Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Another November

 The days are getting shorter, we are staying in our cozy home more often. I've had to do battle with my iMac; after it took more and more time to execute programs and commands. In the end, it took almost twenty minutes to boot up. After reading up on possible causes, erasing and reformatting the hard drive, and not making any progress, I finally fund out that this was an issue of the hard drive "deteriorating", and that Apple had acknowledged this was a "recall" issue. Apparently they have a program to replace the drive at no charge (my iMac was purchased two years ago).

So, I took the computer to the Metrotown Apple store. The service technician proceeded with a hardware testing program, which confirmed the drive problem. A work slip showing a "no charge" procedure was issued. I left the computer at the store, and was told it would ready in one or two days.

Imagine my disgust when I got a phone call a little while later informing me that the drive would not be replaced at no cost - it would cost about $280.- The reason was apparently that the hard drive was a Western Digital make instead of a Seagate model. I told the person phoning me that the hard drive was the original drive, and that this (what I thought of as a 'bait-and-switch") message left a bad taste about Apple in my mind. Since the computer was essentially useless, I reluctantly agreed to pay.

About half an hour later, I got another call from Apple - they would replace the drive under the recall procedure after all. So, I say that Apple "put the customer first" - and they deserve credit for that. It also restored my faith in the company - I'm going to be buying another portable computer soon - and Apple will be in the running.

Another notable event for us was a presentation by Dr. Sara Seager, Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at MIT. Dr. Seager is a Canadian, and one of the world's leading researchers in the theory, detection, and characterization of exoplanets. She talked about her work on Exoplanets and the Search for Habitable Worlds and how close we may be to detect possible evidence of some sort of life on an earthlike planet circling another star. There were about 300 people in attendance, ranging from young to not-so-young. Many questions were asked, especially by the young folks; Dr. Seager obviously discussed the subject at the appropriate level. My wife is only peripherally interested in Astronomy, but she said that she learned quite a bit about this subject and liked the presentation a lot. 

The event was sponsored by Simon Fraser University and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (of which I am a life member), and took place at SFU's Goldcorp Centre in the newly redesigned Woodward Building downtown. 


November is ending, Christmas is around the corner, and the young ones in our family are looking forward to it. This year seems to have gone in a flash.



Saturday, October 27, 2012

Returning to Regular

The weather change this month is obvious. After a long period of sunny weather, the usual rainy and damp fall season has put us back to the normal fall environment. My business has kept me reasonably busy, we had our somewhat delayed Thanksgiving family dinner a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I have gone out to several of our favourite restaurants for lunch or dinner.

Tonight, our daughter-in-law has a Halloween party, and we'll make an appearance. It's nice to be living next door.

Life is returning to regular routines.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Summmer's end

This summer has been very nice, weatherwise, even though our brother-in law died a couple of months ago. We did some traveling, visiting good friends on Saltspring and in San Diego. It was a tonic to get over the family misfortunes of the last couple of years.

I purchased a new Canon model 60Da Digital SLR camera body recently. It is designed for astronomical photography (the "a" in the model number).  The old lenses I have for my Canon Rebel XT fit this camera and the adapters for the old "threaded" Pentax lenses work as well. The new camera also works well for standard daylight photography.

Here are a couple of samples:


A quick star image taken from our light-polluted back yard and processed to suppress that pollution. The only stars I could see with my eyes through this light pollution were the bright one at the top and the next brightest one near the upper right corner. The camera caught the other stars in this 10-second exposure.




A bee looking for more nectar from a flower pot on our back deck. Daylight imaging is also very good.   This camera allows for very flexible use.

I'm looking forward to get away from our city to the clear, unpolluted dark-sky areas for which this new camera is designed. We'll also keep in close touch with family here and hope to travel some more and visit more of our friends and family in both Europe and in the Americas. Perhaps I can combine both activities.

Life will go on.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The good and the bad

Last week, we spent three wonderful days with good friends at their million-dollar-view home on Saltspring Island, enjoyed their company, and that of friends and neighbours they invited. We also had a chance to enjoy the many cultural offerings available on Saltspring Island. It felt like we spent a very relaxing holiday somewhere in the sunny south - and that essentially on our doorstep.

An event much concerning for us recently is that our brother-in-law (on my wife's side), who is dealing with metastatic cancer, is in hospital. Illness is something any family has to deal with, but this is too close in time to the death of our son Derek, also from cancer.  However, we did then, and do now, appreciate the efforts of the doctors, nurses, and all the people who make humane and compassionate dealing with an illness possible. They do make a difference, and lighten the load on everyone.

Life's a rollercoaster.

