Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A New Year

My wife and I wish all our family and friends a Healthy, Prosperous and Happy New Year.

Who knows what it'll bring?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas

Hilkka and I wish all our family and friends a Merry Christmas. We're looking forward to our traditional annual Christmas evening get-together tomorrow.

May you enjoy health, happiness and love.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another year

Another year has gone by and today was the day for this year's Christmas piano recital and pancake breakfast arranged by Lorraine Crowe's Music Studio. The weather outside was terrible - lot's of rain - so it felt very cozy inside. Our daughter-in-law Airdrie, our granddaughters, Marina and Lauren, attended, and the music students played music, violin, and sang Christmas songs (the audience sang, too - with a lot less skill).

Santa paid a visit and Marina and Lauren must have been "nice"

Marina playing solo

And a duet with Lorraine.

Unfortunately, Derek could not attend this year, because he was dealing with the side effects of his chemo treatment. Right after the recital, I picked him up from home and drove him to the cancer clinic to have the portable chemo bottle removed, marking the end of this session. He was tired, of course, and it'll take a couple of days for the effects to wear off. The girls stayed at the Burnaby Village (the recital location was the historical ice cream parlour there) with Mom and grandma Mimi to enjoy the rides, blacksmith shop, and the other historical exhibits.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Next Round

Derek just went through his second chemo sitting in the current series. This time, he says that he feels quite a bit better than the last time. We think that there still may have been some residual effects from the Cediranib which he discontinued prior to the last chemo session.

I dropped him off this morning and picked him up just about an hour ago. His long-time friend (and ours, too), Seb - he and Derek started their first music band in our basement years ago - also visited, and we all conversed about things technical while waiting for the end of Derek's chemo session. Derek is tired now, of course, and going to bed. But so far, this session appears to have been much less troublesome for him. We're all thankful for that. Just the same, it'll likely be a lost weekend for him again, but perhaps with fewer of the side effects. He has a bottle of 5-FU attached to him for the next couple of days, and that one will be removed on Sunday.

Maybe he'll even blog or "facebook" a little.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winter is early

This week has been colder than normal here; arctic outflow winds have frozen any standing water and cooled the surroundings to below freezing. There has been only a dusting of snow at our house so far. With the cold environent and a return of the more normal Pacific airflow, and moisture forecast to arrive, a heavier dump is expected. There has been lots of snow on the local mountains; that's where it should stay, from my point of view. It bodes well for the Olympics. There is still more than a week to go before winter arrives officially. As I write this, I see snowflakes starting to come down; they are not melting as they hit the ground. We've bought another snow shovel and about 130 pounds of road salt to keep the sidwalks clear; maybe we are prepared enough. I'm looking forward to the days getting longer again.

Derek has had lunch with us a couple of times this week. This is made easier because we live in a side-by-side duplex, and all we have to do is walk across the common back porch to get to each other's place. The granddaughters can drop in at any time, too. We can also help out quickly if required. All this makes things a little easier; at least we can help a bit in Derek's fight with cancer.

Addendum at 4:45pm

Even though we got only a centimetre or two of snow today, I went out to do the first shovelling of the season. I also added some of the salt and it is making the packed footprints melt fast. The new snowshovel has a somewhat longer handle; I found that I didn't have to bend so far down to get a good angle on the snow. The shorter standard handles have always been a bit of a problem for me(I'm 6'3").

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Better Day

Derek is feeling a lot better today. He had the attached bottle taken off late yesterday.

The granddaughters dropped by on their way to school to pick up their daily "Advent's Calendar" treat. This is a childhood tradition of mine, which gives little treats to children every day before Christmas, starting on the first day of December.

It's been a beautiful, clear week, weatherwise. But it's cold outside, and the arctic outflow wind makes it seem even colder. Prairie folks would laugh at us, of course, -7 degrees C (19 degrees F)is springlike to them.

Along with Derek, we all feel better this morning.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Derek had his chemo yesterday. Airdrie tells us that he spent most of the night sleeping - with the help of the anti-nausea drug, which seems to help quite a bit. He still has a bottle of chemo medicine attached until tomorrow, so he'll probably feel lousy for the whole weekend. This controlled poisoning is no fun for any of us, least of all Derek himself.

Today, our grandchildren set up our "Christmas village"

and helped with setting up the Christmas tree. It was a welcome activity for all of us.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


As you can imagine, we've had an anxious week. Today, Derek had an appointment with his oncologist. His chemo starts tomorrow. Understandably, he's not looking forward to the side effects, since he knows what to expect from his previous round of treatments. Apparently there is a new anti-nausea drug, though, and we're hoping that it will help diminish some of those side effects.

At least there is some action. It eases the anxieties a bit.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thinking in the night

I am a light sleeper, and have inherited my sleeping patterns from my mother. Usually, I wake up around 2 a.m. Nowadays, at my age, nature calls me to the bathroom about three to four hours after I fall asleep anyway. I am usually awake for at least two hours after that. That's the time when I think through recent events and what I may be doing after I get up in the morning.

In the last few days, this pattern has been disrupted. The reason is obvious: Derek's cancer medication has become ineffective. Today, I was awake all morning from 2 a.m. on, thinking about Derek, Airdrie, Marina and Lauren, Airdrie's parents, us, our other family members - what is ahead? As Derek says in his blog post: Time to walk into the unknown future again.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bad news

Today Derek and we found out that his cancer has grown substantially in his lungs.

This is devastating.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Back home

We were away in Germany for a couple of weeks and since our return, I've been catching up in my business. So today is the first chance I've had to relate some things related to the trip.

