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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I just had a look at the pictures of his visit to Burnaby Lake our son posted on Flickr. Among them are some pictures of the main railroad tracks which run near the lake. Here's what caught my eye:

This is safe? Only one spike instead of what obviously calls for two, at least 20mm above the track flange. This is a most heavily used track. What prevents the rail from tipping over when a heavy train travels on them?

Update April 26:

Barbra's comment (below) prompted me to have a quick look at European rail construction. I did a quick search on the internet. Here's what I found almost immediately:

They use concrete ties (no wood) and bolt their tracks to them. I see no "play" between the bolted brackets and the rail. This looks like a seldom used spur line (consider the rust on the top of the rail). The Europeans appear to secure even their little-used tracks in this fashion.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Another dose of "global warming"

Here we are, at the end of April, and, instead of a nice spring day, we woke up to a scene reminiscent of two months ago. The camelia bush in our neighbours' garden is now in full bloom. This morning, it was crowned with a layer of snow. Looks like more evidence of global warming. The temperature at around 6:30am was a "balmy" -2 degrees Celsius (28F).
Well, notwithstanding the above, global warming is real. My concern is that our reaction to it, and the huge emphasis on the warming being caused by human beings, is more political than scientific. The earth has been much warmer than now, and has seen precipitous rises in average temperature many times in the past. We are extrapolating future warming trends based on less than 200 years' worth of reliable measurements, and on assumption-loaded computer model forecasts. We know little about long-term temperature cycles (say of the order of 10,000 - 100,000 years and longer), the effects of changes in the earth's orbit and solar flux variations, etc.
By all means, let us be careful in our production of "greenhouse gases", but let's stay logical, instead of spending huge amounts of money on dubious assumptions. Drive less, drive smaller cars, use public transport, walk, use a bike, use less electricity and natural gas in our houses - be "conservative", but let's not panic. I have no doubt that we are contributing to an increase in average temperatures - but to blame humanity for the entire effect is political, not scientific.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A slow awakening

Over the last three weeks or so, I've taken a series of pictures of two buds on the camelia bush in our neighbour's garden. I used a 200mm telephoto lens from our back porch, and took the photos from essentially the same position every time.
The weather was unseasonably cold for most of the time. In the last few days, temperatures have gone up somewhat, and today was almost like a summer day. Here is the series:
The last of the picture in this series was taken on April 13, 2008. You can see what looks like the "full flower" stage of this bud. I'm wondering what's going to happen to the small bud below the "fullgrown" one, now that it seems to be totally covered?
There are many more buds on that camelia bush, which is located about three meters (10ft) from the edge of our back porch, in our neighbour's garden. The buds are all in various stages of development. When fully in bloom, the camelia bush is a really beautiful sight. Our neighbour looks after her garden and this bush, and we get the enjoyment. You can click on each thumbnail shown here in order to get a larger picture (you'll be transferred into Feel free to download any or all, if you want .

Monday, April 7, 2008

An evening at the theatre

Last night my wife and I (along with four good friends) attended a performance of "Mama Mia!", a musical built around the compositions of the Swedish group ABBA. While I'm not a theatre-oriented guy, I like ABBA's music. The group produced many world-wide hits in the 70's and 80's, which was the time when my wife and I were in our partying heyday. To this day, the jukebox in our rec (wreck?) room contains their (vinyl) records which we enjoy so much. As an aside, the disco setup in that room is still fully functional, the big twin 15-inch Altec-Lansing speakers, the prototype of the music-driven flashing disco lights which I used to build for hotels and pubs, the amplifiers all still do as well as when I first installed them. Now, our granddaughters play the music and enjoy the party ambiance - it takes us back to the time we had our parties.

Anyway, the performance of the touring group at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was spectacular. The script has taken the original ABBA lyrics and wrapped a story around them, which essentially involves a current family situation brought about by the permissive atmosphere of the "hippy" age. The perfomers are a very talented group of singers and dancers - the whole performance was vivacious and a little bit ribald. About two dozen of the "ABBA hits" were the backbone of the musical. Funny enough: I think that the slightly "suggestive" character of the performance might not have been allowed on a theatre stage at that time, around thirty years ago.

If you have a chance, go and see it. Our seats were not cheap - we paid $100 apiece. I understand that there is a movie in the works, too; that may be a less expensive way to enjoy this musical. We had a great time.