An update (Aug 15):

Our brother-in-law died last week.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A bittersweet birthday

Derek was born 43 years ago today. For all of us this is a bitter-sweet memory. We'll have a toast to him later today.

This blog was started as a way to keep Derek's on-line friends up to date when he first began (eventually ineffective) treatments in 2007 for the cancer which lead to his death last year. He resumed his blogging when he felt better (www.penmachine.com); this made me enter fewer posts here. I have established a permanent location for leaving comments regarding Derek: http://www.legacy.com/guestbook/vancouversun/guestbook.aspx?n=derek-miller&pid=150846264

I intend to keep on posting to this blog, but fewer entries will be the norm.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Beautiful day for (solar) astronomy

The Sun in Hα light
Image taken on May 14 through my solar telescope
 (click on picture to enlarge)


This last Saturday, I was one of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Vancouver Centre) volunteers at Simon Fraser University's open house. Along with two other members with their Hα scopes, I set up my own solar Hα telescope for public viewing of the Sun. The weather was exceptionally co-operative - not a cloud in the sky. Thousands members of the public came to view all manner of exhibits, and many came to look through our telescopes.

Most people had never seen the sun "in this light". The Sun is mostly Hydrogen gas, and Hα telescopes are "tuned" to exactly the frequency of the light emitted by hot Hydrogen, you see only the part of the Sun made of hydrogen. There is an immense amount of detail - prominences on the sun's edge, dark stripes on the sun (these are actually prominences seen 'from the top', against the brighter surface of the sun), bright flare areas, and sunspots. Many questions were asked; I'm sure that a lot of people walked away with a "new awareness" regarding the heavenly body which is the basis for life on earth (including us).

There was also an important announcement made: SFU will build an astronomical observatory for both science research and public outreach. The RASC will be part of this effort.

It was a great day for looking at the sun. SFU did a great job.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Time to remember

This is a sad/nostalgic time for us. Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of Derek's death. Fortunately, we remember much more of the good times than the struggles he went through in his last years. He also left a legacy of his writing on his blog (www.penmachine.com) and many of his photographs on flickr. I maintain a guest book in memory of Derek (http://www.legacy.com/guestbook/vancouversun/guestbook.aspx?n=derek-miller&pid=150846264) where you can enter any comments you may wish to make.
For us, Derek lives on in our granddaughters Marina and L.Meredith, and daughter-in-law Airdrie. We are fortunate to have them next door.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Parks Astronomy

This last Saturday, the Vancouver Parks Board set up a public evening called "Night Quest" at the Pacific Spirit Regional Park. It involved naturalists talking about creatures of the night, and also included sky watching. To that end, the Vancouver Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) was invited to participate. We had about 10 of our members (including me) set up telescopes in a parking lot which unfortunately is surrounded by trees and affords access to only a limited area of the sky. None-the-less, we could look at the planets Venus and Jupiter through the trees (no leaves yet), and occasionally also see the Moon. There were hundreds of people who got a glimpse of these through one or the other of the telescopes. My own scope was trained on Venus all evening. At the moment, Venus is in a position of its orbit around the Sun (as seen from Earth) which makes it look through a telescope like the first quarter moon. Many people mistook it for the Moon at first glance, and were amazed to see that Venus could look like that. Lively discussions followed regarding why such a thing happens. I think some people gained a much better appreciation of the geometry of our solar system.

Later, clouds covered up the sky, and we put our telescopes away. Just as the event ended at its scheduled time, the sky started to clear up again. We get suckered in like that quite often in this city.

I enjoyed the evening, explaining things astronomical to the public. I find that this is what I like most about doing astronomy now: public events, or astronomy nights with other members at our standard venues. These events are all open to the public. The scientific contributions I used to make when I was in my teens and twenties (mostly regarding variable stars) are no longer my main interest in that field.

Some additional information about things astronomical, not necessarily involving Vancouver Parks:

There are several interesting astronomical events coming up this year. Two interesting ones are an "annular" eclipse of the Sun late in the afternoon on May 20 and a transit of Venus across the Sun (again, as seen from Earth). The best place to see the annular eclipse would be for us to go to Redding, California, or Reno, Nevada, but we'll see a partial solar eclipse from Vancouver, too. The other event, the transit of Venus directly across the Sun on June 6, will again happen late in the afternoon. It will be visible from Vancouver, starting about 5 pm, and lasting into sunset.  Spanish Banks or any place with an open view of the Salish Sea (Georgia Straight) is a good spot from which to observe. This is the second of a pair of transits 8 years apart. The last one (the first of this pair) occurred on June 8, 2004.  The first one of the next pair happens on December 11, 2117, the second one of that pair on Dec 8, 2125.  I  don't think that I'll wait for those.