We attended the 40th wedding anniversary of close friends who live in an area not too far away from the North Sea, and had a Family meeting in Berlin as well. I have two aunts in their mid-nineties there, and we visit them as often as we can. One of them is my mother's sister - she's the last one of her siblings. She's in good shape, but unfortunately totally deaf. We communicate by writing our comments on paper. The other aunt is a former sister-in-law of my mother. Both she and my mother were widowed twice; in each case they lost their first husbands because of the second world war. She is slowly going blind, but lives in a first-class old-age home, has a friend there, and the two support each other.

I have another aunt in Vienna, also of that advanced age group. We didn't get there this time and we're hoping to see her next year, if our family situation allows.

It's important to maintain family connections.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Ghouls at work

Last Hallowe'en night, we had a large number of kids, and also teenage "kids", collecting their "dues". We must have done something wrong, because, as I write this, we've been subject to a power failure for about an hour by now. We had another one about a week ago as well - before that, we hadn't had one in a long time. I suppose the ghosts are evolving along with our technology; how else, considering that they've been around since the dawn of humanity, would they know that a power failure would be exactly the right thing to stop us in our tracks and make us acknowledge them? Now I have to go around and reset all the digital clocks in the house AGAIN!

One thing the ghouls couldn't interrupt is my access to the internet. I connect through one of Rogers' portable modems, and I have backup battery power for it. I run my stuff on a laptop, So I can be independent of the power grid for this purpose at least. A small defiance...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vancouver Harbour

Derek's post of October 13, referring to the change in the Vancouver skyline over the last 50 years or so prompted me to dig out a couple of my own pictures of the Vancouver harbour view. I photographed the top image in 1956, the bottom one dates from 2008. Both pictures were taken from the same spot (within a couple of meters, or so). While the cameras and angle-of-view for the two source images are very different, I made an attempt to crop and resize the pictures in such a way as to make them appear similar. Click on the image for a larger view.
The change is astounding. The only edifice I can discern in both pictures is the spire of the Holy Rosary Cathedral on Dunsmuir Street in downtown Vancouver. The arrow in the top picture points to it. You can also spot it among the high rises in about the same relative position in the lower picture.
The two tallest structures in 1956 are the Vancouver Hotel on the right, and the Marine Building on the left. Both buildings are still in existence, but they are obscured by the newer high-rise buildings which have since sprung up.
Ah, progress!!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Crash Landing

After much hype in the media, the actual preplanned collision of the LCROSS (NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite)with the Moon was a visual disappointment for me. At first I was contemplating setting up my 200mm (8 inch) telescope, using my "new" eye, but advance information suggested that the telescope would have to perform at its very limit, and in excellent conditions - i.e no light pollution, absolutely clear and dark sky (an impossibility in this light-polluted city of Vancouver). I therefore decided to watch the NASA coverage instead, if I were to wake up around 4:15 in the morning. Well, I did watch it, but the images sent down from the Moon did not show me any impact. I've watched the replay several times, but to no avail.

Later today, NASA published more pictures, after analysis and using images from a "medium infrared imager" (MRI) camera. It showed the impact a little better, but I saw no sign of the calculated 10km debris plume, which was to expose any water ice possibly located in the permanently shadowed impact crater.

(both images from the NASA website - click on them to enlarge)

Here is the impact image the way I saw it. It shows the visible light image - the way you and I would see it if we were on board of the LCROSS satellite. I can't identify any crash.

This is the MIR image. Infrared shows hot spots a lot better, but the human eye cannot perceive infrared light.

Here is an excerpt from NASA's media advisory describing the mission:


NASA Spacecraft Impacts Lunar Crater in Search for Water Ice

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, created twin impacts on the moon's surface early Friday in a search for water ice. Scientists will analyze data from the spacecraft's instruments to assess whether water ice is present. The satellite traveled 5.6 million miles during an historic 113-day mission that ended in the Cabeus crater, a permanently shadowed region near the moon's south pole. The spacecraft was launched June 18 as a companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "The LCROSS science instruments worked exceedingly well and returned a wealth of data that will greatly improve our understanding of our closest celestial neighbor," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS principal investigator and project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "The team is excited to dive into data." In preparation for impact, LCROSS and its spent Centaur upper stage rocket separated about 54,000 miles above the surface of the moon on Thursday at approximately 6:50 p.m. PDT. Moving at a speed of more than 1.5 miles per second, the Centaur hit the lunar surface shortly after 4:31 a.m. Oct. 9, creating an impact that instruments aboard LCROSS observed for approximately four minutes. LCROSS then impacted the surface at approximately 4:36 a.m.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A new view

Well, as mentioned in my previous post, I had cataract surgery on my right eye on September 30. The procedure itself was painless, although I liken the level of comfort during the operation to the experience of having your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist - i.e. slightly discomforting.

The result is absolutely astounding, though, and well worth a bit of uneasiness. My right eye can now discern fine detail I haven't seen in decades. Since I'm into astronomy, that result is exactly what I had hoped for.

At the moment, I have to take some care - no heavy lifting, and an interwoven schedule of taking medication in the form of eyedrops - but I'm looking at the world with a new eye (pun intended). Until now, I hadn't realized how much I was really losing, when looking around, and am now aware that my left eye, which was the better eye lately (using glasses) would also benefit from this kind of operation.

So, at the moment, I'm using eyeglasses in which the left part of the frame retains the bifocal lens formulated for my left eye; I have removed the right-eye lens altogether. The result, for distance viewing, is a reasonably close balance between my two eyes, with the right eye outperforming the left one by a noticable margin. It also makes it possible for me to read the newspaper and books (and typing this story on the computer) because, at my age, reading glasses are usually necessary. My reading is done with my left eye, through the "reading section" of the lens. This is no problem for me, because my right eye had deteriorated to the point at which I could not use it for reading anyway.

