.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Yesterday was "sports day" at the school that our granddaughters attend. Both girls were part of the "Red House" (the others were green yellow and blue), and the Red House ended up in second place overall. Everyone got the appropriate colour ribbons - and a great day was had by all.

Afterwards, we took our granddaughters to see Daddy at the hospital. Their mom met us all there on her way back home from her work. Derek was delighted to see everyone. He is doing well (still on intravenous drip to help his intestines recover), but he had been given some more solid (soft) food - mashed potatos, cooked carrots, etc., with no untoward effect. We all walked down to the hospital cafeteria, Derek had coffee (with cream and artificial sweetener), and he seemed in good shape. He certainly walks normally, but has to roll the intravenous rack along, which is a bit of a "drag" (pun intended).

As I write this (about 9 am), we don't know whether Derek will be discharged today or tomorrow - I'll let everyone know later.

UPDATE 11:50 am
Derek has just arrived at home. He answered the the phone when we called his home - he sounded as though he was having something to eat, which is good news. I imagine that he'll be blogging later.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ups and Downs

For those of you who read Derek's and this blog: As you've read, Derek has had a problem with a blockage in his intestines. For the last week, he's been in and out of emergency departments at both the Burnaby and Vancouver General Hospitals, put on morphine for pain relief, and has generally had a bad time. At the moment, he's in the VGH GI ward, and he's feeling much better. The blockage appears to have cleared, and he has needed no medication. Intravenous drips are keeping him hydrated and his electrolytes balanced.

My wife and went to visit him last night, and were relieved to see him almost back to his previous, optimistic form. He told us that he expects to be discharged by the weekend, at which time he'll likely give you more details on his blog.

Nobody seems to know why this problem occurred. It appears that this kind of happening is not uncommon with people who have colostomy bags. Derek told us that there are no obvious signs of narrowing or scar tissue in his x-rays, and blood balance and other diagnostics reveal no abnormal conditions.

Looks like this is another complication for which to watch. Derek had been eating very well, and gained all his healthy weight back. We know that Derek always keeps a close eye on his food, because of his diabetes, so it's hard to understand why this problem showed up.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

More news from Mars

Last week, I referred to the landing of the Phoenix probe in the "Arctic" regions of the planet Mars. Since then that lander has been put through a number of engineering tests and its cameras have taken a number of pictures of both its surroundings and the terrain underneath its landing spot.

The rocket thrusters which brought Phoenix to a stop just as the lander was touching Mars' surface (meaning that it didn't crash) have blasted away some of the surface material under the lander and appear to have exposed what may be the expected layer of water ice which Phoenix was sent to explore and analyze. Phoenix' robotic arm has also used its scoop to dig in an area next to the lander. That arm will be used to dump some of the material into an on-board system of analyzers. The aim is to establish whether it was ever possible for some kind of life form to have existed (or possibly exists now) on Mars, and whether direct human settlements on Mars may happen in future.

Both pictures below were taken from JPLs website.

For more details, link to:

Images Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Water ice underneath Phoenix?

The "footprint" left by the robot arm's scoop

Monday, May 26, 2008

Weekend events

This weekend was another one with several highlights. On Friday, my wife and I attended another 100 year school anniversary, this time it was my wife's elementary school's turn. She attended in the 1940's.

On Saturday, we spent a few hours with my "Texas cousin". She is visiting one of her daughters who lives in the Seattle area. Also visiting was my cousin's other daughter, whom we hadn't met before. It was a beautiful day so we drove there, and a good time was had by all, including my cousin's two young grandchildren. Our Nexus pass proved its worth once again - we crossed the border in about a minute (same on the way back). People without the pass had about an hour's wait in line in each direction at the time.

Yesterday (Sunday) a special space-related event took place. Since you must know by now that astronomy and space are part of my hobbies, that event had me watching the Mars landing of the probe "Phoenix" on NASA TV via the internet in "real time". The planet Mars, from the Earth's perspective, it's on its way to its farthest point away from us, "behind" the Sun, at which time it'll be invisible from Earth. Right now, Mars is about 270 million kilometers (roughly 170 million miles) away. As a result, due to the restriction imposed by the speed of light (300,000 km/sec - about 186,000 mi/sec), it took the radio signals confirming the successful landing about 15 minutes to reach us. You could imagine a telephone conversation with someone on Mars, which would take 30 minutes just for you to know that your call was answered ("Hello, Peter" - your voice takes 15 minutes to get to Mars - "Hi John" [the reply] which takes another 15 minutes to come back to you). Radio signals are the same as light (they just differ in their wavelength), and travel at the same speed. There is nothing that we know of which can exceed this velocity.

Because of this restriction, there was no way to control the actual descent of Phoenix to Mars's surface from Earth - Phoenix had to make all critical decisions on its own. The actual landing sequence was complete (it took 7 minutes) and Phoenix had safely landed well before the first signals confirming the start of the landing sequence were received on Earth.