Annular solar eclipse, picture taken by RASC member Roy Bishop in 1994 near Sambro, Nova Scotia.














This image of the transit of Venus was taken by Murray Paulson, of St. Albert, Alberta,  at Hersonissos, Greece, on June 8, 2004















Both images taken from the Observer's Handbook 2012 published by The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, editor David Chapman, printed in Canada by Webcom, Inc.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another sadness

Our good friend Ernie, whom we visited in Puerto Vallarta at New Year's, took a turn for the worse and died on February 6, 2012. He had been flown to San Diego and spent his last days with members of his family and friends who live there. From what they tell us, our friend had experienced another stroke, which made it impossible for him to swallow or taste any food. Since Ernie had been a restaurateur all his life, and food had been a major love, he felt that he did not want the medical interventions which would have provided nourishment by means of stomach feeding tubes and intravenous supplements.

We had known about this situation, of course, because we stayed in daily touch with our (and his) San Diego friends and acquaintances. During that time, we had reports regarding Ernie's health which were indicating improvement one day, and a reversal the next. So when he decided that he wanted no more of this, and to have it all come to an end, we felt very sad, of course; we had known each other for about twenty-five years. We were also reminded of the ups and downs our son went through in his final stage of colorectal cancer, and the helplessness we felt in the face of the inevitable progress of a disease to its final conclusion. It was hard to take then and this time, and it will affect us for the rest of our lives, but we respected our son's and our friend's decisions to die. We think that, after going through a situation like this with the people you love and who support you, and after making all the necessary arrangements, we have the right to determine how to end our own lives.

In the middle of the month, his nephew arranged for a party to celebrate Ernie's life; we were invited, and booked a short trip to San Diego. The party was full of many happy memories of our travels together and other gatherings; Ernie was the catalyst and driving force of these events. This was a party as Ernie would have wished it to be. It's sad to think that we'll probably not see some of these people again - only the closer friends are likely to stay in touch; it's human nature.

So far, this is not the the better year we had hoped for at New Year's (http://www.penmachinedad.blogspot.com/2012/01/hope-for-better-year.html).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

4000 miles

 Yesterday, the odometer on my old exercise bike, which I use regularly when I don't go for a walk, turned to 7000. This is measured in miles. The last times I posted anything in that regard was when the odometer turned to around 6000 miles; that was in January 2011, and 3000 miles in March 2009. So, in somewhat less than three years, I have put 4000 miles (6435 km) more onto the old, trusty "wheeled horse". The earlier post can be viewed here: http://www.penmachinedad.blogspot.com/2009/03/turning-3000.html



March 2009                                                                                              January 2012

These 4000 miles represent both tragic and uplifting changes in our family. The tragic part is about our son, Derek. He died last year, on May 3 (http://www.penmachine.com/). The uplifting part concerns the birth of our niece's son Alexander, a strapping addition to our extended family. Our daughter-in-law, Airdrie, and granddaughters (Derek and Airdrie's daughters) live next door; it's wonderful to be so close to them. We consider the three of them to be "our kids", along with Lucy, the girls' little shitsu/poodle, which came into the family a couple of years ago. 

My wife and I have traveled here and there in that time and met friends, old (sadly, one of them has died, too, and a couple of others are seriously ill) and new. "The kids" have done the same, but have gone to different, and more exotic places. We've had our enjoyable family gatherings for the yearly holidays and birthdays. I'm still running my small business. Life is carrying on...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hope for a better year

It's been a month since I've put up a post. In the meantime, we celebrated our family Christmas. It was a bitter-sweet experience for our immediate family. Our son Derek was not there (as he had predicted a year earlier), but we had a new addition to the family. His name is Alexander, the son of our niece and her husband; he is the first baby boy in the family, since Derek himself was born. The young people had a great time at Christmas - as usual, too many presents (they didn't mind).

My wife and I spent New Year's in Puerto Vallarta, with good friends. Our host (and good friend) had unfortunately contracted pneumonia earlier in December, and had just gotten home from the hospital for Christmas. Therefore, he was not quite his normally exuberant self. Talking to him today, and he sounded a lot better. We met many people we hadn't seen for a number of years and several very interesting people we had never met before.


We have visited Puerto Vallarta for New Year's for many years. The city has improved its beachfront walkway (the Malacon) wonderfully, see picture. It is always nice to walk under palm trees in warm weather when it is miserable at home.

The weather was a nice 23 to 26 degrees Celsius during the day, and not much less during the night; we spent every evening outside, or in open-air restaurants.

The Mexican people greet a new year with fireworks galore. These were going off all around us for almost an hour after the New Year arrived. 

We all expressed the hope that this year will be better for all of us.

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