If and when I finally get my left eye "restored" in the fashion described above, I won't need glasses for distance view (that includes naked-eye astronomy, and watching TV, for instance). For reading, I can purchase some of those inexpensive, off-the-shelf reading glasses available anywhere. I'll then use both eyes for reading and close-up viewing.

In short, from my experience, if you are contemplating cataract surgery, go for it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Plugging along

My busy days (Sept 19) have continued. Our friends who reside in Mexico, have just returned from their Alaska cruise, and are staying with us.

Every now and then, there is a bit of a break in all this. For example, last Sunday, the Vancouver Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada hosted the Paul Sykes Lecture (an annual event, funded through an endowment from Paul Sykes), hosted a talk by Dr. Neil Turok - the eminent mathematical physicist, and collegue of Dr. Stephen Hawking. His topic related to the evolution of the early universe, which is one his fields of interest. Dr. Turok presented the subject in a most engaging, humorous way, and did not shy away from telling us how little concrete information we have - even though there have been astounding breakthroughs achieved in accumulating accurate data. My wife, whose interests only peripherally include astronomy, enjoyed the talk, and said so several times.

After the meeting, the RASC's council invited Dr. Turok to supper, and a few of the council members (of whom I'm one) joined in spirited, wide ranging discussions about the various aspects of theoretical physics. A good time was had by all.

The Paul Sykes lecture is free to the public - come and join next year.

Tomorrow I'm slated for cataract surgery - another break in the routine.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Busy time.

I run a business which involves many of the larger educational institutions in our area. Since school started earlier this month, I've been very busy, including weekends. In addition, we have good friends visiting, and staying at our home. That has meant no time for blogging. For those of you who may be wondering, both my wife and I are ok - we're just involved in our various activities at the moment. This is a chance to write a little note here, before I continue with business today.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A somber weekend

There are periods when personal events induce a state of introspection and contemplation.. This weekend was one of them.

On Friday, we attended the memorial service for a good friend, who died a couple of weeks ago. Kilby Gibson was my sister-in-law's long-time friend (the two of them roomed together in their early twenties), and we had gotten to know Kilby at one of our family get-togethers many years ago. My wife, my sister-in-law, Kilby, and her sister Sheila used to meet for lunch on a semi-regular basis. In the last seven years Kilby had been battling lymphoid cancer, but never lost her vivaciousness and fighting spirit. She was politically active at various levels, and contributed a great deal to the betterment of those around her. Our hearts go out to her husband Gordon and his family.

Everyone is aware of the death of Ted Kennedy in the United States. He was also someone who worked for and had a great influence on the policies regarding less fortunate people in the U.S., and in the world. While his fight for universal health care in the U.S. is still ongoing, he's certainly put this issue in the centre of that nation's political attention. He will be missed.

Within our own family, our son Derek's fight with cancer is always on our mind. There are times when we all get a feeling of sadness (and rage) because of the unfairness of it all. This weekend was one of those times.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Time with the granddaughters

Since Derek and Airdrie are at Gnomedex, we have our two granddaughters to look after these days. Thursday we explored the new Canada subway line to the airport, yesterday we spent all day at the PNE (we sat on the grass for the "Beatle Anniversary" performance, too). Big crowds.

The "Canada Line" day was an all-day event for us. We decided that four of us would take public transport to get to all the places we were going to visit. The "Skytrain"is our elevated/subterranean remote-controlled light rapid transit line which has existed since the year of "Expo 86" (i.e. 23 years), and has become an integral part of the public transportation system in our "lower mainland" cities. One of its larger stations is located a 10 minute walk away from our house, so we walked and bought a day pass for all of us. At a total of $27, that turned out to be a bargain.

To begin with, we rode the skytrain to the Waterfront station, and then changed to the Seabus (a ferry service to North Vancouver, part of the public transportation system), to have lunch at Lonsdale Quay. The kids and my wife picked their traditional Chinese food; I don't particularly like Chinese food and ate a more traditional sandwich instead. Our older granddaughter also bought a new pair of shorts. We then returned via the Seabus to the Waterfront station, which is also the terminus of the new Canada Line subway.

The trains on that line consist of two cars (all pictures below are from the Translink web sites), connected by a "flexible" passthrough, much like subway trains in other parts of the world. The stations on the Canada line are just long enough to accommodate their combined length, so coupling two of these trains together would make them too long for the stations. The Canada Line train cars are wider than the Skytrain cars, making the cars incompatible with each other's stations. In fact, I don't know of any track connection between the two. That makes it necessary to have two different parts and maintenance centres. Personally I find this incompatibility illogical. I can understand that such incompatibilty might exist in some of the older cities in Europe, which started their electric subway services over one hundred years ago, but the skytrain line is still young (23 years), and the underlying remote-control technology cannot be that much different.

Another question I have is the use of only a single track into the airport itself - it means that only one train at a time can be at the airport station. I suppose that the underlying reason is the same as always - money, money, money. There was a big "Ahead-of-time, on-budget" statement from both our provincial government, and the public transit authority, made possible only by what I consider "corner-cutting"; even the underground track section which was originally meant to be a "bored" tunnel was actually built using the "cut-and-cover" method. That caused a great deal of financial losses to, and the closure of a number businesses along the Canada Line. Courtcases are still pending in that regard.

Notwithstanding all the above, the ride to and from Richmond and the airport is smooth, efficient, and will likely become popular with the commuting public and travelers from the airport to downtown. While most of the line is underground, the elevated and above-ground sections offer a grand view of Vancouver's spectacular scenery (that's true for the mostly elevated Skytrain too, of course).

The PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) is the granddaughters' perennial favourite. While the younger one is more interested in the rides at Playland, the older one is developing a taste for the agricultural and "arts-and-crafts" aspects. Our granddaughters' maternal grandparents (we're the paternal ones) are both wonderful and accomplished people and very artistic, and they really involve the granddaughters in that way when they are staying with them.