The whole thing is just marvellous, and a testament to the ingenuity of the engineers and scientists involved. Details can be found at


An update (posted 4:05pm)

The two pictures show Phoenix during its actual landing, before separating from its parachute. I enhanced the smaller inset from part of the larger image. This picture was taken by the high-resultion camera aboard the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter (MRO). That camera normally looks straight down onto Mars to record its surface details; for this picture it was set to an angle of about 64 degrees from vertical. There was a roughly 40% chance that this photographic attempt would succeed. Phoenix was about 310 km (193 miles) away from the MRO. Amazing!

picture and overall mission control by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Time flying

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a celebration of her high school's 100th anniversary. It is a big affair, which will continue today at the Agrodome, with about 2000 former students expected. Yesterday's get-together took place at the school itself. As an "outsider" (I never attended high school in this - my adopted - country), it was interesting to see how my wife's classmates, many of whom hadn't seen each other in decades, came to terms with trying to recognize formerly (now not so) young faces. I have come to know a few of those faces myself, because some of them have made an effort to reunite for a couple of earlier, and smaller, class reunions.

Tonight's affair is slated to be a real celebration, with many illustrious alumni being present (now professors, judges, scientists, architects and artists, etc.). Several well-known bands and entertainers are scheduled. There are expected be a number of former students attending, who now live in many places all over the world.

It's unlikely that I'll ever take part in a reunion such as this of my own school. The closest I came is on a trip we took about three years ago to my birthplace (Berlin), where I made an effort re-trace the path I took to school daily as a young teenager. The building was locked (it was a Sunday); I could therefore only look at the outside gate. Many schools in Berlin were then (and are now) located within normal looking city blocks, among a mix of shops, residences, churches, etc. They may none-the-less cater to many hundreds of students through several grades. My high school is one of these.

Here's a Google picture of my high school (it's called "Leibniz-Gymnasium"). The layout is the same, but the tree in the courtyard is much bigger. Also, there appears to be a statue (shadow at the left centre in the courtyard), perhaps of Gottfried Leibniz (a contemporary of Newton) which did not exist in my days there. Leibniz is the one who came up with the mathematical techniques of integral calculus - Newton is credited to be the inventor of differential calculus. Even now, there is some controversy regarding who should be called the "father" of calculus. In truth, the two techniques are the two sides of one coin; Derek had some comments in the coincidence of revolutionary inventions on his blog a little while ago.

One thing is obvious: time marches on, and leaves no one untouched.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Final Goodbye.

Yesterday, we had a memorial service for Sonia, my wife's friend since childhood, who died last November. Her family dispersed her ashes in the ocean waters, as Sonia had expressed in her will (I'm paraphrasing her exact words): "to feed the fish, so that she would keep travelling around the world". It was a solemn assembly of about 15 family members and close friends, with words both sad and happy.

Later in the afternoon, more people met in the activity room at the condominium where one of her three close friends lives. Many of her family and friends reminisced about Sonia, our son gave a moving speech about the importance of having close friends, and I think we all reflected on the importance of personal relationships. It was also a happy occasion, because we met many of Sonia's family whom we hadn't seen for some time.

The condominium is located right at the shore of English Bay, with a view across to Vancouver Island; a setting that always appealed to Sonia (as it does to all of us). It was also appropriate, because we could all wish her a "bon voyage".

We had a meaningful get-together.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rituals of Spring

When we have a nice Spring day like today, you hear (and see) a lot of people looking after their gardens. This species of individual (Horticulturus nutticus) announces its presence and asserts its territorial imperative by loud humming and buzzing noises, produced by eco-friendly machines such as lawn mowers and weed eaters. He or she spends hours trimming and clipping, planting and weeding, and has fun doing it.

My wife and I (less so) are not immune to the siren call of spring. As I write this, my wife has made plans for me to remove a section of fence (it's just a small piece of plastic lattice in our rose patch in the back of the house) and to put some soil from old flower pots onto the front flower bed. Down the line, I'll be expected to power-wash the back porch and the concrete sections of our back yard. Yes, the rites and rituals of spring require their fulfillment - and I know on which side my bread is buttered.

What we won't do is use commercial grass fertilizers, chemical weed removers, or pesticides on our grass - we also don't water it during summer. The grass is interspersed with moss as well (see picture). Our "lawn" is "un-manicured" and will turn brown here and there when the days get hot, but it always has recovered. I consider drying out a natural event, and the grass seems to be more resilient and resistant to pests because of that. We don't seem to get the "chiggers" that periodically infest our neighbourhood and which crows dig out from underground - and as result, our grass doesn't have the "plowed-up" look.


Of course, gardening efforts have as one of their rewards nice looking flowers. Above is a continuation of the evolution of one of the buds on our neighbours' camelia bush. Notice how the branch in front of the flower has grown steadily since the series was started on March 22. The flower is located in the centre of the picture at left, showing more of the camelia bush.

You don't get something for nothing.