Both granddaughters enjoy the animals at the 4-H displays. As usual, we consumed the obligatory junk food offerings (corn dogs, mini doughnuts, hamburgers etc...).

An added feature this year was an open-air performance in honour of the Beatles - on their 45th anniversary. The theatre grounds were jammed with people. The band "Revolver" performed ably, and had the crowd highly motivated - everyone seemed happy. The amazing thing is that our granddaughters knew and sang along with all the songs; we ourselves, being of a generation well ahead of the Beatles, could not do that.

Marina (the older one) is also developing a talent for photography. She has a camera cellphone and took some interesting and artisic pictures:

All-in-all we are having a great time with the two of them.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Less heat

Here in our town, we've had a record-breaking heatwave for over a week, highly unusual. Our entire province has been subject to the same phenomenon. As a result, there have been a number of serious fires caused, and new ones started by, sad to say, careless people and also thunderstorms. We had a spectacular storm here a few days ago. Our son took some great pictures. After that storm, the sunset was an eerie orange-red (picture taken through living room window). I suppose that the cause was the smoke from the various wildfires, even though those are some distance away from our city.

The heatwave here made all of us look for ways to cool down (temperatures reached 38 degrees Celsius - about 100 degrees Fahrenheit). The night temperatures stayed at what are normally our summer daytime values - so cooling fans were in great demand. As usual, kids are inventive, and our younger granddaughter and a friend made use of the garden sprinkler hose to get cool.

The ravens, which are numerous in our area, were also "taking baths". One took advantage of the birdbath in our back yard. I admire these clever and inventive birds. When they look at you, the intelligence in their eyes is obvious. Who knows, if we manage to wipe ourselves out, maybe they'll become the dominant species?

Today, temperatures have moderated, and we're very happy to sit outside to enjoy another beautiful day and evening.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Past glory

There is a lot of interest and comment today regarding the exact day, 40 years ago, on which humans first set foot on the Moon. To me, this is a bittersweet memory. The sweet part relates to the fact that our son, whose birth had occurred three weeks before, was having his mother's milk while we were watching the landing on TV. At the time I wondered whether he would grow up to be one of many future space travellers who would naturally go to space, with an ease similar to travel by airplane. In my mind, the image of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon's surface will forever be linked with those memories.

The bitter part of that memory is that mankind's ability even just to repeat that forty-year-old feat has withered on the vine. We are reduced to admiring achievements which occurred four decades ago, and treat them as though they are today's. No one is in a position to place a human on the Moon now, both for technical and financial reasons. It is sad to think that much of the talent and money which could have furthered our progress in space was instead directed toward, and wasted on, conducting useless wars and persuing infinite greed.

I find it a hopeful sign that a return to the Moon, and also an expedition to Mars are seriously being contemplated. Maybe our son's daughters will one day go into space. I wonder whether I'll be around to see it?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Musical Telescopes

This past Sunday, the Vancouver Symphony put on a concert at Deer Lake park here in Burnaby. This is a casual affair for the listeners (there is no cost), and everyone is free to bring their own lunch, chairs, etc. It's a "picnic atmosphere". For the occasion, food vendors, and others interested in making the public aware of what's going on in the community, are set up as well. Among the latter, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, of which I'm a member, showed telescopes, handed out brochures and other astronomy related publications. We would have pointed the telescopes at stars and other interesting objects in the sky, had it not been cloudy. As it was, we picked some distant targets to show what telescopes can do, and how they work. Here are some pictures:

The orchestra playing

The audience

People at the telescopes

Looking through the C-8

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pseudo vacation

Over the last few weeks, at various times, we've had visitors from both Mexico and Germany. Since the weather here has been great during the last six weeks or so, we decided to show our guests around. We went to the various Vancouver showpieces, and also included a trip to Whistler.

At Whistler we spent a day which included taking a ride on the new Peak2Peak gondola. This is a great experience, and I recommend it to anyone not afraid of heights. We went all the way to near the top of Blackcomb mountain ('seventh heaven') which gave us a great view of the snow-covered mountain peaks for 100km around. The viewpoint is located above the Horstman Glacier; we had a birds-eye view of the skiers and snowboarders who were displaying their talents.

Last weekend, Derek had his 40th birthday bar-b-q at home, attended by about one hundred of his friends, and our family and friends as well. Lots of food was consumed. The next day we took part in an open house at Derek's friend and former IHR partner Paul Garay's house in Maple Ridge - again with lots of food.

The last two weeks have therefore been filled with many social activities for my wife and me. Every now and then, though, I had to do things related to my business, but since the universities and colleges are running on summer hours right now, I wasn't too busy.

So this episode has been like an unplanned break - a "pseudo vacation" .

Update: Here are a few pictures from the Whistler excursion:

CIMG4203CIMG4197CIMG4177CIMG4171CIMG4152CIMG4211(click on any frame)
Pictures by K. Pelk

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Yesterday, I had some business in Victoria; So my wife and I took the ferry from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Swartz Bay (Victoria). For the trip to Victoria, we caught one of the Spirit class of ferries. We had a buffet breakfast on board (all you can eat, about $17.00 per person). You get a nice window table, if get there early enough.

"Spirit class" (BC Ferries' web page)

These vessels are 11,700 ton ships, built about 16 years ago, can carry over 400 cars at a time, and were the "stars" of the BC ferry fleet on the Vancouver-Victoria run until the arrival of the Super-C ferries within the last year, or so. They are capable ships, and are an important part of BC's transportation system.

Since we hadn't been on one the new ships yet, we arranged to return on the "Coastal Celebration", one of the three new Super-C class ferries. These are somewhat smaller than the "Spirit" vessels (10,100 tons - about 370 cars at a time). The major difference is that they are "double-ended", so they head straight into and out of their docking berths. By way of contrast, the Spirit ships need to turn around before they dock (Swartz Bay) or after they leave(Tsawwassen) the dock.

Super-C class (from BC Ferries' web page)

In other respects, the new ships have perhaps slightly more comfort and convenience in the on-board services, but they don't differ substantially from the older ships in that regard. A ferry trip to Vancouver Island always feel like a "mini-cruise" to us - the beautiful scenery through which BC Ferries' ships sail makes this a "word-class" experience, in our opinion. If you intend to visit Vancouver Island, this is a nice way to go.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


37 years have elapsed since a human being last set foot on the Moon. Had the story continued as many space science pundits predicted at the time, we would have had space colonies there by now, and would be making ready for a manned expedition to Mars. As it has turned out, the political will (and that is what it was to begin with - a political exercise to 'win the race to the Moon' against the Russians) to do that disappeared after the US succeeded spectacularly. Right now there is no nation which has the capability to place humans on the Moon (including the USA).

Lately, there has been a concerted effort to "restart" a (continuous) human presence on the Moon, this time with the USA as only one of the "contenders". Some others are China, Japan, India, and the Europeans, all of whom seem to be at various stages of "fleshing out" the idea. The severe constraints to spending money in this field imposed on the USA by its immense deficits may mean that one of the other nations involved will be the next to land a human being on the Moon.

A continued human presence on the Moon requires the availability of "local" raw materials (the most important being water in either frozen or liquid form). Notwithstanding the comparative proximity of the Moon to Earth, in some respect we know less about the presence of water on the Moon than on the planet Mars. The robotic landers and orbiting satellites which are currently exploring Mars have given us very good evidence that water is present there in sufficient quantities to make human habitation possible.

A first step towards an expedition to Mars (a return trip would take several years) would involve learning about the details of maintaining human life on an extraterrestrial body; the Moon is the closest and most easily reached. There are many ideas about such an endeavour (an example: It is important to have the necessary resources wherever humans may find themselves. To that end, the US is preparing to send some orbiters back to the Moon to explore specific areas - particularly the north and south poles where there are some spots which have eternal sunlight (for energy to supply a human settlement), and perpetual shadow (for possible water ice). For all the lunar observations which have taken place over the past four centuries or so, both from Earth and by lunar rovers, humans on the Moon, and samples brought back from there, we know little about what may be found at the lunar poles.

Another of the concerns to be addressed in any extraterrestrial human undertaking is how to deal with illness. While we are far from knowing all the answers, I feel that medical science here on Earth has made tremendous strides since the time of the Moon landings. As an example, our son's fight with cancer is certainly helped by the availability of drugs which did not exist at that time (as his parents, of the greatest importance to us). This is one area where progress has been greater than predicted.

I have a hope that I'll see more Moon landings in my lifetime, and, with luck, even a landing on Mars. Personally, the closest I can come to a "landing" is to look through my telescopes, and to use the internet links which keep me up-to-date in that regard.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Yesterday, my wife and I stopped by Granville Island for lunch, and to pick up some fruit and vegetables at the Granville Island Market. The little over 1 pound of cherries we bought came prepackaged in a cardboard box (the proprietor emptied them into a plastic bag after we had purchased them).

Today, we had some of them as a snack. About 20% of them exhibited some marked deviations from the norm. Several had some "outgrowths"; some of those suggested another cherry (an identical twin, if you like) which did not develop properly. A couple of them were actual twins, and the weirdest one had some hairy growth breaking through its skin (see picture at left, below). I broke open the one with the hairy outgrowth (see picture at right). It looks to me as though there may have been a new cherry tree in the making - perhaps the cherry was germinating while still on the tree. Any ideas?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The old and the new

The other day, CBC radio aired an episode about things old and new. The theme concerned typewriter keyboards, and other older technology. The question in the background was why some of the old technologies have survived and been incorporated into the latest technologies, and why some people stick with the older technologies (I'm one of those).

For example, the sound equipment in our home is decades old. The radio show (Spark) mentioned and interviewed a number of people who have the same philosophy as I, namely: if it ain't broke, don't fix it (or throw it away). As far as I'm concerned, use this older equipment, take reasonable care of it, and it'll serve you for many years. This goes for our cars, television sets, computers, kitchen utensils and equipment, and generally for all those things which are subject to the exhortations of the people who want to sell you new stuff.

That's not to say that I'm against the new technologies. We own digital cameras, a flat-screen computer display, an MP3 player, etc. I also own a computer-driven telescope which has been updated from its original state - I bought the telescope itself about 32 years ago at which time computer control of amateur telescopes was extremely rare. In the 1980's I wrote a computer program for an Apple II, as well as constructed the necessary mechanical additions for the telescope to make this telescope obey computer navigational commands. I have now replaced all that with up-to-date hardware and software. This is to show that I like new technology too, I'm certainly no Luddite. I definitely wouldn't be running my business if new technology was my "enemy".

This weekend, my wife organized a family dinner (for my 70th birthday - we usually have around 20 people on occasions like this), and even though we asked for no presents, I received some very nice ones. Derek, being the technical "geek" in our family, presented me with a portable GPS car display (a Tomtom ONE), with which I have played around for the last couple of days. Today my wife and I went for a walk in the neighbourhood, and I took it along. It's amazing how well that unit showed our position in real time all along the way. Being into astronomy, electronics, and computers, I well know the amazing underlying technologies that make this possible. I'm very pleased with this unit and will likely use it for many years to come.

So. I'll adopt any new technology which I consider useful, but I'll certainly not buy anything that is intended to replace those things that work well and whose replacement would result in little improvement. I really don't care about what's fashionable - for me it's what's practical.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

The years go by in a hurry when you're our age.

Yesterday our granddaughters lived up to family tradition and made some "Mother's Day" bread for their Mom. The breadmaking session was all part of my wife's making a large loaf for the granddaughters' piano recital which took place today.

At that recital, our older granddaughter played a moving interpretation of the "Moonlight Sonata", the younger one played a wonderful rendition of "the Lion sleeps tonight"; she also sang a medley of Beatle tunes. Both of them teamed up to sing a duet towards the end of that medley. Each has a beautiful voice (no bias here!) - we're proud grandparents.

Time goes by.

Since it was Mother's Day, the many mothers who go through a lot of effort to make it possible for the music students to attend the Crowe Music Studio were given their due recognition - as was Ms. Crowe (the teacher, mentor, confidante) herself. All her family was in attendance; they handed her a nice flower bouquet. It was nice to see them all. We've come to know Ms. Crowe as a wonderful and accomplished music teacher (she's also an examiner for the Royal Conservatory of Music) - and it showed in the calibre of the students' recitals. There is also another connection: Ms. Crowe and I both have German roots. When I drop off our granddaughters for their lessons, we occasionally converse in that language - to the apparent wonderment of most of the students attending her studio at the time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Astronomy Day May 2, 2009

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), along with many other like-minded groups is "observing" Astronomy Day with a host of activities for all ages and involving many space-related topics. Here in the Vancouver area, telescopes, talks, and exhibits will be set up at the "Gordon Southam Observatory" (GSO), next to the Planetarium in Kitsilano. Here are a couple of links to further information:

The event will take place rain or shine. If weather permits, you can view the Moon, the planet Saturn, and other interesting astronomical objects through various telescopes.

The event is free to anyone.

Have an educational time!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A few travel notes

As mentioned in my last post, we've spent some time with friends in California, and travelled there by car. We returned yesterday, taking four days to come back, and driving along some of the roads less travelled.

While the American interstate highway system goes through some magnificent scenery (the view at left is of Mount Shasta), the smaller roads offer some wonderful, sometimes unexpected views of nature as well.

As an example, we stayed in Calistoga, a small city in the Napa Valley of California (this area is known as one of the top wine-producing areas in the world). The hotel was a beautifully restored place, reminiscent of high-class hotels of about 100 years ago, mixing "Art-deco" and "American-West" styled rooms with present-day wireless internet access, DVD players, and TV in every room.

On our way out, just outside of town, we stopped at a place featuring the smaller sibling of "Old Faithful" (in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming), also called "Old Faithful", seen at left. This geyser erupts every ten minutes or so. Each eruption is preceded by about a minute of bubbling, gurgling sound, not unlike that of our electric coffee maker at home. The geyser is located on private land, so we had to pay some admission ($6 each); we considered it well worth the experience. Since we had arrived early, we were the only visitors and could look at the geyser, the museum and videos at leisure and without interfering with anyone.

During our travels, the other amazing thing to consider was the fact that all the roads on which we travelled were either blacktopped, or concrete-covered. The picture shows the road through a part of California's famous Redwood Forest. If you consider the immense road system in the USA alone, how much does this represent in natural resources and evironmental alteration? How could the majority of people learn to appreciate these natural wonders without such cost?

Our vacation ended on a beautiful and romantic note. We headed to Cannon Beach (Derek's family's favourite vacation spot), on the Oregon Coast, for our last evening "on the road". It happened to be the day of our 44th wedding anniversary. Accommodation was in a beachside hotel room with balcony, looking west over the Pacific Ocean. With a bottle of red Oregon wine, and a couple of piccolos of champagne, we had a nice, sunset French "Dinner" on the balcony (consisting of French bread, some cheeses and sausage, rather more like an elaborate picnic). This was a fitting end to a trip which included the reunion with many good friends and good times with them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Southern California?

We have spent the last week here in San Diego visiting close friends. The occasion was a birthday get-together with some of the members of our "travel group" (we meet in various places at unspecified times). This time, my wife and I travelled here by car. On the way, we hit a lot of "unCalifornian" weather - strong winds and rain. It DOES rain in Southern California, notwithstanding the hit song of three decades ago. Fortunately, the days on which the birthday festivities took place, and on the day of the Easter Sunday brunch, the sun was shining and the temperature was more like what you'd expect. Today, it's cold and windy again, and it just rained for a few minutes. Feels more like home.

All this pales in comparison to better news. Derek's latest CT scan shows that his cancer has been stable over the last two months - as his parents that means more to us than anything.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


This afternoon, I was sitting in the back yard, soaking up some sun. The sky was somewhat hazy. Momentarily glancing at the sky in the direction of the Sun (with my eyes shielded against it), I noticed a faint halo around the Sun. Here is the image, taken with a Canon Rebel Xt, 18-200mm Sigma zoom lens at 18mm, ISO 100, f22, 1/1000th sec exposure.

According to Wikipedia, a halo is an optical phenomenon that appears near or around the Sun or Moon, and sometimes near other strong light sources such as street lights. There are many types of optical halos, but they are mostly caused by ice crystals in cold cirrus clouds located high (5–10 km, or 3–6 miles) in the upper troposphere. The particular shape and orientation of the crystals is responsible for the type of halo observed. Light is reflected and refracted by the ice crystals and may split up into colors because of dispersion, similarly to the rainbow.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Disappointing Earth

On Saturday, the hour from 8:30 to 9:30pm was designated "Earth hour". The idea started in Australia, and its purpose is to cut down on energy consumption for that hour. In most cases, this means shutting off extra lights, computers, and other unused appliances in one's house.

We lit a few candles, shut off all our lights (we use the non-incandescent bulbs anyway), the network computers in our house, and did not turn on the TV, even though one of the programs we regularly watch was scheduled for that time.

I looked out our windows during that hour. Sad to say, I noticed absolutely no difference from the normal situation. All our neighbours' lights were on as usual, the highrises in our neighbourhood were lit up like Christmas trees (as usual), and the sky did not look one whit darker (it was as light-polluted as ever). If I want to be charitable, I'll say that most people did not even know about this hour; otherwise I have to assume that people around us just don't give a damn.

As it turns out, our city, along with many others, saved less energy this time than last year. What does that say about individual people's attitude towards "Global Warming" and climate change?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hazy Astronomy

As I've mentioned before, this year is designated as International Year of Astronomy (IYA). To that end, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC - I've been a member for more than 30 years) is undertaking many public activities, free for all to take part in. Worldwide, there are many astronomy associations and educational institutions involved in the same activities.
After several locally scheduled events were "rained out" lately, last night turned out to be more promising. A clear evening was predicted by Attilla Danko's "ClearDarkSky" program which uses data from Environment Canada's weather forcasting system.
Things turned not quite as clear as predicted - there were thin, hazy clouds drifting across the sky all evening. However, they were transparent enough to show the brighter objects, one of which was the planet Saturn. Three of us were slated to run this meeting, and two of us had committed to set up our own telescopes at the H.R. McMillan planetarium for this date, so I set up my Celestron C-8 in front of the Gordon Southam observatory. The third member in our group operated the observatory telescope itself.
This year, Saturn's rings are seen almost edge-on. That's a consequence of the tilt of Saturn's axis of rotation with respect the plane of its orbital plane and generally all the major planets' orbits. This presents some interesting viewing since some of Saturn's moons, most of which orbit Saturn in the same plane as its rings, can occasionally be seen crossing Saturn's disk, along with their respective shadows. Since the hazy clouds had a detrimental effect on seeing some of the very fine details through the telescopes, such an event would be somewhat difficult to perceive. However, the rings and Saturn's bright moon Titan were easily visible. To the left you see what Saturn and Titan looked like as seen through a telescope, at a magnification of about 90 power. Click on the picture for a larger view.
There were more than 100 people who took advantage of the occasion - some had been attending a show at the planetarium, others just happened to be out for a walk. Many had never had a look through an astronomical telescope, and were very impressed about what could be seen. It's amazing how interested people are in what's going on in space; many just don't know how to meet people with similar interests. So this get-together fulfilled its primary purpose of bringing these people together. Some enquired about how they could get more involved. Here is one possibility: the RASC member meetings and sky observing sessions are open to the public, and are free. If you become a member, there are a number of privileges which you'll enjoy. In Canada, for more information, go to, and pick the link to your closest local centre. If you live elsewhere, look for an astronomy club in your area - IYA is a worldwide effort.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Turning 3000

About 3 years ago, my brother-in-law's brother and wife gave us an exercise bike which they were replacing with a more up-to-date version. At the time, it's speedometer indicated about 300 miles. It is a totally mechanical bike, with an adjustable tension roller pressing against the wheel, which makes it possible to simulate mountain "grades" and, if adjusted properly, will make us work hard. On the days when weather or a particluar time commitment prevents us from going for our walk, we use this bike for about one half hour - and for myself, I adjust it so that I work up a real sweat. On average, I cover about 9.3 miles in that half hour (according to the odometer). If I do any less, I'm not working hard enough. Both my wife and I are making pretty good use of it, but since she gets quite a bit of exercise around the house, it is I who does the bulk of the pedalling on the bike (90%, or so).

In the winter, the bike is used almost daily. In the summer we're much more likely to walk - our neighbourhood is hilly, and a good walk is good exercise. In any case, the other day, when I was doing my usual half hour on the bike, the odometer turned 3000 miles (it's an older bike, and still calibrated in miles). This means that we've added about 2700 miles (a bit more than 4300km) to its total use. That's the distance from Vancouver, BC (our city) to Halifax on the East Coast. It also means that the bike has been used about 320 times by us (it's getting close to the equivalent of one year's worth of half-hour per day pedalling). I never thought we'd "bike" all the way across Canada - we did it "virtually", of course. Luckily, the bike doesn't simulate any inclement weather "along the way".

The bike works just fine - I've oiled the various bearings, chain, and especially the pressure roller about 3 times. I expect it to last a lot longer still.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Looking for Life

Most of the mainstream media don't pay much attention to the efforts being made regarding our search for the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe - including our own solar systems. Now and then, you are made aware of temporary highlights (the Kepler space telescope launch just yesterday, for example), but in general, ongoing coverage is not available.

You can find this kind of information on the websites maintained by the space agencies involved in these endeavours.

Here are some links for proposed space missions related to this topic:

Europa Jupiter System Mission

Titan Saturn System Mission

This is the International Year of Astronomy. Astronomy is closely involved with the search for life elsewhere. Amateur and professional astronomers are making many varied efforts to promote the awareness of this ancient science. Here, for the area where I'm at home, are a couple of links indicating the locations where observation of the sky, seminars on various astronomical topics, and other related efforts are taking place :

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vancouver Centre

Local meetings

There are similar events scheduled all over the world. Check you local astronomy club or association for more details.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

More window views

A few days ago, during one of the frequent rain squalls which are common in our city, a momentary break in the clouds was the cause of a beautiful rainbow. The picture on the left was taken from the front stairs. The rainbow appears high in the sky, because it was late in the day, around 20 minutes before sunset.

This picture was taken through the living room window. Notice the secondary rainbow, the intense colours, and the difference of the sky colour inside and outside the rainbow.

Last night, Venus (at the moment the evening star) and the Moon were in conjunction, an astronomical term for the appearance of two or more objects close to each other in the sky. It does not mean that they were physically close, it is just a view from our perspective on Earth. In reality, Venus was about about 140 times further away than the Moon. Click on the picture for a larger view. The view is through my double-paned office window. It was taken with a 200mm Sigma zoom lens, set at 200mm. This is an enlarged section of that image.

Venus also shows a crescent, just like the Moon (both somewhat distorted, due to the window glass). If you have a reasonable pair of binoculars (7x50 or 10x50, say), and mount these on a photo tripod, or hold them very steady, you'll also see the tiny crescent of Venus. You'll be able to look at Venus for the next couple of weeks, or so - weather permitting. Look for the brightest star in the west after sunset. Its crescent will grow a bit larger and get thinner as Venus moves closer to Earth towards the line between Earth and the Sun. This also means that Venus will set in the west sooner and sooner after sunset. On March 27, it will pass north of the Sun (don't try to look for it then - you could damage your eyesight if you look directly at the Sun!) and then become the morning star.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Picture Postcard day

Today is one of the days which keep my wife and me "glued" to the window. The scenery is one of the reasons why we love living in our house.

At left, you see a picture of Grouse Mountain, one of the "North Shore mountains" in Vancouver, taken with a 200 mm lens, through our double-paned living room window. The triangular area slightly above centre is the upper ski area, sometimes called the "upper cut".

This is the same area taken through a C-90 Celestron telescope, for which I have the appropriate adapters to attach my Canon Rebel XT digital SLR camera. This turns the telescope into a 1000mm f11 lens. Because there is no electrical connection between the telescope and the camera, the automatic features built into the camera cannot be used - manual focussing and exposures are required. The exposure for this picture was 1/4000 of a second at ASA 400. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, and look closely, you can see some tiny dots (skiers) near the lower left of the ski area, and the plume (or dirty exhaust?) from a (snowmaking?) machine at the top. Being a creature of comfort, I took this picture through the living room window as well. That affects the "definition" of the image, because the window glass is optically not perfect. I used Photoshop to increase the contrast somewhat, and also sharpened the picture a bit, to help overcome the effects of the window on the image.

Regarding the skiers visible in the picture, I'm always amazed about how small people are when compared to the grandeur of nature. Even Grouse Mountain, at about 1250m (4000 ft) a modest mountain, dwarfs a human being by a huge margin.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


As Derek mentioned in his blog, the woodpecker which last year decided to use our kitchen stove exhausts on the roof as territorial markers, has come back to re-establish his claims. I had wrapped the exhausts with bubble-wrap to discourage this "disturbing" behaviour (the 'pecker sometimes "rings the bell" just a little after sunrise), but the ravages of time destroyed that wrap. I removed the remnants some time ago.

For the last couple of days, the 'pecker has again made sure that we couldn't sleep in. So today I decided to frustrate him - and to allow us to extend our morning bedtime. I purchased some wire mesh and fashioned it into a kind of "cage" which now covers the exhausts (see picture of one). The cage is secured to the exhaust by means of an appropriate piece of wire coathanger, so that this undoubtedly clever little monster can't lift it up and out of the way. We'll soon see whether peace has returned.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More on the lens adapter

In my previous post, Derek's comment regarding the labelling of the focal length of the lenses involved in my test of the new adapter I bought for my Rebel XT, I came to the conclusion that the labelling on my Sigma 18-200mm zoom lens was the "full-frame" equivalent value. Yesterday, I repeated a couple of the flower basket shots, but in addition, I also took some long-distance shots to compare the Bausch and Lomb and Sigma 200mm performance.

Figure 1 shows the flowers taken with the Sigma lens at 200mm again, and figure 2 is an image of the same flowers, taken the Bausch and Lomb 200mm from the same position. The B&L image is obviously larger.

In figure 3 (the Grouse Mountain ski area as seen from our front window), taken with the Bausch and Lomb lens at 200mm, and the same picture (figure 4) taken with the Sigma lens at 200mm, there is no difference in scale. What's the reason?

Well, I neglected to take account of something I routinely do when I use the Rebel XT on one of my telescopes to take pictures. Depending on the accessories used in the process, the effective focal length of the telescope changes considerably, depending on the focussing adjustments required to get a sharp image. The pictures of the flowers were taken at a distance of about 2.5 meters (appr. 8 ft.), which is the closest distance to which the B&L lens can be focussed. The B&L lens focuses by moving the entire set of lens elements forward for close-up work; the Sigma lens adjust focus by changing relative positions of its internal lens elements. You can see the difference in the pictures of the B&L lens in its long distance (infinity) focus position (figure 5), and its close-up focus position (figure 6).

As you can see, the barrel length of the B&L lens in its close-up focus position is appreciably longer than when it is focused at infinity. The effect of the close-up position is that the lens appears to have a focal length of about 230mm, not 200mm. This naturally results in a larger image. The Sigma lens does not physically move lens "outward", and therefore maintains the 200mm distance from the camera's CCD. When both lenses are set to infinity, the scale of the pictures is identical.

This means, contrary to what I said to Derek in my reply comment, that both the Sigma and the B&L lenses are labelled with their correct focal length - there is no full-frame equivalent marking on the Sigma lens. Click on each picture to see it in larger format.

Figure 1
200mm Sigma zoom lens (flowers are 2.5 meters away)

Figure 2
200mm Bausch and Lomb lens from the same position as Sigma lens.

Figure 3
Grouse Mountain taken with the B&L lens at 200mm
(notice the snow-making plume near the top of the "cut")

Figure 4
Grouse mountain taken with the Sigma lens at 200mm
(snow-making plume has changed)

Figure 5
Bausch and Lomb at infinity (figure 3 focus)

      Figure 6
Bausch and Lomb at closest focus (figure 2)